Viva, the sled dog queen

A close up of a black and brown dog
Iditarod rookie Gerhardt Thiart started calling his leader “Queen Viva” after she helped guide his team out of a difficult situation during an Iditarod qualifier last year. (Photo credit Gerhard Thiart)

Rookie Gerhardt Thiart has a very specific story for choosing Viva for his Iditarod team.

Last year, he was running an Iditarod qualifier when he got lost on a lake. There were snowmachine tracks headed in every direction, confusing the dogs and Thiart himself.

He yelled at the dogs to try to line them back up with the reflectors, but the ice covering the lake made it challenging to make any corrections. He called out again in frustration. Viva turned around and looked him straight in his eyes.

“She got that 1,000-mile look and in her eyes, I could see she was telling me ‘Shut up. I got this.’ And I looked at her and she just pointed straight to where I wanted her to go,” he said.

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Since that day, he’s run her in lead whenever he gets in a tricky situation and he refers to her as “Queen Viva.” Despite their connection, the South African-born musher won’t get to keep the 53-pound firecracker — she belongs to Mitch Seavey, whose kennel Thiart is working for.

Queen Viva is part of our “Dog of the Day” Iditarod series. Previously, we met Stealie, who loves hugs, and Zeke the rescue dog.

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Lex Treinen covers culture, homelessness, politics and corrections for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at ltreinen@alaskapublic.org.