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Quest Notebook: Sled dogs in jail

DAWSON CITYJohn Schandelmeier doesn’t believe in tarps and chains.Instead, he lets his dogs run free.


John Schandelmeier doesn’t believe in tarps and chains.

Instead, he lets his dogs run free.

The Alaskan musher races rescued dogs that were going to be put down.

“I got most of my dogs from the shelter,” he said.

“So why would I put them back in jail?”

Most of the dog camps in Dawson have tarps that form an A-frame tent over the teams.

Sleeping on piles of straw, the sled dogs spend their 36-hour rest on drop chains and are walked by handlers.

But at Schandelmeier’s camp, the dogs sleep in groups under old sleeping bags.

And when they feel like getting up to take a stroll, or sit by the fire, they are free to do so.

When dogs have to relieve themselves while on chains under tarps, they stand up and do it on their neighbour, said Schandelmeier.

“It’s chain-gang stuff.”

As if on cue, Schandelmeier’s dog Hunter stuck his nose out from under one of the sleeping bags.

He crawled out, shook, then wandered off to a snowbank to relieve himself before heading back to bed.

It turned out another had opted to use the water pot as his toilet.

When they’re loose it’s easier to see when a dog’s not feeling well, and it’s easier to watch them move, added Schandelmeier.

“You can’t do that when they’re sitting on a chain gang.”

Being loose makes a fair bit of sense, but mushers and vets questioned Schandelmeier’s decision to rest his dogs in the open, instead of under tarps.

“They say tarps are warmer,” he said.

“But I’ve done a lot of camping and have never found a thin piece of plastic that’s open at both ends keeps me any warmer.”

The sleeping bags are better, he said.

And because they are free, all the dogs can cuddle up together.

Tents hold in the frost, which ends up dropping on the dogs, said Schandelmeier.

“They’re noisy, open-ended wind tunnels.

“And because of the dampness, you get a lot of coughing dogs.

“I don’t have this problem anymore.”

Schandelmeier’s running his 16th Quest, and for 14 of them he put tarp tents over his team.

It was only recently that he changed his mind.

The only other dog camp without a tent for the team was Alaskan rookie J.T Hessert’s.

Hessert was tossed from the race by officials because he lacked a handler.

Quest allows

controversial dog drug

Dimethyl sulfoxide, or DMSO, is banned on the Iditarod.

The topical anti-inflammatory, used to ease sore joints, is banned at most races because it is highly soluble and penetrates the skin easily, and therefore can introduce unknown toxins found on the skin and hands.

DMSO can also be used to introduce steroids and other drugs into a dog’s bloodstream.

But Yukon Quest allows it.

“It actually works,” said John Schandelmeier.

“Algyval is just peanut oil.”

Algyval is a popular oil-based rub with menthol that has replaced DMSO in many mushing circles.

It is massaged into sore wrists, feet and shoulders to help with swelling, stiffness and pain.

“Algyval is more for the mushers,” said Schandelmeier, who questions whether it works.

It’s the massage, not the Algyval, that helps, he said.