Currently the Ilion team is not accepting any new members. Please check back in the future for updates on recruitment!
Thank you for taking the time to look at the Ilion sled dog sanctuary site! This collaborative project was started in December 2020 and was solely organized by me (Roby). The objective was to have 24 people (myself included) create an original sled dog character with specific conditions in mind and to give them a back story in order to create two 12-dog teams. I would then assign the dog a position on one of the two teams dependent upon the content and character. While everyone was aware of my project, I worked together with each person privately so that no one else knew what the other dogs were like. Over the months as I received each dog, I continued to build the world of the Ilion sanctuary. So to everybody who participated, I hope you have fun finally meeting all of your teammates! Thank you so much for your patience with me!
Every sled dog character here is a unique creation by their artist. Any real competitions/events or dogs mentioned are used only for the purpose of immersion and parody; there is no affiliation.
A small page dedicated to those who have made donations to the sanctuary that have made a big impact.
Thank you to Diomede and the fishermen of Whittier for the generous gift of over 80 crates of fresh caught fish!
"Diomede is a good friend of mine and Halibut's owner and is a regular supporter of the sanctuary. She and a few other fishermen of Whittier went on a fishing excursion for the dogs, and that's how we ended up with 80 crates of fish. I was a bit panicked to see a bunch of trucks parked in front of the sanctuary because I had no idea a delivery of this size was going to be made. But the dogs and I were grateful once we found out what was going on. It lasted us the whole winter season, and I learned a ton of new recipes!"
Thank you to the town of Diogenes for tickets to the
96th anniversary of the 1925 serum run!
"This year there was a huge convention-like celebration in dedication to the 1925 serum run in Anchorage, and the town of Diogenes provided tickets for the whole team! Many of my dogs are huge fans of Balto and Togo, so this was a fun and exciting experience. There was supposedly a path on the floor decorated like the 674-mile route and many different attractions dedicated to all 20 teams that participated. There was an event dedicated to Fritz and many of Seppala's other dogs, and a segment about the All-Alaskan sweepstakes. I wish I could have gone, but I had some important business to take care of in Nome (ironically). Thankfully Kima took a lot of photos and videos of everything, so it's almost like I didn't miss out at all!"
"Wonderful gifts that everyone brought back for me. Plushies of Balto and Togo, along with a keychain, brochure, and a map that one of the dogs (I won't say who) thought was a snack."
Thank you to the Naamioidut Tulirevo for the generous donation to help expand our sanctuary!
"Over the years, the sanctuary has grown in size, and the housing for the dogs has gotten cramped. I was saving up prize money to expand the sanctuary, but the Naamioidut Tulirevot (Tuija's huge fanbase and official fan club) donated a massive sum to help us. Even after leaving her old team, she's still incredibly popular in Scandinavia. Her fans, also known as Tulirepo, have watched our races and have taken a liking to us. With their help, we were able to double the sanctuary's size and have new dorms built. We couldn't figure out what kind of dorms to make, so we held a mini-poll. The votes ended up tying, which led to some chaos between the dogs. But since it was Tuija's fans who made this possible, she was the one who got the final say!"
Thank you to Bernard for the gratious donation of
new equipment and apparel!
"Bernard said that everything he makes for my dogs is haute couture. I honestly have no idea what that means, but I do know that the dogs love it! There was a mix of different styles for everyone, and the most impressive part is how durable everything is. The dogs go through a lot of attire and equipment in just one season, and it gets costly to replace everything. I appreciate Bernard for being attentive to details like that! He truly is a mushing connoisseur."
The Ilion sanctuary wouldn't be where it is today without the help from sponsors and donations! If you would like to show your support for the sanctuary, then you've clicked on the right page!
Photocards are one of the many fun ways to show your support for your favorite dog! Receive a signed copy in the mail if you choose to donate! You have the option to select one dog, as many dogs as you'd like, or all of the dogs. The photocard(s) are mailed diligently with lots of love!
*Halibut is currently unavailable.
Ilion also offers homemade merchandise that's available to purchase. From stickers, keychains to plush toys, and much more, feel free to look at what's available! Any purchase over $40 will come with a photo card of your choice and free shipping. Thank you for your continuous support!
The Ilion Sanctuary is always willing to start new partnerships
that are interested in supporting our dogs.
For further inquiry, please contact the musher.
The Ilion sanctuary is located on a 70-acre property on the edge of Diogenes, Alaska. It doubles as a veterinarian clinic and is home to the Ilion sled dog team!
