'Mushing Mortician' Breathes Life Into Fallen Iditarod Sled Dog

Mar 18, 2012
Originally published on March 19, 2012 6:59 am

From our "How To Do Everything" podcast:

Scott Janssen crossed the finish line of the Iditarod sled dog race on Friday afternoon, one dog short. He had hoped Marshall, who'd been with Janssen since he was a puppy, would be there.

They call Janssen "The Mushing Mortician," because when he's not racing the Iditarod, he owns a funeral home. A few days before the finish, he and his dogs were headed down a treacherous part of the course, the Dalzell Gorge. It was snowing, and the dogs were doing what they often do: dipping into the snow to hydrate as they run along. Everything was normal, until Marshall fell over.

"He must have packed his snout with snow when he [dipped]," Janssen says. "Much like when people are in an avalanche."

Janssen stopped his sled and ran to Marshall.

"He was dead. I'm an undertaker. I know death," he says.

Janssen closed up Marshall's mouth, and sucked the snow out of his snout. He then started breathing into his nose, and giving him chest compressions, as his other dogs watched and whined.

"I remember so vividly my tears dripping down on his snout as I looked up at the sky and I said 'Please God, please let him come back,'" he says. "I looked at Marshall, I breathed in his nose again, and I'm like 'Dude, please come back, please come back.'

"I did one more chest compression, one more breath into his nose, and he coughed back out, I mean, right into my mouth. Now it might sound disgusting to people, but it was the most joyous sensation ever," Janssen says.

Janssen and the other dogs rushed Marshall to the next Iditarod checkpoint in Rohn, Alaska, where the veterinarians checked him out. They're not sure exactly what happened to him out there, but they say he's going to be OK. He's resting at Janssen's home in Anchorage, awaiting the return of the human who saved his life.

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Now, to another dramatic story of survival in the wilderness - this one from the Iditarod dog sled race in Alaska, which is in its final stages. Our friends at the NPR podcast How to Do Everything asked musher Scott Janssen to describe what happened when he and his dogs were slogging through a snowstorm. It seems that sled dogs typically do something called dipping, meaning they dip their snouts into the snow for a quick refresher during the race.

SCOTT JANSSEN, BYLINE: And one of my dogs, Marshall, he was dipping into the snow and he must have packed his snout with snow when he did that. And all of the sudden Marshall fell over. And he hit, boom. And I was able to snag a little piece of bush to stop the sled immediately. And I lifted him up by his harness and he fell again. And then I knew. And, you know, when I looked in his eyes, he was dead. And I'm an undertaker, I know death. So, I started, you know, I screamed out his name and I put my mouth over his nose and I pulled back in to try to get anything out of his nose out, and I spit that out and I started breathing into his nose and at the same time giving him chest compressions. And I did that for five or 10 minutes and I remember so vividly my tears dripping down on his snout as I just looked up at the sky. And I said please, God, please, let him come back. I did one more chest compression and he coughed back out. I mean, right into my mouth. You know, it might sound disgusting for people but it was the most joyous sensation ever, and he started breathing. And he was looking at me but he couldn't lift his head off the snow. And I laid there in the snow next to him. And so, I got Marshall and the sled bag, and I said, hey, guys, we got to get Marshall to the doctor. We got to rock. And we took off down that mountain, and we're going, weaving in and out of the trees. As I came into Rohn, I was yelling for the vets and they started working on him. But I couldn't go in with him because I had, you know, 15 other dogs that I needed to take care of. And in the meantime, I snacked all the dogs and while the food was soaking in the hot water, I went in to check on Marshall. And I'll tell you, I was probably at one of the lowest points of my life. And I walked in the checkpoint and Marshall's laying on the floor. They had an IV into his arm. And Marshall looked at me and jumped up on his feet and started wagging his tail. And I went up and I sat down next to him and hugged him and that's when the vet said, you know, he's going to be OK.

MARTIN: Iditarod musher Scott Janssen told his story to Ian Chillag of the NPR podcast How to Do Everything. Marshall the sled dog is now resting comfortably in Anchorage. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.