The trail between home and the grocery store is covered with snow and flanked on two sides with trees. There are no street lights or lane markers, just one pathway shared by snowmobiles and dog sleds alike. It takes 5 hours each way to make the monthly food run. Welcome to the Alaskan wilderness.

Heidi Sutter of KMA Kennel of Christochina, Alaska shares her home with her husband Darrin Lee and 18 huskies. While both Darrin and Heidi competitively participate (and win) in long distance racing with their teams, these furry companions also play an important role in other aspects of their lives.

“Dogs are our way of life. Not just a hobby or something we do for fun. Mushing and dogs permeate my life and definitely seeps into what I teach and how I handle situations at school.”

Hailing from originally from Wiscasset, Maine, Heidi is a school teacher specializing in children with emotional disturbance, autism, as well as severe behavior disabilities. Working towards her Board Certified Behavior Analysis accreditation (BCBA), a special education teacher in this remote community serves as a jack of all trades offering various forms of therapy along with preparing meals throughout the day with food that has been donated. Often these meals are the only meals that the children will have access to.

“My dogs come to school with me from time to time. They have a profound calming effect on the kids with autism and emotional and behavior issues. Plus the dogs LOVE kids and are great listeners when it comes to story time.”

In Canada, we joke about having Halloween costumes that are parka friendly. Heidi and her daughter Emily, when she was younger, took it a step further by trick or treating via dog sled as their neighbors were located in a 20 mile radius. What a fantastic way to offload your candy as you went to the next house! The dogs also serve as their mode of transportation from point A to point B and also hauling power to bring life sustaining firewood back to the homestead.

As a mentor to junior mushers, Heidi is currently passing on her knowledge of mushing to the next generation of racing enthusiasts. What we might imagine as transferring race tactics is actually just a sliver of what is shared – the bulk of being a real musher is proper care of the dogs on and off the trail and also wilderness survival and camping together with your dog team.

Head-Lites is proud to light up Heidi Sutter and KMA Kennel in their journeys together on the home trails and the race trails. We’re also incredibly enlightened by the amazing partnerships we learned about between the dogs and humans up north.

Keep up to date on Heidi's adventures on KMA Kennel's Facebook page

(Photos courtesy Heidi Sutter, KMA Kennel)