Volunteers work to give sled dogs a new home

Monday, May 21, 2018 - 16:47
  • Elena Eberhardt moves a wooden post during a fence-mending party at the August Foundation’s Chugiak location on Saturday, May 11, 2018. The organization works with mushers to help provide homes to sled dogs that can no longer race. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Charter College Wasilla campus president Melissa Rigas examines a rock found while digging a trench as Ariel Tackett, center, and Layne Hyde look on during a fence-mending day at the August Foundation in Chugiak on Saturday, May 12, 2018. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • A dog peers through a fence at the August Foundation’s property in Chugiak on Saturday, May 12, 2018. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth) A dog peers through a fence at the August Foundation’s property in Chugiak on Saturday, May 12, 2018. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Star photo by Matt Tunseth
  • Volunteers Kris Rasey, left, and Elena Eberhardt move fencing on Saturday, May 12 at the August Foundation’s property in Chugiak. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Julie St. Louis, left, and Kris Rasey move fencing on Saturday, May 12, 2018 at the August Foundation in Chugiak. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Ariel Tackett hugs a dog during a fence-meding event at the August Foundation in Chugiak on Saturday, May 12, 2018. The nonprofit works to provide homes to former sled dogs. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Layne Hyde throws a log on a pile during a fence-mending day at the August Foundation in Chugiak on Saturday, May 12, 2018. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • A dog runs in front of Kris Rasey during a fence-mending day at the August Foundation in Chugiak on Saturday, May 12, 2018. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Layne Hyde digs a trench during a fence-mending day at the August Foundation in Chugiak on Saturday, May 12, 2018. The foundation works to find homes to former sled dogs. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)

Digging in the dirt is usually a dog’s job, but on Saturday in Chugiak a handful of human volunteers took tools into their own paws to help out their canine friends.

“I like to get dirty,” volunteer Melissa Rigas said, a dirt-covered pickaxe resting at her side.

Rigas and a half-dozen others were drawn to the nonprofit’s 2.5-acre property off Birchwood Loop for a simple reason.

“It’s all for the dogs,” she said.

The volunteers have been working over the past couple weeks to help mend fences at the property, which is currently home to about 15 “retired” sled dogs. The dogs are taken in by the foundation, which was founded in 2012 as a way to help racing dogs transition “from the trail to the couch.”

Foundation co-founder Julie St. Louis said the foundation works with mushers, shelters and other groups to help sled dogs find loving homes when their racing careers come to an end. Contrary to popular belief, she said, racing sled dogs can make great pets.

“People think they don’t settle out, but they do,” she said.

Trained racing dogs usually get along well with other dogs and take commands readily, she said.

“They’re around other dogs, that’s why they make great pets,” she said as a half-dozen of curious huskies gathered at her feet.

The foundation’s property includes kennels and fenced-in areas for dogs to run. The volunteer crews working Saturday helped strengthen existing fences and build new ones to allow the dogs more areas to roam.

Volunteer fence-builder Elena Eberhardt said she heard about the foundation through a mushing class at Alaska Pacific University and wanted to do whatever she could to help.

“I’d really like to adopt a couple dogs because I’d really like to skijor, but I’m just not in a situation right now where I can adopt any dogs so I figured I’d help out the dogs that need to be adopted,” she explained as she and two other volunteers took a break from stacking logs.

St. Louis said the foundation takes dogs from individual mushers who want to find a home for sled dogs who are no longer racing.

“The actual musher will contact me,” she said.

The group then works with private individuals to re-home the animals through pet adoption events or via its website. Since 2012, the foundation has found homes for about 100 dogs, St. Louis said.

The foundation has been in its Chugiak home for less than a year, but St. Louis said the former sheep farm the foundation rents from a Chugiak landowner has been a good fit.

“It’s a perfect property, it just needs some work,” she said.

That’s what the volunteers were for Saturday. In addition to Eberhardt and Rigas (who is the campus president at Charter College in Wasilla), Charter volunteers Ariel Tackett and Layne Hyde also joined the fence-mending party, as did a couple local sled dog mushers.

One of those was Chugiak’s Kris Rasey, who served as both informal foreman and group jokester.

“What’s the password?” Rasey asked anyone trying to enter the property through its secure gate. When the visitor was unable to guess, Rasey clued them in. “It’s dog poop.”

The group smiled and traded jokes as they built new fences at the property, serenaded by infrequent barks from the curious canines around them.

Rigas said she and the other volunteers were more than happy to help.

“Dogs are sacred to Alaska,” she said. “It’s our national sport, our national treasure and we need to take care of them.”

For more about the foundation, visit theaugustfund.com.

Contact Star editor Matt Tunseth at [email protected] or 257-4274.

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