The Ilion musher made it their mission to give rescued sled dogs a place to call their own. Bringing home dogs from all over the world, the sled team was started as a way to give these dogs a chance to continue their passion in pulling. But the sanctuary isn't just home to veteran sled dogs- as many of the resident dogs have never had prior experience in pulling or racing. But that never stops them from giving it a try and falling in love with the sport; feeling a sense of fulfillment in being able to participate in a team with their newfound friends. The dogs always have a choice in whether they want to participate or not, as their well-being is top priority. As the team continues to grow, so does its popularity. The two Ilion teams (long-distance and sprint/mid-distance) have attracted fans across the globe. This has allowed the team to expand on its training itinerary. But no matter how popular Ilion gets, the musher continues to ensure the comfort and safety of the dogs.
Health and well-being
The health and well-being of the Ilion dogs is critical. For dogs that participate in mushing, check-ups and vaccines are given routinely. But it doesn't just stop at the basics, as the musher always makes sure that each dog is carefully cared for, as every dog is unique. If a dog is not feeling well, they won't participate in training or races until they are in full health; there are no exceptions to this rule. The sanctuary also homes dogs that are retired and currently under rehabilitation; unable to pull either due to choice or circumstance. A rehabilitation program was put in place for dogs who seek to return to racing. The Ilion vet practice has a dedicated professional staff that is trained in upkeeping the clinic and attending to its patients; responding quick and providing quality care for all dogs.
The musher once funded all operations on the sanctuary with their own money—but thanks to the growing popularity of the team, it has attracted dozens of sponsors. Now the sanctuary is completely ran off of sponsorships and generous donations from fans. If you would like to help support the sanctuary, please check out the donations page. Every cent goes back to the dogs and the patients that are cared for at the clinic.
Artist: Michi Voss
Born in a breeding facility, Ponchik was adopted as a young pup by two elderly farmers; a husband and wife. As she grew, helping the couple on their farm became a daily routine, herding sheep and ducks and handling all of the hard labor the couple couldn't do. The work was easy for her, as she thought there was no better reward than coming home to a warm meal and a pat on the head.As years passed, she began taking care of the couple, helping them with simple tasks they were getting too frail to do. Ponchik continued to help with everything until both of her owners passed away from old age, first the husband, then the wife soon after. Depressed, Ponchik felt lonely without them and couldn't stand to be there anymore, so she left, searching for something to make the empty feeling in her heart disappear.Luckily, it wasn't too long until she'd meet the Ilion musher, who was visiting Poland at the time. The musher took a liking to Ponchik's friendly demeanor and adopted her, taking her back to Alaska with them. They showed her around the sanctuary, and she quickly felt at home. Already in great physical health, racing piqued her interest, and it seemed like a great new start for her. At first, it was daunting-- being around so many new dogs made her nervous. However, racing made her feel excited and useful again, so she continued to work her hardest at it and grew to love the team like a new family. Even though the memory of her original owners often weighed heavy in her thoughts, she's delighted and grateful to have another start.
"When I met her for the first time, she was really shy and hesitant to let me pet her, but she eventually came around. I gave her treats and played with her for a while before I left. At first I thought she was a stray so I almost brought her home with me! But she had a collar, so I said my goodbyes that day so she could go back to her owners. However, she followed me back to where I was staying. That's when I learned about what happened to her original owners. I didn't want to leave her alone so I brought her back to Alaska to provide her with a new home. I was worried that she would be too shy to mingle with the other dogs, but I was happy to see her get along with everyone so well. She was introduced to racing and immediately took a liking to it. But racing isn't enough for Ponchik as she loves to work! Some days, she helps Gau on his mini-farm as it reminds her of her daily life back in Poland. Now despite her fitting in faster than I had expected, there are nights where she wanders off into the darkness to be alone with her thoughts. When I finished my work one night, some of the other dogs and I followed her to see where she was going. We saw her stargazing up on a hill not far from the kennels. We joined her and looked up at the millions of stars that decorated the night sky. She still goes out alone to stargaze, but I think she really enjoyed our company that one night so there are times when she invites us to go with her. We'll spend the whole night looking for constellations and waiting for shooting stars to go by. I'm happy to get to spend time like this with her and everyone. It's always small moments like these that make me so happy to be a musher."
