J Dot and Romulus, a.k.a. Rummy, are training for the 2018 Iditarod.

J Dot and Romulus, a.k.a. Rummy, are training for the 2018 Iditarod.

J Dot and Romulus, a.k.a. Rummy, are training for the 2018 Iditarod.

J Shelley, or J Dot to his friends, said he’s the most unlikely sled dog drivers in the history of the sport.

The 39-year-old has a laid-back demeanor and rock musician inked up arms. But he talks about his dogs like they are his children.

This winter Shelley will travel from Skagway to Knik, another Alaska boom town, to train 30 dogs and compete in a necessary 750 miles of trial races to realize his true goal of competing in the Iditarod race in 2018.

A Cottageville, South Carolina native, Shelley tells a story of how his life was changed by a motorcycle accident. “I was laid-up for a year,” he said.

Shelley had worked around horses as a caretaker and farrier, but after his accident, “That was all over,” he said.

He decided a change of venue was in order and in 2008, he showed up in Skagway, with a dog, a guitar and $60 in his pocket. “I love it here,” he said now after all of the community support for his newfound passion of mushing.

Shelley said he has learned so much in the past few years about the dogs; how to handle them, how to train them, and how to run them. One of his jobs has been leading sled dog tours. Some visitors criticize the amount of work the dogs do. But Shelley says he never races a dog that doesn’t want to race, and he never pushes them beyond their limits.

“They want to do this. It’s really hard to explain.” he said about how much the dogs love running.

“I’m not an aggressively-competitive person,” he admits. “All of my training [of the dogs] uses positive reinforcement.”

Shelley is passionate about sled dog racing. His passion has inspired others to donate about half of his GoFundMe goal of $30,000.

The road to Iditarod 2018 is a long one. This winter Shelley plans to complete his qualifying trials of two 300-mile races (the Willow 300 and the Copper Basin 300), and one 150-mile race.

“The hardest part has been asking for monetary support,” he said. “If you are into something and you believe in it; this community will help make it happen.”

During training, Shelley’s team runs about five to six miles a day in the off season, but once they really start training hard, the dogs will run about 100 miles a day.

“My main leaders are Tommy, Romulus, Relay and Justice. Up and coming stars, and Iditarod team members are: Bentley, Mercedes,  Robe, Jumbo, and Elle,” he said.

The sled dogs are all between two and three years old. “Which is good for building my 2018 Iditarod team.”

Shelley has 22 dogs altogether, but will keep to a team of 16 to run in 2018.

“The training is going really good so far however it would be nicer if it got colder. We started at six-mile runs and now we’re up to 15, and ready for 20. So that’s really good,” he said via text message last week.

“They are burning a lot of calories – about 4,000 to 5,000 a day,” he added. To maintain healthy weights during the hard workouts, the dogs eat kibble that is high in protein and fiber, but that is also supplemented with plenty of meat scraps and fish— omega 3 fatty acid in fish is very good for the dogs, he said.

The sled dogs are typically husky blends. Characteristics of Alaska Sled Dogs are that they have a double fur coat, they are lean, and they are fast runners.

“I look for dogs with the right attitude and appetite,” Shelley said.

Shelley will be away from Skagway until about March 2017, but shared his gratitude for everyone who has supported him and his fiancé, Jess Callies.

To find out more about Shelley’s quest check out: https://www.gofundme.com/25f949w