Fairbanks musher and dog advocate Carol Kleckner died of cancer last month.
Kleckner always loved dogs. After she moved to Alaska, it wasn’t surprising she eventually became a competitive musher and skijorer.
Kleckner’s longtime partner Don Kiely said 20 years ago, sled dogs left at the Fairbanks North Star Borough animal shelter were considered rejects. Many ended up being put down.
But, he said, Kleckner decided to give young husky a try.
“Beautiful, beautiful dog, and Pipi ran wonderfully, amazingly well. And that really got Carol thinking, ‘Well, wait a second. If these sled dogs supposedly are just no good, they have some sort of insurmountable problem, well, Pipi contradicts that completely,'” he said.
Kiely said the experience led to regularly test running small groups of sled dogs from the shelter and recording how they did. Then, she’d share her list with a variety of community dog mushing groups.
“That’s when a lot of people started looking at the sled dogs at the shelter,” he said.
Kleckner and other local mushers started the Second Chance League, a nonprofit focused on finding homes for sled dogs turned in at the shelter. Kiely said it involved assessing, sometimes rehabbing, and finding a good adoption match — things Carol had a knack for.
“It was just such a deep empathy with the dog, that she could just pick up the clues and signs, and just kind of know,” he said.
That ability, and a lot of work, resulted in more than 500 adoptions over two decades, according to Kiely’s estimate.
“Carol was above and beyond. Carol, in the last at least 10 years, was Second Chance League,” said veterinarian and former borough Animal Control Officer Jeanne Olson.
She said Kleckner was committed to getting dogs to new homes, even if they were in poor condition or mentally unstable.
“[Carol] just said ‘Alright, well, you know, let’s just figure out what we can do to help this dog.'”
Olson said that perspective led to the shelter shifting away from the practice of regularly euthanizing sled dogs.
Kleckner continued to work with shelter sled dogs and maintain a blog providing detailed descriptions of those available for adoption until shortly before her death.
Friends and family are working to gather and share stories about Carolel Kleckner and the dogs and people she brought together.