Wildfire, a sled dog, injured last weekend in a hit-and-run snowmobile collision in northwestern Wisconsin, is on the mend after having surgery Jan. 11 in Eden Prairie.
The Alaskan husky who turns 3 in April has a long road to recovery after his badly broken left rear leg was repaired at Mission Animal Hospital, 10100 Viking Drive. Wildfire is part of musher Ryan Redington’s dog sled team that finished seventh during last year’s Iditarod race in Alaska. The dog was one of six on Redington’s team of 14 to run the entire 846 miles.
Sarah Keefer, Redington’s training partner, said that the surgeon is cautiously optimistic that Wildfire will eventually have full use of his leg. He will be back at Mission in Eden Prairie for a checkup in a couple of weeks.
“Good news for Wildfire,” said Keefer, who lives in Burnsville. “He’s one of the happiest dogs in the yard. He’s always excited to go for a run.”
The incident occurred while Redington, Keefer and the dogs were training for the 400-mile John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon, which begins Jan. 30 in Duluth. “That race itself is training for Iditarod,” Keefer said.
Both Redington and Keefer were each mushing a team of dogs on a trail not too far from Redington’s racing kennel when a passing snowmobiler steered into Redington’s team. (A couple of minutes later, the same snowmobiler almost hit the lead dogs on Keefer’s team.)
Wildfire serves mainly as a wheel dog or wheeler, which places him directly in front of the sled and the musher. According to the Iditarod website, a wheel dog’s job is to pull the sled out and around corners or trees.
“Whether (the snowmobiler) meant to spook them or actually make contact we can’t know, but he did strike several dogs and nearly hit Ryan and the sled,” Keefer wrote on the GoFundMe account she organized.
Keefer said police are searching for the snowmobiler who drove off.
Wildfire was hit the hardest. (Another dog, Willy, sustained cuts and bruises.)
“He was not putting on any weight on that left rear leg,” Keefer said of Wildfire. “And we could see the weight was dangling very unnaturally. We knew there was at least one fracture there.”
Keefer said Wildfire stayed at her Burnsville house the night before the surgery. “He’s been very calm and stoic about the whole situation,” she said.
Wildfire ended up at the non-profit Mission Animal Hospital after a recommendation from the emergency veterinarian that first saw him in Duluth. Cost and expertise of the kind of orthopedic surgery Wildfire needed were the draws to the Eden Prairie hospital. (Mission was founded in 2015 to “meet the growing need in our community for affordable veterinary options,” according to its website.)
“It is complicated surgery because of the nature of the fractures,” Keefer said. “The tibia is broken and the femur is broken.”
Keefer said the goal of the GoFundMe page to pay for the veterinary bills for both Wildfire and Willy was $9,000. About $40,000 has been raised as of Thursday night.
“We didn’t get anything posted until last night (Monday), but I think in 40 minutes we nearly reached the goal, which I expected, to be honest, just because of the outreach we have been getting,” she said.
Originally from Alaska, Redington returns to his home state each year to race in the Iditarod. His grandfather, Joe Redington Sr., founded the iconic race in 1973.
Keefer, who splits her time between Burnsville and Redington’s Wisconsin kennel, works with him to help train and race the dogs as he readies himself for this year’s nearly 1,000-mile Iditarod, which starts March 5. Like Redington, she participates in preliminary races. Last year, he placed second, and she placed third in the Beargrease Marathon.
“We have an A-team and a B-team, and Ryan being the lead musher with the more experience is the one who is going to run the Iditarod,” Keefer said. “He takes the A-team dogs, which are the best of the group. Those dogs (Wildfire and Willy) were both on the A-team. They are both key dogs that I’m sure would have gone on to run Iditarod this year.”
Story update: Wildfire is doing well after undergoing a second surgery on his leg Thursday, Jan. 13, at Mission Animal Hospital. Keefer reported on the GoFundMe account that Wildfire’s femur fracture was further stabilized with a 14-hole plate and eight screws, placed opposite to the plate he received during his first surgery. “Although Wildfire has a long road to recovery and will need focused care for several weeks, the team believes he now has the best chance for success,” Keefer wrote.