Since 1973, the annual Iditarod Sled Dog Race has consisted of teams of dogs, typically Siberian Huskies, and one musher who compete to see who can make the 938-mile trek from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska, the fastest.
So when a sled dog named Leon accidentally escaped from his collar at a checkpoint and was forced to face Alaska’s icy, unforgiving wilderness all on his own, they weren’t sure whether or not he would even survive.
The Iditarod is essentially the “Super Bowl” for sled dogs. Not just any pup is suited to survive in extreme weather or endure the harsh Alaskan landscape. The race encompasses wilderness, including two mountain ranges, the frozen Yukon River, and the ice from the Bering Sea. Alaska doesn’t exactly consist of the coziest, most comfortable conditions.
So when one of the 14 dogs on musher Sébastien Dos Santos Borges’s team accidentally escaped, they weren’t sure they would ever see him again. Individual dogs are often placed in the care of professional handlers at checkpoints, where they can rest and receive medical care if needed. Leon was waiting at a checkpoint in Ruby, Alaska, when he wriggled out of his harness and made a mad dash into the wilderness.
But it wasn’t long before word of what happened spread around the town of Ruby, and the community came together to search for Leon. Even a helicopter circled the area to see if they could spot the stealthy sled dog. But sadly, by the time the race was completed, there was still no sign of Leon.
“It went on and on. And we’d hear, you know, maybe this was the dog, maybe it was wolf tracks — back and forth,” said Mark Nordman, the Iditarod’s race director.
Days turned into weeks, and before long, it had been three months that Leon was lost in the untamed Alaskan wilderness. Come spring, word of a Husky that had been spotted multiple times near a cabin 121 miles south of the checkpoint made its way back to town. Together, the cabin resident and a local musher baited the area with food and were finally able to identify and capture the lost sled dog.
“I don’t know if you’d say it’s a miracle or not, but it just shows how people work together and how tough these sled dogs can be,” Nordman said.
Leon is now back together with his doggy dad, and it was an amazing reunion. Not only was Leon’s happiness palpable, but Sebastian shared that he was absolutely elated to be back together with his pup.
“Everybody’s saying, if only Leon could talk because I’m sure he’d have a good story to tell!”