Name: Timothy Bestwick
Breed: Welsh Corgi/Siberian Husky mix
From: Holyhead, Wales
Timothy was a unique corgi born in the windy land of Holyhead, Wales, under the care of a refined noble family, the Bestwicks. Corgis are much beloved loyal pets, and keeping them is a long-standing tradition of the British Crown. They are often gifted to powerful nobility as a sign of good faith. One of the most beloved royal corgis was once gifted to a duke in northern Wales. There on a stormy night, this beloved and pregnant corgi gave birth to a single little puppy different from her kind. It was Timothy - a mixed breed of a corgi and Husky. Since he was little, Timothy showed excellent resistance to the cold and had a robust and resilient personality despite his adorable looks. He would sneak outside the Manor to wander in the snowy fields during the winter, bringing back the most exquisite treasures like stones, sticks, and even tiny little conches swept up by the marine gusts of Holyhead.One day young Lord Bestwick had to travel to the cold lands of Alaska to meet old family friends. When Timothy realized his beloved owner was going on a trip, he couldn't resist sneaking into his luggage and traveling along to snowy Alaska. He did not go hungry or ill after such a long and troubling voyage, to everyone's surprise. Instead, he was rather excited and ready to experience the wintery land that spoke so closely to him.During one of the long walks he would take with the young lord, nightfall came, and the two ended up losing their way in the dark, icy forests. The situation quickly became dire as the young lord struggled to keep moving forward in the biting cold of the Alaskan night. Saving his master was Timothy's only priority, and instinctively he knew what to do. As quickly as he could, he darted through the dark of the night in search of aid, never giving up on his short legs. He eventually reached the Ilion sanctuary, surprising the musher and all the dogs with his unexpected arrival. The musher quickly understood that Timothy was in a pinch and followed him to help Young master Bestwick. Together with the musher, he saved the young lord and spent the night in the sanctuary.Young lord Bestwick fell in love with Ilion that night and was delighted to listen to the musher's remarks on Timothy's outstanding speed and endurance. He realized that his beloved Tim was happier than ever in the company of all the other dogs; Timothy had found his true calling. The young master entrusted Timothy to the musher, knowing that he would live his life to the fullest there and be able to release his never-ending energy in the fields of Illion. Before departing, he gifted his beloved Timothy with regalia from his family-- the Bestwick medallion, along with the promise to visit him every year during the wintertime.
"Corgis are the farthest breed of dog you would think of as a sled dog because of how short their legs are. But with Timothy, watching him run was an exciting eye-opener as he's able to use his energy to run fast through thick trails of snow. The husky mix inside of him gives him the benefit and extra boost that he needs to run. But that doesn't mean he doesn't train rigorously every day with the rest of my dogs. To upkeep his speed and endurance, I put him on the special training regime that I created for my shorter and smaller dogs in which they all practice together every day. Other mushers are shocked to know that I have a corgi mix on my team, but I always tell them that Timothy is different! Sometimes our team is mocked because of this, but Tim doesn't hesitate to put them in their place, and I'm always proud of him when he does so. But with that said, please do not train a corgi to become a sled dog; they are not built for it, and it would be endangering their health and wellbeing if you do so! As I said, Timothy is different and has the heart of a sled dog within him (quite literally!). "
In loving memory of Timothy, Kira's beloved Corgi mix pup
🐾 Loves to take a good nap after being fed lunch and lay belly up in the sunlight
🐾 Enjoys treasure hunting in his downtime, and sometimes drags other dogs along. He brings back all sorts of curiosities from flowers to stones, and he always makes sure to bring something back for the musher as proof of his love and friendship!
Breed: Siberian Husky
From: Whittier, Alaska
Halibut is a seasonal sled dog that races in Ilion’s long-distance team during half of the winter season. For the remainder of the year, she resides in Whittier at the Begich towers, accompanying her owner and the fishermen by the docks. Ilion’s musher is good friends with her owner and saw her potential as a sled dog during a casual visit. While her owner was ecstatic to hear this, he was still too attached to her and so special arrangements were made for her.
From: Tohoku, Japan
Ccino was born to a large litter of rescue dogs destined to offer protection and assistance, but with the rapidly declining population of her home, she and her siblings had little use. She tried to look on the bright side-- It was good that humans weren't in danger! But her home felt lonely, and it was heartbreaking to know that her beautiful home, once sprawling with life and culture, was disappearing. Push came to shove, and the association she was born to sought out adoptees who could utilize their skills. That is when Ccino met the Ilion musher, who had been visiting friends in Japan. She wasn't too thrilled about the prospect of going to another cold region, but the desire to help those around her burned like a little candle in her heart that could melt any cold weather. It was then that she decided to go forward with moving to Alaska and left with the musher.Ccino never thought the winters could get any worse, but she was proven wrong the moment she arrived in Alaska. Thankfully, the frigid cold was overshadowed by the liveliness of the sanctuary. She found it comforting—This was the type of life she wished her old home had. It was bittersweet to know that there was no way things could change for the better there.With a heavy heart, she shook her head and told herself she would no longer look at the past. From then on, she would enjoy her new life at Ilion.
🐾 The Kanji on her leg spells out "日本救助犬" [Japan's search and rescue dogs]. These dogs are trained to help during times of natural and man-made disasters.
