Something unusual is happening in the Nevada desert |

Something unusual is happening in the Nevada desert

Barry Ginter
Appeal Editor

If you step outside some cool autumn evening and listen closely, you may hear blood-curdling screams off in the hills.

But it won’t be the sound of goblins or ghouls or any other spooks thought to frequent these parts.

It will be something that’s not that much more unusual, however, a dog team training for the Iditarod sled dog race in Alaska.

Why are they in the Nevada desert?

Well, in a roundabout way, the Nevada Appeal has something to do with it.

Those dogs belong to Barbara Schaefer, who’s helping the Appeal convert to a new computer system. Normally, she works for our parent company, Swift Communications, in Grass Valley, Calif., but will be spending about half of her time through March in Carson City, calling a motel room home.

And with her will be her dogs, 15 Siberian huskies.

There was no way she was going to leave them back home. Not only are they on a strict training regimen, they are her constant companions. These are the dogs that Schaefer expects to carry her over the 1,150-mile Iditarod course in March of 2011.

You’ve likely heard of the race and its perils … temperatures that can drop below minus-70 degrees, rugged mountains and windy coasts. It takes about two weeks to complete.

In other words, it’s not something you take lightly. Training years in advance is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. Which is why the dogs are with her, at least most of them. She’s got several more back home in Grass Valley. She spends about $500 each month on dog food.

When she’s here, the dogs basically live out of a special truck in which each has a small kennel space. When she wakes up each morning, she goes out and exercises, feeds, and cleans up after the dogs. Then she does all the primping necessary to get herself ready for work as a systems analyst and drives the truck to work, parking in a shady spot next to the building.

Morning break … putting on coveralls over her business suit and high heels, letting the dogs out, and cleaning up after them. Lunch … putting on the coveralls, letting the dogs out, and cleaning up after them. Afternoon break … ditto. After work? Dogs again.

Four times each week (as long as the temperature is no warmer than 50 degrees), Schaefer drives the dogs to the end of Johnson Lane in Douglas County to do training runs. She likes to say she can go from princess to dog musher in 15-minutes.

The dogs also are transformed as soon as they sense they’re going to get out on the trail. They get so excited with anticipation it sounds like they’re being tortured, Schaefer said. “Blood-curdling screams” is her phrase to describe the ruckus, and it must be right.

One night, it brought a nearby homeowner to investigate what surely must be the scene of some unspeakable animal slaughter. In fact, part of the reason she’s sharing her story is that she knows the sight of a dog team pulling a woman on an ATV is likely a new experience for most Nevadans.

But it gets quiet when they start running. After she harnesses them to the ATV, she hangs on as they pull her over miles of desert roads.

It’s obvious she’s serious about her bid for the Iditarod. She’s already completed a 135-mile race with the dogs. She says the training, which is nearly a full-time job in itself, energizes her.

On one recent night when the temperature was too warm here, she drove the dogs up to Truckee, where it was cooler, ran them for several miles, and then drove back to her motel room. She was asleep by 1 a.m., and up by 6:30 a.m., ready to go to the office with her dogs and start the cycle all over again.

You get the idea … she doesn’t really own these dogs, they own her.

• Barry Ginter is the editor for the Nevada Appeal. Contact him at or at 881-1221.