"The first thing is to follow the sport."

"There's a wealth of ways that you can tap into what's happening and you can become personally engaged in this and get to know mushers and their dogs as personalities."
David A Pike Mushing podcast

Dog Wellness Initiative with David A. Pike

David A. Pike, a sponsor and supporter of dog mushing in Alaska, discusses his involvement in the sport and his initiatives to promote dog wellness. He shares how he got interested in dog mushing and his experiences on the back of a dog team. Pike emphasizes the importance of preserving the core values of dog mushing and the need for support from the community to ensure the future of the sport. He also talks about his sponsorship of the Leonard Seppala Humanitarian Award and the Junior Iditarod, as well as his involvement in the Anchorage Mushing District. Pike encourages people to follow the sport, volunteer, and engage with elected officials to support dog mushing.


  • Dog mushing in Alaska is under pressure from external factors such as interest groups, financial issues, and cultural changes.
  • Preserving the core values of dog mushing and supporting the sport is crucial to ensure its future.
  • Following the sport, volunteering, and engaging with elected officials are ways for individuals to support dog mushing.
  • Initiatives like the Dog Wellness Initiative, the Leonard Seppala Humanitarian Award, and the Junior Iditarod promote dog health and welfare.
  • The Anchorage Mushing District aims to highlight the historic and cultural significance of dog mushing in Alaska.

Sound Bites

  • “There is nothing that quite beats that ability to stand on the runners and hear the pad pad pad pad pad of dogs’ feet on freshly fallen snow.”
  • “This way of life and the organized mushing community is under tremendous pressures from outside interest groups, from financial issues like inflation and cost of dog care here in Alaska and cultural changes like the difficulty in obtaining people who will serve as handlers.”
  • “The first thing is to follow the sport. I mean, one of the great things about our internet-based media system today is programs like yours, where there’s a wealth of ways that you can tap into what’s happening and you can become personally engaged in this and get to know mushers and their dogs as personalities.”


00:00 Introduction and Background
03:05 The Hay Day of Iditarod and Changes Over Time
06:21 Getting Involved in Dog Mushing and Favorite Mushers
10:25 Experiencing Dog Mushing and Favorite Running Spots
12:15 The Dog Wellness Initiative
14:36 Sponsoring the Leonard Seppala Humanitarian Award
20:02 The Anchorage Mushing District
21:50 The Future of Dog Mushing and the Importance of Support
23:18 Ways to Support Dog Mushing: Follow, Volunteer, Engage
25:05 Closing Remarks and Contact Information



Note: The transcripts are provided by our hosting platform and are a combination of AI-generated, and user generated content. They are provided so that our readers can follow along. These transcripts are not meant to be a word-for-word rendition of the conversation. 


You are listening to mushing on First Paw media. Visit our website at mushing .com. Hello and welcome everybody. This is Robert and you’re listening to the mushing podcast. And today I am joined by a special guest. His name is David A. Pike. He does a heck of a lot of work for dog mushing up here in Alaska. And I’m excited to have him on David. How are you doing today? I’m doing great. And thank you for your interest in what we’re doing Robert. Well, thank you David can you give us a quick bio to tell us who you are and what you’re all about, please? Well, that’s that be a long story and of course, as a lawyer, I’ll try to give the word brief some meaning here. I’m originally from Shepherdsville Kentucky which is located just south of Louisville.

And these days I own a very, very specialized law firm that does work nationwide. And as I moved closer to retirement, the good news is, is that all the lawyers who work for me are doing most of the work, giving me more time to do things that I really enjoy, like being in Girdwood, Alaska today. That’ll sum it up. And just a quick aside, David, I grew up in Huntington, West Virginia, and Ashland, Kentucky. I spent quite a bit of time there. I know that’s a little bit near the neck of the woods, is that right? It is. And I’ve done a bunch of work in that area as well. It’s a beautiful country. Well, let’s jump right into this. And like I said at the top, I am really interested to hear what you guys have to say about everything that you’re doing with the sport of dog mushing. But before we talk about that,

