Covid (the dog), the secret weapon

a musher in a red jacket with a dog
Covid, Jason Mackey’s lead dog. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

Jason Mackey got his lead dog Covid from his brother Lance. Mackey hopes the 2-year-old will lead him to Nome.

Most mushers did their best to avoid COVID-19 in the lead up to this year’s Iditarod. For Jason Mackey, Covid is a secret weapon — Covid, the lead dog that is. 

Mackey isn’t even sure how Covid got his name, since the dog belonged to his brother Lance, who died last year. Mackey said the 2-year-old was born during the COVID-19 pandemic and was the only pup in his litter to survive. He also knows that Covid was a dog that Lance hoped to build a new kennel around. 

“He really is a special dog,” said Mackey. “He just has the willingness to please. He’s got the drive.”

It’s rare for a 2-year-old — basically a teenager in dog years — to lead a team. But Mackey said when Lance put Covid in a harness for the first time, he knew he had something special.

“He was an absolute natural lead dog with all the characteristics that you want in a leader,” said Mackey. 

Mackey said he hopes to rotate leaders throughout the race so that he doesn’t put too much stress on his young leader, who’s a grandson of Zorro, one of the Iditarod’s most famous dogs that helped lead Lance Mackey’s to several victories.

But, he said, he expects Covid to be leading his team when it arrives at the finish line in Nome. 

Covid is part of our “Dog of the Day” series. Each day during the Iditarod, we’ll feature a new dog making the 1,000-mile dash to Nome. Earlier, we met Dusty, Moose, Boomer, JoAnna, Mach 10 and Senior.

Lex Treinen

Lex Treinen is covering the state Legislature for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at

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