A touch over a year ago, Wisconsin musher Blair Braverman began her rookie run in the Iditarod sled dog race with 14 dogs and a sled full of supplies. With her spiritually was her husband Quince Mountain and also thousands of supporters — the “Ugly Dogs” — following the progress of her little GPS tracker pinging away amongst the big expanse of Alaska.
While those GPS trackers are an amazing piece of technology, they are not infallible. Sometimes they would lag, or simply go silent for hours. Blair had limited ability to communicate outside the race so the Ugly Dogs were unaware of her status, or if Blair’s race was in trouble. They fretted from afar, unable to get any updates. With a wellspring of frenetic energy and no ready outlet, a magical thing happened: a fan suggested donating to a fundraiser for a school located along the Iditarod trail.
The Ugly Dogs funded that within minutes! Then another fan suggested another project, and things spiraled outward from there. Within a day the Ugly Dogs organically organized a giving drive. That first drive raised an estimated $127,500 for children and schools across Alaska.
The idea proved to be an enduring one. A month later, with Blair’s husband Quince Mountain running in the Kobuk 440, the “Kobucks440” fundraiser was born. That drive raised an additional $32,500 for schools and other charities across rural Alaska.
Late in 2019, Quince announced that he would be making his rookie debut in the 2020 Iditarod. With some forewarning of the passion the Ugly Dogs bring during the race, a small group of volunteers made preparations with DonorsChoose, a platform for teachers to post school projects that need funding. Together, we selected projects all across Alaska and especially highlighted ones in rural areas. The Ugly Dogs contributed to 48 different proposals and funded 44 of them. Over the three campaigns, 180 classroom projects across Alaska were funded.
Extending beyond classrooms, this year the Igivearod team aimed to spotlight other local causes as well. Quince, and others in Alaska, were tremendous at working to identify and vet several programs.. Thanks to them, we were able to contribute direct support to several Native villages and other under-served community projects.
Over the course of the 2020 Iditarod, the indomitable Ugly Dogs raised tens of thousands of dollars to support goals such as expanding rural veterinary services, assisting Alaska’s LGTBQ+ community, and aiding several Native-led initiatives. In total, the 2020 Igivearod fundraiser generated almost $60,000 in direct support in 2020!
At the same time, we did not limit ourselves to fundraising. Many people shared the enthusiasm to give, but maybe not the same financial privilege or predilection. A collaborative effort devised other ways of doing good outside of monetary donations. Ugly Dogs embraced everything from crafting projects, to providing visual and audio media transcriptions, to encouraging local volunteering.
Although financial contributions are the easiest to quantify, Igivearod is not a competition about how much money we could donate. It’s about a shared idea of inclusivity and support, even for those who might be unable to ask for it. The Igivearod team asked the Ugly Dogs for much more than financial resources to give.
And give they did. They gave to people they’ll never meet and to places they’ll never visit. They gave to causes they had little connection with. They gave what they could because that’s what Ugly Dogs do.
Our collective world is being tested right now. ‘Social distancing’ has become the catchphrase of 2020 and many of our emotional supports have been stripped away. Yet these exceptionally ordinary people, spread throughout the world but brought together by the admiration of two people and love of some 30-odd dogs, have been an inspiration. They have reminded us of the importance and spirit of community, and what it truly means to stay connected to one another.
Thank you to Blair, Quince and all the Ugly Dogs out there. This may feel like a weird time to celebrate a success, but Igivearod2020 was just that. May the next Igivearod be as successful (but perhaps less stressful for all of us)!