William Kleedehn added a dog to his team in Dawson City.
He rolled in and took the gold on Tuesday night with 13.
But by the time he got across the river to the campground, he had 14.
The new dog walks on two legs and looks surprisingly human.
“If you have one good handler in Dawson, it’s just like one more dog on the team,” said Kleedehn before the race.
He was talking about Matthias Bindig.
It’s his seventh year caring for Kleedehn’s dogs in Dawson, and they look better than Bindig’s ever seen them.
“Their feet look good, and there’s not a single shoulder injury,” said Bindig.
“That’s unusual coming into Dawson.”
Every 10 hours, Bindig takes each dog for a walk to poop and pee.
Then he massages the dog with lotion to relax its muscles.
“I rub every dog for 15 to 20 minutes,” he said.
“It’s nice, because when you put oil on their backs and rub them, you can see they really enjoy it – it gets their circulation going.”
Bindig also checks their shoulders and wrists, and examines their paws.
“If there are cracks that are wet, I put on zinc-based baby powder to dry it out,” he said. Then he applies ointment.
After the walk, massage, and the ointment and lotions, the dogs are fed.
“This way they’re quite awake for their food,” he said. “Unlike some mushers who wake up their dogs and expect them to eat right away.”
The whole process takes Bindig more than three hours. And seven hours later, he starts it all again.
“So, I’ve done it four times since I’ve been here,” he said.
Bindig doesn’t follow Kleedehn the whole race anymore.
“I’m tired of the long driving,” he said.
“And Dawson is the only spot a handler can really do something with the dogs.
“You can make or break a race, because when a team comes in, you can really fix it up in 36 hours,” he said.
“But this year the dogs looked so good, I didn’t have to do anything.”
Because of their difference in start times, Kleedehn left Dawson in second place, 15 minutes behind Jon Little.