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Alaska Star Newspaper Article 1 on Jennifer Payne

[text transcript]

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Chugiak sprint musher Jennifer Payne shelled out a thousand bucks for a lead dog named Rascal. Next thing she knew he was eating rocks.

"He ate three," Payne said. "One about the size of a golfball and two a little smaller, about walnut-size... one of them blocked his intestine."

Most things that go wrong with her dogs Payne can fix herself. Not this. The rocks had to be surgically removed. The operation went fine but a few days later, Rascal got itchy and tore open his incision. Back to the vet they went.

"Just before he went to sleep for the second surgery, I said ‘Rascal, you better be one heck of a lead dog,"’ she said.

Sixteen hundred bucks worth, but who’s counting? Not Payne. Her dog lot, Sun Dog Kennels, holds 26 dogs.

Every month she spends about $300 on dog food, another $50 or soon vet hills. With the dog box on her truck and sleds and harnesses, she has thousands tied up in dogsled racing.

And that’s just the gear. Every day she spends two to three hours on feeding, cleaning and care that’s seven days a week, and it doesn’t count training time. That’s extra.

Like most mushers Payne puts her dogs’ welfare first.

"My dogs eat before I do," she said. "Sometimes I don’t eat dinner until midnight because the dogs come first. And sometimes I think every musher goes through this sometimes I think what am I doing? I must be crazy, you know?

"But then I try to imagine what my life would be without dogs, or maybe with just six," she went on. "And I think what else would I do? I don’t like to sit home and watch TV. I mean what would I do? So for me right now, where I'm at in life, it’s something that keeps me going."

Payne was always an animal lover. Now 28 years old, she got interested in mushing when she was 14, living next door to Joe Cantil. She took up the sport with Chugiak Junior Dog Mushers club and soon entered her first event.

"My first race was with three dogs, here at Beach Lake trails," she said. ‘I took off, hit a tree, smashed my sled, fell off and got a concussion. I’ve been hooked ever since."

She is a past president of the Chugiak junior-musher club and currently sponsors a youngster, 12-year old Britni Shampang who is the junior club treasurer.

"Britni is one of the few-and-far-between kids who do all the work themselves," Payne said. "She takes care of her own dogs every morning and every single night. I’m really proud of her... last year she couldn’t hook up her own dogs because they were so strong and she was afraid of them, but this year she grabs even the biggest males and hooks 'em right up."

Payne is single and figures she’ll be that way for a while.

"1 don’t think anybody could put up with my dogs." She laughs. "I’ll probably be single until I don’t have any dogs.

"Then again I’ve got plenty of dog-houses; I could have a couple husbands

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