How in the world did you get interested in the sport and how, how far back was that? Well, I think every Alaskan has a, has an interesting story on how they ended up here. in my case, this goes all the way back to 1999, which dates me quite a few years. my next-door neighbors in Kentucky were the mother and father of Bruce Lee, who of course these days is the famous commentator for the Iditarod Insider. They talked us into taking a cruise with my family up to Alaska. And when I was in Denali, I made what I’ve often referred to as one of the most consequential and certainly one of the most long-term expensive phone calls of my life when I decided I would try to call Bruce and he answered, I got a tour of his dog yard and at that point, of course, he was just coming off a big win for the Yukon Quest and it was at the height of his, I did a ride mushing career. and I was back about six weeks later to discuss setting up an educational program that he was going to star in for elementary students in Kentucky and sponsoring his dog team.

And, everything flowed from that over a period of years, we were renting an apartment here. Then of course we bought a home in Girdwood and I became a volunteer in the Iditarod and we’ve sponsored dog teams individually every year since then. So with that first trip up here in the late nineties, that truly was the hayday of Iditarod. The purses were huge. The sponsors were, were just everywhere.

And it’s sort of ebbed and flowed since then. And I know that a lot of this conversation is going to have to do with your sponsorship of the races. What did you think of the race back then in the early days, at least for you? It’s kind of mid-career in terms of Iditarod, but for you, what do you think of the race back then compared to now? well, I think your phrase that it was all very much larger than life then is a really good summary.

Because the course the race at that point was dominated by some of the big personalities and kind of famous mushers who are now stepping into retirement which is obviously part of the reason for the evolution of the race at least in my opinion and also of course there was plenty of money to run the race back then and of course you know the race could always used more funding but there was no shortage of corporate sponsors and the very traditional financial models that the race had used for a long period of time were again to use your term at their heyday. Yeah, back then I’m just thinking Cabela’s and Eukanuba and Coca -Cola and all of those folks were the big sponsors back then. I got involved with dog mushing in 1994 but did not move up to Alaska until 2010 to chase one of those crazy Iditarod dreams. Someday it’ll happen, but I’ve been following it a long time. When you started following it, David, did you have your favorites? Obviously you sponsored. mushers throughout the days, but did you have favorites back then? You know, the Jeff Kings and the Martin Buser’s and you know, all of those guys were, were the household names then. Well, of course I’ve all, I was always a fan of the teams that we were sponsoring and kind of the first.

No, for the first, I’d say 10 years of our sponsorships, that was Bruce Lee until the end of his career and then Aaron Burmeister for many years. And, and of course we were big fans of them. I would say if I was going to choose one of the legends of Iditarod that we always had a soft spot for in my family, it would be Martin Buser in part because of his longstanding Kentucky connection.

I did not know about his Kentucky connections. Can you share? Yeah, he was he was he was sponsored by a very well known racing great, Mary Lou Whitney, who was who had who was of course based in Kentucky for most of her career. In the latter part of her career, she moved to New York, as I understand it. But she took a very big interest in him.

And of course, promoted his name in the Commonwealth of Kentucky to no end. I love hearing those backstories for sure. So as you worked your way through the Iditarod machine, if you will, over the last 25 years almost, things have changed quite a bit as we talk about those sponsorship opportunities and sort of the ebb and flow of the race. How have you paid steadfast in that? I know that you had said that you had sponsored several mushers throughout the day, but how did you sort of navigate that as you were building up to what you’re doing today? You know, that’s an interesting question. You know, our devotion to the race has always been focused on what we view as the core values of it. And that kind of gets to the dog wellness initiative that I suspect we’ll talk about in more depth in a few minutes.

But despite the politics associated with the race and the personalities, which will always change, what we loved is that this in many ways is an expression of Alaska as a, as a frontier state and as a state epitomized by adventure, by adventure. And it’s one of the things that sets the state apart.

