This story has been updated.
A Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Race musher from New Hampshire was training for an upcoming race in Alaska when her team was hit by a truck, killing one dog and injuring three others.
Jaye Foucher of Sibersong Sleddogs was mushing near the Matanuska-Susitna Borough community of Willow on Wednesday afternoon when she said a truck crashed into her sled dog team, according to Alaska’s News Source. Foucher said the collision happened as she and her team were attempting to cross the road. The truck didn’t slow down or stop, she said.
The dogs had jumped into the road because the trail in front of them was deep snow and hadn’t been broken out yet by anyone, Foucher said Thursday.
“A sled dog’s natural instinct is to take the easiest route. The easiest route in their mind was right next to them: a nice clear road that looked like a trail, so they jumped onto that,” Foucher said. “Dogs make mistakes just like humans do and unfortunately this mistake cost one of them their lives.”
Foucher has been coming to northern Aroostook County from New Hampshire to compete in the Can-Am Crown race for several years, and has developed relationships with the people in the St. John Valley communities.
Foucher’s first race in the Can-Am was in 2005 with the 60-mile race. Her first 250 was in 2007. She has been doing the 250 since then but had to scratch her last race due to a personal injury in 2016. She plans to return to the Can-Am at some point.
Can-Am Vice President Sarah Brooks said that Foucher is a good friend of hers, and she had no doubt that once the race officers have a chance to meet, they will figure out some way to offer support.
“The northern Maine and Can-Am community are definitely going to be behind her in any way we can be,” she said.
Local Can-Am racer Amy Dionne said Wednesday’s tragic crash is every musher’s greatest fear: to have dogs get hurt or die on a trail. Dionne said the bond made between musher and sled dog is unlike that made with a house pet. She said her stomach dropped when she approached roads and snowmobile crossings Thursday after hearing the news.
“I can’t imagine how Jaye is feeling,” Dionne said. “I don’t think any musher can gather the words for what happened yesterday.”
Foucher told Alaska’s News Source on Wednesday that she was not physically injured, but that one dog had died and one dog remains missing. Out of 11 dogs on the line when Foucher’s team was struck, eight were checked by veterinary staff and all but three have been cleared.
Police told Foucher they may know the identity of the truck driver, even though the person fled before troopers arrived. Foucher said she hopes the driver will come forward and plans to make a post on Facebook to help identify the driver.
Foucher said Thursday that she hoped to take the recovering dogs home from the hospital that day.
One of Foucher’s dogs, Kona, had some mild cuts and one rear leg was swollen and sensitive. The veterinarian suspects a broken pelvis, and if the dog needs surgery, he will have to be sent back to the East Coast. Another dog, Flint, had broken free from the line of dogs and ran around the town of Willow for about 3-4 hours before being caught.
“This is a testament to the toughness of a sled dog. He did that despite having lacerations on his legs that went down to his carpal bones,” Foucher said. “He’s got a long road ahead of him to recover those legs and his tail was so shattered and broken that it had to be amputated. But they are both doing well supposedly this morning.”
Can-Am veterans Lara Renner and Lev Schvarts were among those Wednesday leading the search for missing sled dog Felicity, who was last seen along mile 72 of Parks Highway, which is the main road running through town. Foucher said the dog knows its way home, so hoped it would come back on its own.
Foucher is registered for her first Iditarod, according to the race’s website. Race organizers had given Foucher the extra requirement of running the Willow 300 race, which takes place in less than a week, before she could enter the Iditarod.
“This was my Willow 300 team that just got hit, so I honestly don’t know if I even have a team for Willow 300 or Iditarod because they just knocked out,” Foucher told Alaska’s News Source. “The dead dog was one of my main leaders … two of the more injured dogs are two others of my main leaders, so I may not even have a front end left anymore. I can’t even wrap my head around that yet, I just have to get through the rest of [Wednesday] and then figure it out.”
Foucher plans to return to New England in late April but said that if she has to drop from the Iditarod she may be back sooner, despite her admiration for Alaska.
“I do love Alaska,” Foucher said. “The mushing community here and the trails and everything aren’t like anything anywhere else. … I can see me spending more seasons in Alaska, but I’m not at the point I would live here full time. As much as I enjoy it, I miss New England a little too much.”
Anyone looking to offer financial support for the injured dogs can donate through PayPal using friends & family to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the veterinarian’s office, Tier 1, directly at: 907-531-9680.