🐾 She works part-time at the vet clinic with the musher
🐾 Loves watching TV shows with reports on faraway lands
🐾She hates the cold, but she can easily endure it; it's more of a preference
🐾 She usually isn't seen far away from the fireplace
🐾 Her dream is to live somewhere warm and tropical
🐾 She can seem distant at times but she's very affectionate when given attention
🐾 She loves playing/chewing on hard toys and is often seen with one
Breed: Chow/Samoyed mix
From:New Jersey, USA
Before speeding down a snowy path, Kamira was an esteemed dog model—Her thick, soft coat and willingness to listen to instructions made her famous within the modeling industry. Many photographers considered her to be the picture-perfect model for their shoots. Over the years, she lost interest in her career and became bored with everyday life. All of her accomplishments and prizes came too easy for her within the industry, and it all became meaningless to her; she needed something more. She wanted to see if she could do something challenging, something that would make her heart race from the neverending excitement.In a twist of perfect fate, Kamira met the Ilion musher—They saw her interview about wanting to do things other than modeling. They reached out to her in hopes of giving her a new challenging opportunity in life. When Kamira learned about sled dog racing, she became ecstatic and joined without hesitation. She would never admit this to her old owner, but she secretly loved getting dirty and playing. Many years ago, she would go into the woods during family outings and play in the snow, making her owner angry. Now at Ilion, she was able to express that puppy-like joy as much as she wanted!Kamira got the challenge she had been looking for as racing proved to be more challenging than she had anticipated. But with her strength, ability to follow orders, lots of training, and support from her teammates, she eventually became a "model" sled dog (pun intended)!
🐾 She's one of the tallest dogs at the sanctuary (6'2")!
🐾 Does nail art even though she can't wear them due to racing
🐾 Loves to sew and make plushies
🐾 She can see perfectly fine through her bangs
🐾The heart on her sash is a carving Newfie made for her. He was her first friend at the sanctuary
🐾Dyed her bangs to match her tongue
Breed: Sahka yta (Yakutian laika)
From: Sahka Republic, Russia
Position: Former lead
Cheremsha was born in a remote village in the Sakha region of Russia before becoming a lead dog to the Siberian musher, Akhill. Akhill was told that Cheremsha’s endurance was unlike any other, capable of working from sunrise to sundown without breaking a sweat. Akhill had been searching years for a lead dog that would help her win the famous Beringia race and felt that she had found one in Cheremsha. She adopted her, and shortly after, she placed her as her team’s sole lead. Despite Cheremsha’s lack of prior sled dog training, Akhill had full confidence that her drive and charisma could lead a team of champions the world would know.Her intuition was correct, as Cheremsha helped the team bring home first place in that year’s 2,100km Beringia race in record time. Many believed it was a stroke of luck, but Cheremsha’s role as a lead dog became her life’s focus. Her self-discipline and passion inspired the other dogs on her team to follow her with great confidence. Led by her charisma, they continued to bring home first place wins in various long-distance competitions. The team’s winning streak shattered previous records, causing them to strive for even loftier goals. Cheremsha’s strength as a leader grew as she developed a deep bond with her teammates and always looked out for them; constantly reminding them to take it easy and not overdo it. Yet heavy was the crown, as she would bear all of the responsibility of winning and push herself to the limit. Whenever she ran, it seemed like she had no limit, and everyone, including herself, truly believed she didn’t.On another fateful 2,100km Beringia race, the frigid Siberian weather took a turn for the worse, causing many teams to be set back. Not wanting to jeopardize the team's safety, Akhill sought out shelter for everyone to stay in. Cheremsha was not deterred by the storm and believed they could win despite the sub-zero blizzard. Her team and musher begged for her to stay, but she disregarded their pleas and promised them that she’ll get them to the finish line safely. After much hesitation, Akhill allowed for the team to continue. She trusted Cheremsha, as she had never let them down before. She guided her team through the treacherous weather, and she proved herself a worthy lead once again by getting the team across the finish line in first place; another record broken.Yet, this victory did not come without a cost. Cheremsha’s health plummeted severely, and she collapsed due to over-exhaustion. After many examinations, veterinarians concluded that Cheremsha had pushed herself too far, causing near-fatal damage to her body. Her mind could not accept her new limitations, as even standing would leave her gasping for breath. Led by guilt and responsibility, Akhill decided to retire Cheremsha from the team. Akhill took her to the Ilion sanctuary in Alaska, where she entrusted her to her good friend, the Ilion musher. There Cheremsha has focused every day on growing stronger in hopes of regaining her strength.
🐾 Cheremsha and Yukola were both at one point owned by the musher, Akhill, before arriving at the Ilion sanctuary.
