Can-Am musher Jaye Foucher has pulled out of the Willow 300 Sled Dog Race 2022 and the Iditarod in Alaska so that she may focus on helping her team recover from its injuries.
Foucher was training near the Matanuska-Susitna Borough community of Willow in Alaska for the Willow 300 on Jan. 19 when the dogs at the front end of her team were hit by a truck, killing one dog and injuring three others.
Foucher of Sibersong Sleddogs was in Alaska intending to run her team in the Iditarod, a 1,000-mile race through Alaska’s wilderness that is considered the ultimate challenge in mushing. Foucher has been coming to northern Aroostook County from New Hampshire to compete in the Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Race for several years, and has developed relationships with the people in the St. John Valley communities.
Can-Am organizers are in the process of making a donation to Foucher’s team, but support doesn’t end there for the musher and her dogs. Fellow mushers and sled dog race enthusiasts across the country found ways to chip in either through making donations directly to Foucher or to the veterinarian’s office to reduce hospital bills. One New Hampshire native even DoorDashed coffee and doughnuts to the veterinary staff.
“These dogs are my life,” Foucher said. “I can’t imagine even being out on a race trail right now while they’re back here in pain, with decisions needing to be made.”
During the crash, sled dog Felicity had broken loose from the gangline and was missing for more than 24 hours, but returned home on her own with minor injuries after a community-wide search by other mushers and volunteers from the Iditarod.
Felicity’s teammate Flint had also broken free and remained loose for 3-4 hours before being caught and treated for lacerations that had sliced to his carpal bones.
Another dog, Kona, has a long recovery ahead of him because his tail had to be amputated and his pelvis was broken. Foucher said Kona will see a neuro-surgeon in Seattle, Washington, in the next few days to evaluate his need for surgery.
Foucher said running the Iditarod with her own team of dogs has always been her dream so despite other mushers offering loaner dogs, Foucher ultimately decided this was not her year for the 1,000-mile race.
“The bond between myself and the dogs I’ve raised and spent hours upon hours with on the trail is what I trust to get me all the way to Nome,” Foucher said.
Unsure whether her return to the race will be next year or the one after that, Foucher assured that this is not the end for her. With healthy young dogs still at her home in New Hampshire, Foucher hopes she can build a new crew of lead runners so that those injured may have the time they need to heal but still plans to return to the trails in Alaska to train those of her dogs without injuries.
When Foucher does return to Alaska to attempt the Iditarod, she said she will run the race in memory of her deceased leader Noddy — his ashes riding along with her and the team.
“I will come back and do this race, but the only thing I can focus on right now is healing the dogs, and healing myself,” Foucher said.