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Deeter’s Team Finally Eats, Says He Will Continue Monitoring Their Appetite

Feeding Time for a Dog Team in Nikolai. Photo: Davis Hovey, KNOM (2020).

Jeff Deeter from Fairbanks was one of about ten Iditarod mushers who chose to spend 24-hours in McGrath. For his team, circumstances necessitated the early stop because his dogs would not eat the food Deeter was giving to them. The veteran musher was debating even continuing this year’s race, but by the time his 24-hour layover was up, his team was ready to go.

Two weeks ago, Deeter says he noticed a problem when some of his dogs started getting picky about the food he was giving them, even though it was the same food they had been eating for months. The three-time Iditarod finisher explains that some sled dogs just want indulgent food sometimes.

“You know like the kid who goes on a special field trip or has a great day at school and maybe gets a special dessert; that’s typically what we do with the dogs. Unfortunately, I just kind of skipped over that as I was putting together food drops. The dogs have been eating great all season, and they’ve been really consistent on a few different meals plans, so I basically packed for that and put in one extra and special thing at each checkpoint.”

– Jeff Deeter

Unfortunately, the one special meal Deeter packed with the rest of his usual food was the only thing his team would eat by the time they reached McGrath. Once he had expended that, Deeter was looking for solutions. Luckily, he got a little help from another musher who was “24-ing” in McGrath – Lev Shvarts.

“So, Lev gave me some meat back in Finger Lake that the dogs were pretty into, so I was able to get a decent meal into them there. Then, he loaned me a little more later on, and then I was able to actually talk to one of the (race) judges and open up just a couple bags from people that had left stuff behind, which ends up getting trashed in the end or given away to the locals.”

– Jeff Deeter

The trick was pure beef, Deeter says. No extra supplements or fancy flavors added in – just the meat. The 11 dogs finally ate another meal in McGrath on Wednesday morning, but that wasn’t going to make up for the weight they’d already lost. 

Deeter says he still had the decision to make in McGrath, as to whether or not he would keep racing with his team.

“They can’t afford to miss too many more meals, and I can’t afford for them to miss too many more meals, so that will kind of be a factor before we depart here (McGrath), but if everything goes well with eating, we’ll leave, and plan to go to Ophir. From there, (we’ll) just take it one step at a time, but probably try to do three runs from Ophir to Ruby, as long as everything looks good.”

– Jeff Deeter

Ultimately Deeter felt good about his team’s eating habits again and left McGrath 25 hours later.

He ran all the way to Ophir before resting for a few hours and then left around 5:20 p.m. Thursday. 

Deeter is currently racing 11 dogs, approximately 10 miles away from Cripple. 

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