And of course, the unique personalities that you meet in the machine community make that all worthwhile and kind of endlessly entertaining to be quite frank. Yeah. And I know that you do quite a bit of traveling, following your, your trials and tribulations on Facebook. you, you travel all over the world, but you always make it up here to Alaska and do quite a bit.

Not only for dog sports, but of course, sponsoring and showing people around and all that. What makes Alaska special to you, David? I know you have a home in Girdwood and for folks that don’t know, that’s sort of our ski resort town, if you will, sort of in between here and the peninsula. It’s right there on one of the most beautiful drives in the world. What makes Alaska so special to you?

Well, first of all, I would tell you it’s the most beautiful tribe in the world. But after that, you know, Alaska, you know, you know, much of course, much of the country, the idea of wilderness is that you have islands of wilderness surrounded by oceans of development. And here we still have it the way it was originally, in which we have islands of development surrounded by oceans of wilderness. This is, I mean, this is a place where you can still come in the winter and get on the Park’s Highway and drive for two hours and not see another car. And those are concepts that are just so completely alien to the rest of the country. There’s a capacity for all that to get you back in touch with the core values that we all ought to have in terms of respecting the wild and preserving it. And dog mushing does a better job of bridging that gap than dog mushing does. It’s no accident that it is the state sport of Alaska. Do you have a favorite season up here? I know you’ve been up here throughout the years. What’s your favorite time in Alaska? You know, everybody asks, in particular everyone Outside who’s getting ready to take their first trip. And every cruise passenger who’s ever been here to Alaska, of course, will tell you that the summers are beautiful. But I have to tell you, I love the winters when almost all the tourists have gone home. And as an adult, I became a skier. I am not a good skier, but I love skiing. And I always take a lot of pride in being able to do it at my age here in Girdwood.

Excellent. So let’s jump right into the dog mushing side of that. We led up to your sponsorship and your involvement in the race from about 99 till now. But I have to ask, how many times have you been on the back of a dog team? And if so, what do you think? my many, many, many times. And each time I do it, I develop an even better appreciation for people who can do this professionally, and, also an even better understanding with my limited sense of balance, exactly why I should not be doing it professionally. but no, I’ve done this many times with people we’ve sponsored and with friends and it is, and for those of you who have not, and, it is an experience that you need to seek out. There is nothing that quite beats that, ability to stand on the runners and hear the pad pad pad pad pad of dogs feed on on on freshly fallen snow that you come away from slightly changed and emotionally engaged.

For sure. I couldn’t sum it up better for it myself. Do you have a favorite spot to run dogs in all of your times you’ve done it someplace in Alaska? gotta be Denali. And despite some of the problems in that area, it’s a bit, you know, the Denali Highway is a very fertile, giving location for amateurs and the scenery simply cannot be beat.

So let’s jump into the thing that you’re calling the Dog Wellness Initiative. Tell us a little bit about that and how that come about. Well, what happened was, of course, we all remember the declaration of the pandemic in 2020. And that happened during that year’s Iditarod.

My family and I looked at what was happening and it was pretty clear that it had the potential to be an existential threat to dogmashing in Alaska and to major races like the Iditarod in particular. And we all kind of put our heads together and decided it was time to try to up our game and to try to focus on what we knew the core values were of this sport, but that we didn’t think was getting enough attention from the sport. And that was to focus on dog wellness and dog health. I mean, because ultimately the best view of this sport is that dogs aren’t tools. Instead, they’re partners in any team and need to be acknowledged as such.

And so we spoke with Rob Urbach at Iditarod and we all did some brainstorming. And what we came up with was a major effort on our part and kind of stepping up our support for the state in which we provided $500 to the first 50 teams to sign up for the Iditarod in 2021 and again in 2022 with that $500 to be used to reimburse the first $500 in vet expenses for dogs. And that’s something that I’m kind of pleased to say got a very, very good reception from the mushing community. And we’d like to think that at a time when mushers were under so much financial pressure associated with the pandemic, it helped to kind of refocus people on the importance of not cutting corners when it came to vet care.

