Bill Cotter leased out his dog team.
And one of the dogs died on the Yukon Quest trail.
On the second day of the race, Jewel died after Yuka Honda lost the team.
Visibly shaken, Honda was ready to scratch.
But Cotter convinced her to keep going.
“I wanted her to go on for her sake, and the dogs,” he said.
Honda, who’s been mushing for six years, started training at Cotter’s kennel three months ago.
The pair worked out a deal, and Honda leased 14 of Cotter’s dogs to run the Quest.
“It’s stressful,” said Cotter, waiting in Dawson for Honda to arrive.
“She’s overdue here and I’m worried about her and the dogs.
“That’s why I handled, to make sure I saw the team everywhere.”
The 61-year-old Quest champ and long-time Iditarod musher has only leased out teams twice in his racing career.
It has to be the right person and the right circumstances, he said.
When Cotter and Honda went for a run at the start of the season, he was impressed with her skills.
And Cotter didn’t have the money to race this year, which is one of the reasons he leased out the team.
“She’s running some of my best dogs,” he said.
In the early ‘70s, when he was teaching school in Palmer, Alaska, Cotter was invited to a sprint race.
He thought it was “pretty cool,” so he got a couple of dogs and started fooling around.
Three years later, he ran his first Iditarod.
“It went from a hobby to an avocation, to a vocation,” he said.
Now, people come from all over the world to train with Cotter.
“The secret is to breed your own dogs,” he said.
Applying college genetics to sled dogs, Cotter came up with his own unique pack of Alaskan huskies.
And the bloodline has fueled Cotter in 19 Iditarods and four Quests.
“Going out on long training runs, taking care of the dogs and racing keeps you pretty fit,” he said.
“I love the whole lifestyle. I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.”
When Cotter started out, the mushing world was very different.
High-end dog food didn’t exist, and dog care was minimal.
“People didn’t really keep their dog yards clean,” said Cotter.
“And if the dogs were wormed, it wasn’t very often.”
Today nutrition is light years from where it was, he said.
Dog food comes with vitamins and minerals that are designed to suit the needs of dogs from when they are in the womb through to old age.
Yards may be cleaner, and dog food better, but how dogs are treated still depends on the owner, said Cotter.
“Having dogs is like being a parent. There are some good parents and some bad ones.
“And the mushing community is aware of how people treat their dogs and behave, and they’re treated accordingly.”
Cotter has no tolerance for animal cruelty, nor does he have tolerance for those who think mushing is cruel.
“That’s what they’re born and bred for,” he said.
“It’s cruel to have them sitting on a couch getting fat.”
Honda ended up scratching in Dawson after arriving late with one off Cotter’s best leaders in the sled.