On a frozen lake in the wilderness, a musher’s tale of horror and heroism

Those of us who don’t know the ins-and-outs of sled-dog racing take it for granted that the sport is just another idyllic Minnesota activity. Hook the dogs up… tell them to go… and the musher gets a free ride. We get lovely photographs.

Sometimes you get this photograph, which Blair Braverman, of Mountain, Wis., posted this afternoon to her Twitter feed.

“This is a complicated, wild life we live,” she says in her accompanying story. “It’s not always pretty.”

How hard can it be to be a musher?

Hard. Really hard, we learned on Monday.

She and another musher were exploring trails around Grand Marais, Minn., last week, which involved traversing Devil Track Lake and six miles of ice. Her team got far enough ahead of her friend’s that she was worried something had happened to her. So she turned around. She was fine, so she turned around again.

Dog teams don’t like turning around.

“Every time you ask your lead dogs to do something they don’t understand, you lose a little bit of their faith,” she wrote.

Tensions were high, she said. Maybe it was the scent of wolves that did it, but on the second turn back, one of her dogs — Gabby — attacked another, Boudica.

Blood was spraying everywhere, she wrote. Her energy was not enough to pull Gabby off Boudica, who was now limp on the ice.

So she covered Boudica’s body with her own.

“It was like I woke up there, in the stillness. Boudica underneath me. Gabby snarling over me. The other dogs all around us, growling and shaking and confused,” she said.

She was thinking about how to get up while preventing a renewal of the attack. But her friend’s team had turned around on their own and were responding.

It took an hour to get her team back together and when they made it to a veterinary hospital, they learned the vet was out of town. They had to drive to Duluth three hours away.

The dog’s skin had been torn off its muscles, but she’ll recover, although she’ll spend the winter resting.

Today, she wagged her tail for the first time.

Gabby’s days with Braverman’s team, however, are over.

“Sled dogs are extremely non-aggressive to humans,” she said. “But the vet said that for a dog like that, avoidance (of her triggers) is the only cure.”

(h/t: Mike Edgerly)

Related: Wild, free and freezing: Blair Braverman’s life in the north (MPR News)