🐾 Though she's not an active team member, merchandise of her is currently available on the site and all related purchases go towards her rehabilitation
Breed: St. Bernard
From: Newfoundland, Canada
Newfie was a rescue dog that spent most of his life in the deep snowy mountains of Newfoundland, Canada. He was always there to guide people to safety, whether it be lost skiers, snowboarders, hikers, or even unlucky locals.One day, during the Chickpea Challenge mushing competition (mid-distance; 200 miles), a heavy snowstorm had hit the course, and one of the teams was thrown off the trail and stranded. Newfie was tasked with finding them and bringing them back onto the trail. He successfully found them and put them back on their course—and somehow, without realizing it, he ended up accompanying them to the finish line. Despite the significant detour, the team had won first place, and it was all thanks to Newfie's help. Getting to experience the victory with them inspired him, and from that day forward, Newfie knew he wanted to become a sled dog.Leaving his job on good terms, he sought out the Ilion sanctuary and asked to join the team. Recognizing him, the musher of Ilion was overjoyed and quickly welcomed him in, and after some time, got him established as part of their team.
"Even before Newfie had asked if he could join the team, I saw the potential for a lead dog in him. Without him, we would’ve never made first place, let alone finish the race! But it wasn’t about winning at all; it was about the confidence he gave the other dogs when guiding us and the way he accompanied the lead dog like a natural. The funny thing is, Newfie comes across as a different dog at the sanctuary. He appears lazy sometimes, which can cause commotions between him and the other dogs, especially during training. Somehow he's always getting his paws on alcohol, and every time I take it away, he's got a new bottle. No idea where he keeps getting it from, but one day I'll figure it out. But regardless of that, he's always dependable no matter what. I don’t regret entrusting him as my lead because I know that I can always count on him!"
🐾 Newfie is first aid certified, and his equipment is carried on the sled during races. He assists in medical emergencies alongside Lạnh.
🐾 He likes wood-working and loves to carve toys for the other dogs
🐾 During his downtime he loves drinking brandy, even if it's not allowed on sanctuary grounds. He may or may not secretly brew the brandy himself.
Breed: Alaskan Malamute
From: Norbotten, Sweden
Biko is an energetic, friendly, and loyal pup born and raised in Norrbotten, Sweden, by a devoted woodworker. He owned a small workshop just outside of town, and Biko would spend her days as a companion to him, helping him by carrying lumber from lumber yards to his workshop. When she wasn’t working, she spent most of her time observing and admiring the fine craftsmanship that her owner brought to life. Through that, she grew a deep-rooted appreciation for woodwork. Her life was peaceful, and she enjoyed living with the old man. But it was undeniable that she was too energetic for him. While on walks, she would pull too hard and cause him to stumble. While making her way through his workshop, she’d accidentally knock things over. Sometimes she would even chew on his artwork, aware that it would get her in trouble, yet unable to resist her canine urges. The woodworker would get upset with her, but he found it tough to stay mad at her for long. More often than not, he’d forgive her almost instantly. He could always carve another sculpture after all.But because of his old age and the sheer amount of energy Biko had, it ultimately became too difficult for him to handle her. His heart broke at the thought of parting with her, but he felt it was best to find her an owner that could properly match her level of energy—someone to give her the proper space and time to run and play. Before he could take Biko to a shelter, the Ilion musher had visited the shop in hopes of bringing a souvenir back home. When the woodworker learned of their profession, he offered Biko to them, asking if they could take care of her and let her be part of their team.Although the musher was always happy to take a new dog under their wing, they could tell that parting with Biko was too hard for the old man; but they came to understand the circumstances. And so the musher accepted Biko into the Ilion sanctuary and sled team, promising the man that his dog was in good hands. Biko was devastated at first. She didn’t want to leave her home, nearly believing that she did something terrible and was being sent away because of it. But after a bit of reassurance and careful explanation, she understood. And so, out of the love she had for her old owner, she accepted her new home in Alaska. Before leaving, she promised the woodworker that she would send him lumber from all over the world so that they can stay connected.
"I’ll be honest and say that at first, I felt guilty for bringing Biko to the Ilion sanctuary, even though I was asked to. She was down for a while when she arrived, and I did everything I could to make her feel at home. Thankfully the other dogs were quick to befriend her, and it wasn’t long before she was her cheerful self that I first saw when I visited Sweden. Sometimes i’s hard to contain her energy, but I’m glad she’s feeling comfortable now. She’s excellent when it comes to training, sometimes clumsy but always moving forward no matter what. Unfortunately, she tends to get distracted on the trail and will collect sticks for me to send back to Sweden. Sometimes the sticks are whole branches from trees, which are impossible to ship. I didn’t want to upset her, so I came up with the idea of taking the branches and carving them into small pieces of art just like her owner. She was already very talented at it, and some carvings she makes we display around the clinic (It has also made shipping a lot more reasonable)."
