Famous Feet: Silver of Wild and Free Kennel

Brent Sass and Silver at their homestead in Eureka, in 2014.

In each magazine we highlight one particular dog that has gained fame and glory beyond its own kennel. In this edition, we celebrate Silver out of Brent Sass’ Wild and Free Kennel.

 “To put it simply, Silver changed my life!

In 2002 I was out skiing on some local trails in Fairbanks when a dog team came by.  As I watched the dogs run by, something clicked and I new that I wanted to ditch the skies and get on the runners and travel with sled dogs. A few days later, I went to visit the recreational musher who passed me that night and told him I wanted to be a musher and asks for advice on how to get started.  A week later he handed me a puppy and said “Now you have your first sled dog and you’re on your way to being a musher.” In the same breath he also gave me the warning that K9 Brain Fever was real and that if it grabs ahold it will take over your life.  With a huge smile I took the little 5-week-old pup having no idea the impact the dog would have on my life over the next 18 years.  With the little Alaskan Sled dog sitting in my lap we drove off down the road.  On the way home I decided I would name him Silver after my favorite and frequently visited local Brewery Silver Gulch!  Little did I know that this dog would forever change my life. 

 In the beginning he was a pain in the ass.  He hardly listened, was extremely independent and did whatever he wanted to do.  Basically, he ran me over.  He got into everything and was looking for trouble around every corner.  I also had no idea how to raise an Alaskan husky, so we learned together.  We had some challenging times in the beginning but early on I realized that this dog was special, and so did my friends around me.  Since he was my first sled dog he got all the attention, we did everything together, and he went everywhere with me.  The bond grew fast and within months it was apparent that Silver was not going to be just any dog.  Our loyalty and trust towards each other grew fast and before long the crazy mischievous puppy had turned into my loyal companion. 

 Before Silver and I even hit the  trail we were best friends and had created a bond that would last a lifetime. For the first three years of his life, Silver’s main job was not sled dog but best friend.  Being an ambitious 22-year-old college student/ cabin builder/ cabin dweller living life to the fullest in Alaska, Silver was the perfect companion.  After Silver entered my life, it reaffirmed that I wanted to be a dog musher and together we would build a team of dogs that would allow us to go on grand adventures and travel further and farther into the Alaskan wilderness.  This was the goal and together we would accomplish it.  

 After having Silver for a few months I of course collected several other dogs from wherever I could.  Most of these new additions came from the “free” ad column in the newspaper. At the time this was my only real means and with blind ambition we set out to build our team. With lots of trial and error and making more mistakes that I care to admit our little team’s bond and connection grew and Silver, still just a yearling, stepped up and was the clear leader of the team.  Silver was a big animal with natural leader tendencies and within one year, he was holding the line out, listening to my every command and clearly having the time of his life. 

In these early years racing was never even a thought.  The goal was just to travel and be able carry more stuff to allow for bigger adventures. Silver was the perfect dog to accomplish these goals.  With young Silver in the lead we proceeded to do just that.  We took every possible chance to first explore our backyard and then head north to the Brooks Range to hunt caribou and travel the endless landscapes and unbroken trails of the Arctic.  Over the years we ran into big storms and harsh weather and each time we were faced with these obstacles, Silver made it clear that he loved every minute of it. He would get more excited the crazier and more dangerous the situation became.  Silvers natural leader qualities and his ability to rise to every occasion is what allowed us to have these early adventures and set us up for success in the future.

In the Arctic it was clear that Silver was at his best.  He didn’t need a trail.  Put him up front say “Go” and he just plowed forward dragging everyone else with him wherever I wanted to go, listening to my every command.  His ability to seemingly always have a positive attitude and a “no quit” mentality allowed our little misfit team to do things that many other young mushers just don’t have the opportunity to do.  Although totally loyal, he was also stubborn and fiercely independent. He never really lost the spirit of the mischievous puppy.  He knew he was good and his confidence grew with every new trail we broke. Silvers best quality was his strong head and never-give-up attitude.   

After three years of exploring and turning a bunch of free dogs into a small kennel, we decided to enter our first race. With Silver at the helm we enter the 2006 Yukon Quest 300.  Little did we know that this race would be the event that would put Silver and myself in the spot light and would set the stage for the crazy and exciting career ahead of us. The 2006 race was dominated by a sever storm on Eagle Summit.  Silver would go on to break trail over the summit and get through the heart of the storm, save another musher, and lead us to victory in our very first race.  Eight other teams were airlifted of the mountain that night in the storm and news spread fast of this big leader, in a rookie team named Silver. I was clearly hooked on racing and wanted to start building a team that would win the Yukon Quest and I knew in my heart the Silver was the key.

Following our win in 2006, Silver would lead our team on the trail for the next five years not only getting us to the finish line but also helping many other teams get through storms and in the end saving peoples lives.  In 2011 he lead both our team and the stranded team of Hans Gatt over American Summit in a crazy storm saving Gatt’s life. This event lead the Quest to create the Silver Legacy Award in his honor to be given to dogs that show tremendous bravery and leadership on the trail. Silver had made his mark on the sled dog world and given his young musher the confidence to move forward with his dream to win the Yukon Quest. 

 This now famous big, old school looking husky would not only lead the Wild and Free team on the trail but also begin to define who and what the Wild and Free team would be in the future. I started breeding Silver and before I knew it, I had a whole team of little Silvers.

Silver’s kids, grandkids and great-grandkids would grow up and develop the same strong determined heads.   Silver would be there for it all, playing coach, cheerleader and couch potato.  He would eventually watch his team go on to win the Yukon Quest in 2015, 2019 and 2020.

Silver passed away this spring at the age of 18 but there is no doubt his spirit will always be with us,  because over 80 percent of the kennel is still related to him and I can see a piece of Silver in everyone one of them!”