After low salmon year, supporters rally to get Yukon River mushers chow for winter

In Tanana, a man in a parka waits to help a pilot unloads boxes of donated dog food from a small plane.
Tanana residents help unload donated bags of Purina dog food. (Photos courtesy of Courtney Agnes)

Donated dog food is making its way to some Yukon River communities where poor salmon runs have left mushers without fish to feed their teams.

When village mushers reached out to her back in September, Yukon River Intertribal Fish Commission Director Stephanie Quinn-Davidson said she wasn’t able to take official action.

So Quinn-Davidson decided to launch her own online effort to seek help.

“I took to Twitter and Facebook, my personal pages, and just posted kind of the plight that we are facing on the Yukon River with these low salmon runs, what it means for these traditional dog mushers,” she said. “I tagged a bunch of large dog food companies in that post and one of them, Purina, responded.”

Quinn-Davidson said Purina agreed to provide 39,000 pounds of premium dog food and shippers TOTE Maritime and Carlile got the kibble to Fairbanks. She started a GoFundMe page to cover the cost of flying the food to villages. The mushing community responded with hundreds of donations.

“We raised enough money to ship it out to rural Alaska but then I had an individual, Rocky Riley, in Fairbanks, reach out to me and say, ‘Hey, I might be able to get Everts Air Cargo to donate the freight for you and then you would have more money to be able to buy even more dog food and help out even more mushers,” she said. 

Quinn-Davidson said Everts shipped the initial batch of Purina-donated dog food to the communities of Fort Yukon and Tanana in mid-November.

“The mushers are so so grateful.”

Tanana musher Pat Moore credits Quinn-Davidson with leading the effort to help village mushers get their dogs through the winter. 

“In my mind, she’s kind of like a saint,” he said. 

Moore said the village received 26,000 pounds of kibble which was divided on a per dog basis among local mushers.

“I’ve heard that everybody in Tanana has enough to last them through the end of April.”

Ongoing donations from individuals and businesses are expanding the effort. Quinn-Davidson said mushers in additional communities including Circle, Huslia, Hughes, Holy Cross and Old Crow in the Yukon Territory are also receiving food for their dogs. In all, she said they’re helping feed 500 dogs. 

Quinn-Davidson said the effort so far has raised over $120,000 in food, transportation and cash donations.

The names of TOTE Maritime and Carlile Transportation were misspelled in a previous version of this story

Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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