I love that. And I know this is the first time we’ve ever spoken about this on this show. And I really appreciate you doing that and your support for the sport. So David, I understand since 2022, you’ve also sponsored the Leonard Seppala Humanitarian Award. Can you tell us about that, please? Well, after that first couple of years, we wanted to try to compare our commitment to emphasizing dog health and started looking around for the best way to do it. And again, kind of talked with Iditarod as kind of as the premier big-name race in Alaska for dog mushing. And at that juncture, no one had been sponsoring the humanitarian award. And of course, that’s the award that goes to the musher with the best dog care during the race.

And that’s as evaluated mathematically by all the veterinarians that we have out on the trail who are examining the dogs individually and helping to evaluate dogs for their health, safety and welfare. And that’s proved to be a good vehicle since then, we think, for again, helping to focus on that core value.

And from a mushers perspective, often that award in any type of race, whether it’s a sprint race or a race like Iditarod, typically these vet care awards or the humanitarian awards or whatever they’re calling them, that is a highly coveted award because often it does kind of put that person a little bit above the rest in terms of care and how they’re handling themselves on the trail. I’m sure you would agree with that, right David?

I would. And I’m glad you said it so that I so that I didn’t have to. I’ve had a number of measures tell me that it’s it’s more important to them than potentially winning the race in terms of their ability in the future to communicate to other sponsors and also to communicate to their own family members that what they’re doing has value. Nothing else quite beats it. So is your sponsorship for the humanitarian award something similar?

It’s designed to foster the same values. but it is, but it’s a different award structure. the original dog wellness initiative had funds flowing directly to mushers. And for us, we kind of viewed that as a crisis response during those first few years of the pandemic.

Of course, we’re still living with many of the economic and cultural effects of the pandemic on the dog-mushing community and on competitive mushing here in Alaska, but that crisis is now over, fortunately. And so this is a new award structure in which by sponsoring it, we help to make certain that it gets a lead billing in the race and that it gets a lead billing in the mushing community.

And perhaps most importantly, it gets a lead billing among some of the potential adversaries of our way of life outside. And that is very important. We could probably talk about that for hours right here on the podcast for sure.

Very recently, David, you became a sponsor of the Junior Iditarod. I think just a couple of weeks ago as of this recording, what is your, what’s your initiative for that? Is it different, the same or what?

It’s exactly the same message, Robert. and, but it’s with the next generation of dog mushers. One of, one of the big challenges for mushers in Alaska these days is simply getting people into the lifestyle. Cause unless you were born into it, it is difficult to break into it. As you know, you teach mushing.

It’s, it’s not an easy gig and, financially, of course, it’s tougher now than it ever has been. Junior Iditarod is kind of blazing a trail for future generations here. As I understand it, I think your daughter competed, didn’t she?

Yeah. She ran it twice as a teenager and, teaches dog mushing at the college with me now. So it truly does blaze that trail. And.

Of course, you know, this provides a major big-name race and community event for kids between 14 and 17. They’ve got a board of directors, which I think is a model for other races in many ways, where every single person is on the board as an active volunteer. And their focus of their budget is on providing scholarships and gifts for the kids who participate.

Making certain that dog safety and dog health is placed first and center as a value in that race for that community of mushers, I think is kind of self-evident as a good idea.

Junior Iditarod and Iditarod are definitely in your wheelhouse. Are you involved in the sport in any other way, whether it be sprint mushing or expedition? Do you follow anything else besides distance mushing? Well, there is one other thing that we’ve added to this wheelhouse, as you put it this year, that I’d like to take just a second to talk about. And that’s of course the Anchorage mushing district.

I don’t know if you’ve done any coverage of that yet in your podcast series, but I would encourage you to do so. that’s a major effort, to establish a historic district downtown, in Anchorage, with banners, medallions, historic markers, and the like, to culminate in the construction of a large steel arch over the starting place for the Iditarod start of course, and also for the Open World Championships, sled dog races, the sprint races that are held at the same location in anchorage. And it provides a great avenue for the tens of thousands of tourists who come through Anchorage during the summer, as well as the ones who are here at race time to help understand the historic significance and the cultural significance of this to all Alaskans.