🐾 She loves collecting sticks and twigs, burying them, chewing them, and sometimes carving them to create art
🐾 Self taught herself the "how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood" tongue twister without fail
As a young pup, Gau was brought up on a farm, where he spent his days doing various farm chores, herding cattle, and whatnot. The farm’s owner passed away some years down the line, and Gau was adopted by one of the owner’s close friends who worked at a nearby coal mine. Gau was then trained as a mining dog, helping miners with various tasks that required a good amount of pulling strength. During this time, Gau befriended a fellow dog named Bona, who also worked in the mines.Bona was a former explosive detecting dog who was retired and rehomed after suffering minor injuries while working. While he was supposed to live a comfortable life, he became a nuisance to his owners and ended up putting him up for adoption. After some time, he was adopted by a coal miner who brought him to the mines for work. Gau and Bona bonded and quickly became very close. They would often have friendly pulling competitions with each other as make-believe sled dogs. Strong as he was, Gau almost always won, but he couldn’t help but let Bona win every once and a while. His time with Bona made long and grueling days feel short and fun. Their friendship quickly became a precious thing.On one fateful day, an underground explosion caused the walls to collapse on many of the mine’s workers and dogs, one of them being Bona. Gau rushed to his friend’s aid, but when he had finally found him, it was too late. All of the victims of the incident had succumbed to the collapsed rubble. The mines were shut down permanently, and the dogs that remained there were relocated to new homes all across Canada. Gau was inconsolable and incredibly temperamental after the incident and was immediately put into a pound as a result of his behavior.He became reclusive, making it nearly impossible for potential adopters to see his personality or his true potential. After some time, all of the other dogs in the pound were adopted off, Gau being the only one left. His time was running out, as the shelter was going to be closed down too. Just when Gau thought it was the end for him, he was adopted by a musher from Alaska. He was brought to his new home, where he was given a nice place to sleep and warm food. Gau continued to be closed off, but the musher was patient with him and allowed him to open up at his own pace. Gau eventually learned about the sled team and grew an interest in it. The more he learned, the more he was reunited with the joy of when he and Bona would pretend to be sled dogs together in the mines. Wanting to find that feeling again, he joined the team officially.
"Gau was one of the original lead dogs on my long-distance team, but I moved his position to team/wheel after a few races. This was a completely mutual decision, though! There’s nothing wrong with his ability to lead; in fact, he’s one of the best lead dogs! But without getting into too much detail, Gau still has a lot on his mind, and I think he doesn’t want to jeopardize the team potentially. I gave him a small plot of land in the corner of the sanctuary to relive his farm days and so that he can have some peace to himself. When he's not training, he's always planting new crops and bringing us vegetables for our various meals. However, there was a period when he stopped participating in training to just farm all day for weeks. I was worried about him during that time as he closed himself off again, but he returned to training not long after, raring to go! Even if he never wanted to race again, I would completely understand. But I think deep down; Gau missed being around the other dogs. Some of the other dogs can be pretty rough and wild, but he always seems to get them under control."
🐾 The musher gave him a small plot of land to farm vegetables and fruit, but sometimes the other dogs vandalize his crops (he doesn't seem to mind though).
🐾 He loves growing oats and making oatmeal for the other dogs!
Breed: Siberian Husky
From: Alaska, USA
Kima was born to a Siberian husky litter that belonged to a famous Alaskan photographer. She was the lucky one of the bunch, sometimes getting to accompany the photographer on his many trips around Alaska. When she grew older, the photographer taught her how to use a camera, giving her an old hand-me-down as a gift. It would be an excellent hobby for Kima, he thought. Something to keep her entertained while he was away on work trips overseas.During this time, she became obsessed with photography, becoming fixated and taking photos of anything and everything remotely interesting. When the photographer would return from his trips, he would review her photos, noticing that most of her photos were smudged or blurred. Despite the dozens of wasted films, he encouraged her and even allowed her to become his apprentice. Kima did her best to hone her photography skills, as she wanted to impress the photographer and take the very best pictures of the beautiful world around her. During one trip, the photographer was hired to take photos for an upcoming sled dog competition being held in Iceland. It was a relatively small sprint competition, and the length of it was only 20km. Here the photographer met the Ilion musher, who had brought only four dogs with them.Kima mingled with the dogs and took candid photos of them, showing them off and laughing together at the silliness. During the race, Kima continued to take pictures of the dogs. When reviewing the photos, she felt proud of how amazing they came out and felt invigorated and inspired. Seeing the dogs race and have fun with each other made her wish she could experience the world with them. When they arrived home, Kima told the photographer that she wanted to join the Ilion team, and as always, the photographer encouraged her. He knew they’d keep in touch, after all. The photographer called the Ilion musher, and together they made arrangements for her arrival. And just like that, Kima fit right in. A perfect match. Every once and a while, she sends photos to the photographer as mementos of her many races around the world.
