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The hard work — and perks — of running an Alaskan sled dog kennel

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David Monson, with a cloudy sky behind him.

David Monson, owner of Trail Breaker Kennel, doesn't think of his job as work. "I look at it as the opportunity to experience what a lot of people don’t.” Photo courtesy Tekla Monson

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My Economy” tells the story of the new economic normal through the eyes of people trying to make it, because we know the only numbers that really matter are the ones in your economy.

The winner of the 50th Iditarod crossed the finish line last week. And while it’s the mushers and their dogs out on the trail, it takes a lot of people and small businesses to prepare the dogs and the logistics to get everybody safely through a thousand miles of Alaskan wilderness.

Nobody gets rich racing sled dogs. It’s the passion for the dogs and sport that makes it special.

David Monson is the owner of Trail Breaker Kennel in Fairbanks, Alaska, a business he opened in 1976 with his wife, Susan Butcher, a four-time Iditarod champion who died in 2006. They shared a love for dogs and for racing.

Trail Breaker Kennel provides tours and sled rides to visitors, and Monson uses the money from the business to cover the costs of wintertime racing.

Training the 38 Alaskan huskies for racing is no easy task (Monson also has a husky and border collie-poodle mix who are pets).

“We have to be up working 12 hours a day. We’re running 50 to 100 miles a day with different teams.” 

Caring for the dogs is costly. Monson says running the kennel costs $5 to $6 per dog, per day.

“I think that the biggest expense we have is dog food, but veterinary care because of vaccines and because of physicals and so forth.” And the equipment needed for racing isn’t cheap, either. “Our racing with dog sleds, they might be anywhere from $1,000 to $6,000.”

But Monson said the perks can be spectacular.

“When you’re out there on a night with the northern lights above, and it’s totally quiet, and you can look around and see things perhaps every once in a while, a wild animal come by, it’s a magical experience. It really allows us to get in touch with our soul when we’re out there.”

Monson considers himself lucky because he looks forward to work every day. “I don’t even think of it as work,” he said. “I look at it as the opportunity to experience what a lot of people don’t.”

Monson hopes his two daughters will take over the business.

“I’m looking forward to leaving this as a setup opportunity for them to be able to come in, see if they have the same passion as I do, and now I’ll pass it on.”

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