Saved by the Sled: How This Dog Rescue Helps Misunderstood Northern Breed Dogs

At Second Chance Mushers, the high-energy canines are living their best lives.

Posted in , Dec 23, 2021

A dog pulling people on a sled

A nurse by trade, Sarah Dobbrastine of Traverse City, Michigan, never expected to run a dog rescue. But as she began taking in surrendered northern breeds whose owners had difficulty handling them, she realized her true purpose was to help these dogs live out their purpose on the trails. Second Chance Mushers Rescue was born not only to provide a place for these high-energy canines, but also to educate folks about what these animals can do and how rescue dogs can thrive. Sarah is dedicated to showing these dogs—unwanted, neglected, unwell—that life can be full of adventure.

I was lucky enough to visit her rescue and take a sled ride, where I witnessed these dogs living their full potential. It was exhilarating and, afterward, I got a chance to ask Sarah more about the inspiring work she does.

Were you an animal lover growing up?

Definitely. From a young age and into my teenage years, I adored cats. My family had collies, but I never had the connection with them like I do with my dogs now. It was when my family got our first husky, Cody, during my junior high years, that my passion for the northern breed started to grow. I really connected with Cody and always wanted to be near him.

And now you’re surrounded by huskies. How did you start Second Chance Mushers Rescue?

Second Chance Mushers really began by accident. It was never a goal of mine to have a dog rescue. Northern breeds (Akitas, Siberian huskies, Samoyeds, Alaskan malamutes and others) are smart, and their desire to run can make them climb, dig or chew out of their fenced-in area. They can be destructive when proper exercise is not provided, turning a beautiful sofa into a pile of foam. This causes their guardians to seek out a new home. That’s how my pack began to grow.

People knew I dogsledded recreationally so they asked if they could surrender their dogs to me. First, I started giving dogsled rides to help offset the costs. That sustained us for a few years. I became known by locals and animal control officers for my ability to handle dogs with problematic behaviors, and I took in more and more dogs. Second Chance Mushers became a nonprofit sanctuary to help more northern breed dogs live out their lives in a place where they’re understood.

How do you work with the dogs?

Actually the pack does all the work. They’re the biggest training tool I have. Some dogs come to me with misunderstood aggression issues, terrified of human touch or other dogs. The ones that have been at the sanctuary longer help the newbies heal and understand.

There is always a reason or a trigger for their behavior, and once I get to know the dogs—develop an understanding of their personalities and study their interactions with the world around them—I can help them. Exercise is a big part of that. It is important for northern breeds to expend energy because it helps to keep them balanced and happy. They can run miles, come home to take a nap and want to go out again. With attention, medical care and compassion, Second Chance Mushers helps these dogs live their lives to the fullest.

What can people expect when they come for a dogsled ride with you?

Expect a once-in-a-lifetime experience! You will be greeted by a handler with instructions to follow so both riders and dogs remain safe. The dogs will cry shrills of excitement in anticipation of running. When the sled hook is pulled, the sled will lurch forward, and the dogs will become silent as they power down the trail, weaving through stunning scenery. When the ride is complete, you will have the opportunity to meet the dogs. The hope is not only to provide an experience that’s unforgettable, but also to help teach people that rescue dogs are amazing if they’re in an environment that embraces who they are.

Can you tell us about a dog that changed your life?

One dog that has changed me for the better is Arlo. He came to me beaten down by the world and let down by humans. I was contacted by an animal control officer about a small husky that displayed behaviors that made him unadoptable. I understood immediately that this sweet soul’s aggression was fear-based. I worked endlessly gaining his trust by using my pack. Within a few weeks of Arlo’s arrival, I lost the love-of-my-life dog, Malakai, to cancer. Losing her sent me down a spiral. My training with Arlo was put on hold as I grieved, and it was then that this little boy began to blossom. His presence and the way he stayed close to me reminded me that life goes on and my heart could let others in.

While my love for Malakai remains, my love and relationship with Arlo grows. I believe that God placed Arlo in my life knowing Malakai was going to have to leave. A longtime fear I had was knowing that I would lose Malakai one day and that I would never have that relationship with another dog. It took Malakai’s passing for me to realize that dog had already found his way to me. While the world thinks I saved this broken, defeated dog, it was really him who saved me.

My faith grew exponentially because of Malakai. When she was sick, I started going back to church, praying to God and talking to him. And after she was gone, this renewed faith pulled me from the utter darkness of grief into the light.

Sometime later, Malakai came to me in a dream. She wanted me to know she was happy. That sense of peace has stayed with me, and I know she’s waiting for me.

Is helping these dogs your calling?

This is who I am. I am a dog rescuer first and a nurse second. God has sent me these earthbound angels to help guide me through my path in life. I eat, sleep and drink dreaming of what I could do in the future to help more dogs. While this rescue is still very small, I have dreams of making it much more. I hope that the stories and journeys of the sanctuary dogs inspire people to rescue animals if they can offer the attention and environment that is best for that animal.

How can people help support Second Chance Mushers?

Second Chance Mushers Rescue is a 501(c) (3) tax-exempt organization. The winter dogsled rides and monthly dog sponsorships are ways people can support our efforts. We are in the long process of updating facilities to accommodate more dogs, so donations are always appreciated.

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