"Kima is one of my lead dogs on my long-distance team. She took over for Gau a while ago, and she's been giving it her all ever since. While she's technically "inexperienced," I wasn't hesitant in making her my new lead dog. Just from training, she has shown all the natural qualities of a leader! She's also got a down-to-earth personality and knows when to get serious, which seems to have a positive effect on the other dogs. Usually, the other dogs can kick up a fuss about me choosing lead dogs, but they follow her without a problem! And she gets along great with my other long-distance lead, Tuija. I wrote to her original owner and told him all about her promotion and how great she's performing, and as a gift, he gave her a brand new camera. That camera takes the clearest photos I've ever seen, and it's her pride and joy. I know I just praised the other dogs for behaving well with her, but sometimes the other dogs tamper with her cameras, and then that's when all hell breaks loose!"
🐾 She takes most of the photos for the sanctuary website (Thank you, Kima!)
🐾 She's incredibly friendly and loves making small talk with the other dogs, but overall she prefers being by herself
Breed: Samoyed/Rough Collie Mix
From: Palmer, Alaska
Alto was born to a litter of four; her father was a rough collie, and her mother, Tosca, was a samoyed. All of Alto's siblings were adopted except for her, allowing her to grow up close with her mother.Tosca was a former sled dog, and –while not particularly famous– her team did gain decent renown. Alto would spend her days running with her mother, who taught her everything she knew about racing. She loved every second of her daily routine; running and playing with her mom during the day and curling up in bed with her owner at night. For Alto, this was the true meaning of happiness.One quiet morning, their owner left to go for a hike as she usually did on the weekends. All seemed to be fine until their owner failed to show up that evening. At first, Alto thought maybe she was just running late. But then days passed, and she still had not returned home. Tosca felt it was her duty to look for her, so she and Alto left to search through the vast Alaskan wilderness. The search was challenging and grueling; Tosca often sacrificed her food and energy to keep her daughter alive as it was wearing Alto down just as much. After a week of searching, they eventually ended up on the side of a highway, where a concerned onlooker pulled over and picked them up. Learning of what had happened, the onlooker told the two that their owner was most likely dead; after all, the Alaskan wilderness was treacherous and unforgiving. This revelation broke the two, but they had to accept the harsh truth. The onlooker dropped them off at a shelter, where they were kept in a small, cramped enclosure.The treacherous journey proved to be too much for Tosca, and she knew she didn't have much longer. Staying close to her in her final days, Alto swore to her mother that they would get out of the shelter and be free again. The following morning, her mother passed on. Overcome with grief, Alto found the strength to break out of her enclosure and run away as far as she could.As she ran, she felt as if her mother was beside her, which gave her the strength to go on for miles. And through a stroke of luck, her legs gave out at the exact moment she had reached the Ilion sanctuary. The Musher quickly found her and took her in to nurse her back to health. When Alto woke up, she was energized and opened up to the Musher about everything that had happened; her owner disappearing and her mother passing. Despite the tragedies she had faced, she explained to them that it felt as if her mother guided her to the sanctuary; it felt like a sign. Alto decided to stay at the sanctuary, regaining her strength and eventually recovering emotionally from the loss. She learned about the Musher's sled team and felt like it truly was a blessing from her mother. Through this, Alto joined the team and found a new place to call her home.
🐾 She's a bit absent-minded if she’s not directly engaged in an activity and tends to stare off into space
🐾 She loves music and playing instruments thanks to her previous owner
🐾 The musher gave her a heated blanket because she has difficulty sleeping without the warmth of another dog (She still likes to sleep next to others)
🐾 Her favorite food is salmon and pig ears
🐾 Developed CEA (Collie Eye Anomaly) at a young age. While she isn't fully blind, her vision is poor in her left eye, so she learned to rely on smelling/hearing. Thus she tends to run with her eyes closed.
Breed: Tan Siberian Husky
Misha was born to a Siberian Husky dog breeding family in Russia. Rebellious and a troublemaker from a young age, she ran away in her early years to pursue a life in the wilderness, which caused her ability to speak to lag behind. However, she enjoyed the freedom of running around at her will, hunting whatever food she needed, and overall enjoying the sights of the vast Russian forests and mountains. But despite her freedom, Misha often got lonely-- she lacked the social interaction she wanted and wished for a friend. Eventually, Ilion's musher found her running outside of a small town by chance. They noticed Misha's energy and speed and thought she'd make a perfect new addition to their team. However, Misha didn't quite understand the concept of mushing, and it was difficult for the musher to explain it to her because of how energetic she was. Once Misha calmed down, she finally understood and excitingly accepted. Misha no longer spent her days alone in the Russian wilderness now that she had an abundant amount of friends. Now at Ilion, she has gotten much better at speaking and has come to enjoy racing and spending time with musher.