For sure. The Fur Rondy is what David is talking about for folks that are not familiar. That is the race there that is held just a couple of weeks before Iditarod. And it’s definitely a highlight of the mushing season for sure.

So David, we’ve talked a lot about your involvement in the race for the last quarter of a century or so. And I always ask my guests to closing questions. And I’m really interested to hear what you have to say since you’ve been involved for, for so long. The first is where do you see the sport of dog mushing in any capacity in the next five or 10 years?

And that is a great question to ask. And, I think part of my answer is a challenge to your listeners. That all depends on what we do today. This way of life and the organized machine community is under tremendous pressure from outside interest groups, from financial issues like inflation and cost of dog care here in Alaska and cultural changes like the difficulty in obtaining people who will serve as handlers under the kind of traditional model of competitive mushing right now requires a real commitment from people as volunteers as contributors to get active in this sport and to support it. Because if we don’t five to 10 years from now, we run the risk of most of these major races being gone. And if they are gone, then mushing will kind of devolve in many ways in Alaska into a recreational activity. And that’s not to say that recreational mushing is bad, but we will have lost something that’s quintessentially Alaskan if we allow that to happen.

Which brings up a very good question, David. How can, how, what do you think is the best way for the everyday Joe, man or female to support?

The sport of dog mushing, maybe not just Iditarod because everybody has their favorites. Of course, this is a worldwide sport. So you have your fans of Iditarod. You have your fans of Rondy. You have your fans of, you know, the Norway trail, the Finnmark, or whatever. What do you think is the best way for, for people to really support this sport in the best way possible? And I think, and I think that’s easy.

The first thing is to follow the sport. I mean, one of the great things about our internet -based media system today is programs like yours, where there’s a wealth of ways that you can tap into what’s happening and you can become personally engaged in this and get to know mushers and their dogs as personalities. And of course, the second one is volunteer. I’ve been an active volunteer with Iditarod for many, many years.

It’s immensely rewarding. You get to know many other volunteers meeting the same cast of fascinating characters at every race. And as you were very right in pointing out, it’s not just Iditarod. There are regional races all over this state and they all desperately need volunteers. And becoming a volunteer will help open your eyes to the importance of the race and make it very easy to become even more committed over time.

David, is there anything else that you would like to talk about here on the show? We have a couple of minutes and the floor is yours.

I obviously love this state and I know probably virtually everyone who listens to your blog on an ongoing basis and reads your magazine love this state as well. I want to emphasize one more time it is very important for people to get engaged. If we don’t, we’re going to wake up one day soon and run the risk of not having this portion of our Alaskan culture. And that would just be a sheer tragedy to lose. But it is ours to keep and it is ours to win. And we can do it by volunteering and by contributing and committing to it and telling our elected officials to support it.

David, what’s the best way for folks to follow you? I know you’re very active on Facebook in particular. Is there anywhere else?

No, I think that would be it. And I look forward to getting a ton of friend requests. Most of my posts are restricted to friends. So you’ll have to engage with me on that level. But I look forward to getting a bunch of those requests after this. That means that in addition to dog mushing, you’ll get to learn all about Orlando theme parks.

My series of kind of eclectic and unusual hobbies. And of course, wine tasting based on my son being a sommelier.

On behalf of my guest, David Pike, this is Robert for mushing. We will see you guys next time. Goodbye. Nobody covers dog sledding like mushing from first paw media. Our team of athletes, volunteers, race organizers, and mushers like Robert and Michelle Forto brings you closer to this sport. If it’s happening, we are there.

Live from the qualifying races in January and February, the Iditarod in March, and in the summer, Mushing takes you on the road with our team and trail tour. We connect you with a history of the sport, in-depth interviews with the top mushers, and great storytelling and breaking news all year long. Follow on mushing .com.

Serious about mushing? Earn money sharing your knowledge on Mushing.com! More Information ℹ️