Local Eagle Scout project goes to the dogs

Monday, June 26, 2017 - 23:57
  • Star photo by Kirsten Swann Eagle River Boy Scout Keith Sellers poses for a photograph June 2, 2017. In pursuit of his Eagle Scout rank, Sellers recently constructed a new warming shelter for a Talkeetna dog sanctuary.
  • Courtesy photo Eagle River Boy Scout Keith Sellers works to build a warming shelter for Talkeetna’s Sled Dog Sanctuary.
  • Eagle River Boy Scout Keith Sellers works to build a warming shelter for Talkeetna’s Sled Dog Sanctuary. (Courtesy photo)
  • A new warming shelter at Talkeetna’s Sled Dog Sanctuary, built and donated by Eagle River Boy Scout Keith Sellers and his family. (Courtesy photo)
  • Courtesy photo Eagle River Boy Scout Keith Sellers visits the Talkeetna Sled Dog Sanctuary, where he recently finished building a warming shelter for sanctuary visitors.

A Talkeetna nonprofit is warming up thanks to 15-year-old Eagle River Boy Scout Keith Sellers.

After hundreds of hours of fundraising and manual labor, Sellers recently put the finishing touches on a new shelter at the Sled Dog Sanctuary, which rescues former sled dogs and provides animal therapy to Alaskans with special needs. The shelter, handicap accessible and warmed with a wood stove, provides a cozy gathering space for sanctuary visitors.

“It turned out really well, and I feel good about that,” said Sellers, a member of Eagle River’s Boy Scout Troop 219.

It all started last year, when Sellers was brainstorming projects for his Eagle Scout rank. He spent months mulling over ideas, he said. Then, one day, he was approached by a teacher at Eagle River High School. The teacher, a volunteer at the Talkeetna sanctuary, asked if Sellers was a scout. Then he told him about the sanctuary, the work it did and its need for shelter.

Sellers jumped in with both feet.

“We originally had the idea of getting a pre-made shed, like the ones you can get at Home Depot, then making it more house-like with insulation and stuff like that,” Sellers said.

After a few trips to Home Depot, his plan started to unravel before his eyes. Pre-made sheds were too expensive and too small, he said. He realized he needed to build from scratch. He’d never built anything like that before.

“It wasn’t too daunting at the start, but the more committed we got to the project, we were like, ‘Oh, we have to do this,’” he said. “My dad helped a lot.”

So did his mom. The project took months — almost every weekend between January and March, Sellers said. They spent long days making trips to Talkeetna and the local hardware store. They assembled a wheelchair ramp at home in Eagle River, then drove it up to the sanctuary to install. Same with the walls.

“It was an all-day adventure to go up there and build it for the day,” Sellers said.

They built through all the way through the end of the winter. They worked through frigid temperatures – at one point, the thermometer hit 17 degrees below zero. They installed a handicap-accessible door and window and a wood burner from the Sellers family’s own garage.

The whole undertaking cost approximately $4,000, money raised through holiday wreath sales and donations from family members. Building the shelter took hundreds of hours of work. By March, Sellers said, he was ready to add the final touches.

“I think it turned out a lot better, making it from scratch,” Sellers said.

The shelter is now complete and ready to keep visitors to the facility warm and cozy. On its website, Sled Dog Sanctuary posted a picture of the new warming shed and thanked Keith and his family for their help.

“All winter this wonderful family has donated their time and materials to create a place of warmth during those extra chilly days,” the sanctuary wrote. “…Thank you again to the Sellers family for providing this building and allowing this very special project to take a HUGE leap ahead for our next winter’s programming!”

The shelter project went above and beyond most Eagle Scout projects. Sellers’ mom, Noel Sellers, originally suggested painting their local church or constructing a wooden boardwalk at the Talkeetna shelter.

“We had other ideas that we had thrown out that we would have probably been able to accomplish a lot quicker, but you could just sense his passion for this specific location and what it stood for,” she said. “We couldn’t sway him.”

Contact reporter Kirsten Swann at [email protected]

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