"It's a given that puppies want to play instead of train, and Misha is no exception. I don't train or play with puppies very often, so it was fun and reminded me of my early days as a musher. But I underestimated just how energetic she was because the experienced dogs were becoming so frustrated that I had no choice but to pull her out of practice. I felt guilty for being too eager to have her on my team. All she wanted to do was play and make friends, so I took a break from training to spend time with her. During our time together, I explored the sanctuary with her. We found a bunch of hidden treasures (toys and bones) and a wolverine den in the forest. At one point, I even let her help me around the office-- but that was short-lived as Jacky wasn't thrilled about having her around. Fortunately, they're friends now. Misha eventually calmed down enough to want to start training for races again. Honestly, I enjoyed the break and didn't want it to end so soon, but Misha's newfound motivation got me off my feet and back onto the sled! "
🐾 Misha is easily amused and enjoys doing a little bit of everyone's hobbies, as long as they don't mind her company.
🐾 She enjoys running around, bird watching, relaxing in the hot springs, and is often daydreaming
🐾 She loves small forest critters, especially rabbits
🐾 She puts a lot of value on her first picture with the musher, so she keeps it in her jacket pocket at all times.
🐾 While she is a picky eater, she mostly enjoys hot seafood and hearty meals
🐾 She gets injured easily because of overexertion, but has a high pain tolerance, so she usually puts a band-aid on it and shrugs it off.
Breed: Alaskan Malamute
From: Denali, Alaska
Olivier is an Alaskan Malamute bred in a small town near Denali, Alaska. She was adopted by a French-Canadian CEO, who brought her back to Montreal as a gift to his wife. He was rarely home, so he took Olivier in hopes that she would keep his wife company. However, the excitement of having a new dog quickly wore off, and she became bored of Olivier and often neglected her because of it. Without a true pack leader to train her, Olivier became disobedient and feisty, destroying furniture and ignoring commands. The larger she grew, the harder she was to control, and the wife became frightful. She soon decided that Olivier wasn’t worth the hassle and surrendered her to a local shelter.This made Olivier distrustful of humans and possessing a strangely aloof nature for a Malamute; it made it hard for her keepers to find someone who would adopt her. Otherwise, she got along very well with the other shelter dogs, finding them much more friendly and intelligent than any human. One day, the Ilion Musher passed through Montreal and caught sight of a shelter volunteer walking Olivier. She was being incredibly disobedient, dragging the volunteer—a full-grown man—across the path. Rather than helping the volunteer, the musher was impressed with Olivier’s strength and excitedly praised her for it. They asked the volunteer about her and learned that she was up for adoption at the local shelter.The musher took the chance and adopted her right away, recruiting her onto their mushing team. At first, Olivier was defiant towards the musher, but they didn't give up on her, making sure to give her the guidance and attention she had never received as a puppy. With time, she began to love being part of the team and came to find trust in the musher, soon finally accepting them as her pack leader.
"Training Olivier was super tough. She was very stubborn, and her strength is uncontested. But even after the multiple injuries I've sustained, I never gave up on her. She had a great distrust of humans when I brought her to the sanctuary, and so I worked hard to show her that I was trustworthy. "Even if other humans in the world let you down, I won't!" That's what I kept telling her—I know, super corny. It annoyed her too, but I was serious! I tried so many different things that I can't remember what made her smile at me for the first time. Alaska can be gloomy for days on end, but I swear the sun shined on her when she finally started to trust me. I'd take the beatings all over to see that first smile again! I almost considered her for lead dog with how well she listens to me now! But... When we tried it out during training, she was so strong she ended up dragging everyone across the dirt trail. Thankfully, she's happy with being a wheel dog. It's where she gets to show off her true strength!"
🐾 One of the tallest dogs at the sanctuary (6'4")
🐾 She's very tomboyish and loves rough housing and wrestling with the other dogs. Sometimes she'll sit on the smaller dogs that are causing problems because she knows they can't do anything about it.
🐾 She dislikes real fighting between any of the dogs, and will be quick to break it up
🐾 Even though she trusts the musher, she is still very wary of other humans who are on sanctuary grounds (even volunteers/workers). She'll end up intimidating them to leave, to which the musher has to step in and tell her to stop.
🐾 Tug-O-War is her favorite activity; she always wins!
🐾 She loves chewing on stuff, especially moose bones and furniture.
Breed: Pastore Fonnese (Fonni Shepherd)
Nora was a shepherd dog that was treated terribly by her owner due to her lack of self-confidence and clumsiness while herding sheep. She wasn’t necessarily scared of the sheep, but she would constantly doubt herself when making decisions. Whenever she would make a mistake, or a sheep would escape due to a slip-up, she would be rashly punished. Her owner would constantly tell her that she would be replaced with a better and brighter dog. Nora didn’t want to be abandoned, so sh