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Jan. 31, 2024

MSU's partnership with kennel benefits sled dogs and students

Ed and Tasha Stielstra own about 150 Alaskan Huskies. You may be picturing a house bursting with dogs; however, these Huskies are not your traditional companion animals.

Two sled dogs pull a rider on a snowy trail
Betel and Splinter, pictured above, were both neutered at MSU. Courtesy photo.

In 1993, Ed, who had just graduated from Lyman Briggs College at MSU, was approached by a family friend who had recently purchased a few sled dogs and was hoping Ed could help train them. Ed agreed, and it wasn’t long before he decided to open his own sled dog kennel.

After Ed and Tasha (an alum of the MSU College of Education) were married, they lived in Duluth, Minnesota for about four years before returning to Michigan in 2003 to operate their kennel on a full-time basis. Through the years, they have competitively raced in Michigan, Minnesota, Alaska and abroad. Now, the pair operates their dog sled touring business, Nature’s Kennel Sled Dog Racing & Adventures, near Newberry in the Upper Peninsula with their 150 Huskies.

Tasha started working with MSU about 10 years ago, when she approached the Alumni Travel office to put together winter adventure and dog sledding trips for MSU alumni. “Those trips have been extremely successful, and it rekindled our relationship with MSU,” said Tasha. She then started to brainstorm other partnership opportunities that she could foster with the university.

Close-up image of two sled dogs with their mouths open and tongues hanging out
Raphael and Cyrus. Courtesy photo.

The Stielstras decided to meet with Sarah Shull, an assistant professor in Small Animal Clinical Sciences, as she had an interest in sled dogs. They came up with the structure of the current partnership: a program where veterinary students spay and neuter about 26 dogs from Nature’s Kennel each fall.

“On our very first visit, I remember the veterinary team being very nervous and asking on the phone about how they would handle the ‘rowdy sled dogs’ who would be coming to surgery,” recalled Tasha. “I reassured them that the dogs were all friendly and very used to being handled. When I picked the dogs up after surgery, the staff could not believe how sweet and well-behaved the dogs were. Now they look forward to our visits!” In fact, Tasha notes that many of the students continue to follow their patients on the Nature’s Kennel website and social media pages.

Thanks to the partnership with MSU, Ed and Tasha are able to get more dogs spayed and neutered than they otherwise would due to cost limitations. “In addition to the obvious benefit of unwanted pregnancy, there are also health and behavior benefits to spaying and neutering. So, our dogs are the true winners,” said Tasha.

Group of people pose in a snowy setting with two sled dogs, a sled and a Spartan flag

On the flip side, the partnership gives students the chance to operate on working dogs who go on to race, run tours and live long, productive lives. “The students love seeing the Nature's Kennel dogs and hearing their stories,” said Shull. “In addition, Tasha has a background in teaching and is very willing to educate students on sled dog racing and these amazing animals.”

The mutually beneficial partnership has been going strong for seven years now. “We’ve always been very impressed with the care that the students, surgeons and the clinical skills team give our dogs,” said Tasha. “Every time we arrive, it feels like we are coming to see family.”

This story originally appeared on the College of Veterinary Medicine website.


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MSU and the Upper Peninsula