Wednesday afternoon, Matthew Failor was gracious enough to open his kennel up to the teachers attending Winter Conference. As we pulled up the narrow, steep driveway, the view of the dog yard came into view, and I was bursting with excitement. Matthew greeted each and every person who got off the bus with a smile and a handshake.
Matthew began our tour by giving us a little bit of background about his kennel. Matthew’s kennel, 17th Dog, is full of the happiest and most precious dogs and puppies. Currently, 17th Dog has 52 dogs; one for each week of the year! Prior to this year, the Iditarod allowed mushers to start the race with 16 dogs. Matthew’s 17th dog is the generous people who help keep his dogs going, including his family and boosters. Hence, the name 17th Dog Kennel.
17th Dog has three full time handlers who work with the dogs and help take care of them on a daily basis. One of them is Michael Baker, who will be competing in his second Iditarod this year. Michael will be running Matthew’s two year olds.
He also has Kaci Murringer, who just completed her qualifying races and will be running Matthew’s two year olds (currently one year olds) next year.
Cole Hendrickson is the third, and final handler. He just completed his first qualifier and will be running the Iditarod as soon as he finishes his other two qualifiers.
Matthew, Michael, Kaci, and Cole walked around the dog yard, socializing with teachers and introducing us to the different dogs. Teachers are good at asking questions, and they gave us lots of information about the dogs and mushing.
Once we finished up in the dog yard, we headed into Matthew’s garage, where he keeps his gear and some race memorabilia. Matthew and Michael have their gear all set up and ready to go for Saturday. When I asked Matthew if his dog team roster was set, he said they have 13 set in stone. They are still trying to decide which dog will be the fourteenth and final dog to make the team. They have their collars labeled with names and ready to go.
We also got to meet Matthew’s newest litter of puppies. They just turned two weeks old and recently opened their eyes. These puppies were the sweetest, most lovable puppies. They would snuggle right up and get comfortable. Since Matthew is from Ohio, I suggested he name the new litter of puppies after the Big Ten teams. He thought that was a great idea, but I’m curious to see what their theme ends up becoming! Matthew had to check pockets before we left to make sure no one was sneaking away with any puppies!
Matthew is originally from Ohio, the buckeye state. You may be wondering how he made his way to Alaska and became a musher. Matthew came to Alaska in 2006 and worked for Alaska Icefield Expeditions. During this time, Matthew formed a friendship with Iditarod veteran Matt Hayashida, and from there he became a handler for Martin Buser. In 2012, Matthew ran his first Iditarod with a team from Buser’s kennel, Happy Trails Kennel. Since his first race, Matthew has completed the Iditarod every year, along with several other long distance races. Most recently, Matthew was the champion of the Kuskokwim 300 in January 2019.
I wanted to hear about Matthew’s experiences on the trail, specifically rewards and challenges. When asked what the biggest reward on the trail has been, Matthew said it gives him ultimate freedom with his best friends. Who are his best friends? His dogs, of course! His biggest challenge has been overcoming fatigue. When you’re extremely tired, you sometimes make mistakes, and his goal is always to be as efficient as possible.
Our trip to 17th Dog Kennel ended with Matthew on a sled with a team of 9 dogs (and a camera man) riding into the snow covered woods for one final run before Saturday.
Matthew’s go-getter attitude and generous heart can inspire anyone to chase after their dreams. What are you waiting for? Get out there and go for it!
By the way, today I learned that Matthew’s favorite song is “Let it Be” by the Beatles. Thanks to Erin Montgomery’s class in Iowa for the podcast with Matthew!
Since I’ve spent the last couple of days with lots of dogs and mushers, I’d like to share a fun game I created, Go Mush! I made three versions: kindergarten, third grade, and high school Spanish. Check them out: