The August Fund: A Bridge Between Dog Mushers and Dog Lovers
By Robert Foran III
During 2008-2013 in Girdwood, there was a pet supply store called, GRRdwood Pets & Green Goods. The store was owned and operated by Julie St. Louis. In 2012, St. Louis began caring for retired sled dogs from Jim Lanier’s Northern Whites Kennel.
Among those dogs was a white husky named August. One day while St. Louis was out of town leaving the store to be run by staff, August caught sight of a dog outside, escaped the shop and sprinted for the dog. Unfortunately, he got far enough to get lost on the Alyeska HWY where he was struck by an oncoming vehicle, badly injuring his hind leg. The driver never stopped and August was left in need of serious attention.
Store customer and fellow dog lover Jeannine Armour heard about the accident and wanted to offer St. Louis assistance. The two coordinated and Armour started a community fundraiser called “The August Fund.” Enough money was raised for August toward a successful operation, and that’s how the initial August Fund was born.
After the accident St. Louis and Armour became closer friends.
“As August was recovering with Julie I fell in love with the pathetic little guy after the surgery.” Armour said.
That connection led Armour to make arrangements with St. Louis to adopt August.
What was once a simple fund evolved into an organization assisting sled dogs across Alaska, providing them with medical attention, love and a family. The August Fund is now a non-profit with 501c3 status working as a bridge between Iditarod, Yukon Quest, professional sprint mushers and people seeking dogs to adopt so they may retire comfortably once their racing days are over.
GRRdwood Pets & Green Goods closed in 2013, but St. Louis felt confident that she was taking steps in the right direction. She embraced these dogs by finding property to rent in Chugiak, where she now fosters the dogs she acquires, cares for and advertises on social media and the website that they are up for adoption.
St. Louis’ kennel is a former sheep farm large enough for the fluctuating number of dogs she fosters. Maintaining the dog fencing there is often done to be sure they are not escaping, which St. Louis is grateful to find assistance with.
“Several individuals from The Chugiak Dog Mushers Association have donated a lot time and come over to help put up and fit our fencing,” St. Louis said. Armour added, “These sled dogs are tricksters let me tell ya. It’s always something. We’re always having to redo and reconfigure every week it seems.”
“Julie is by far the blood, sweat and tears of the August Fund,” Armour said of her partner. “and we’ve been lucky as we’re growing to get more help.”
Help comes in different forms from assorted groups. If people are unable to adopt, they can choose to donate funds, time or labor to keep the organization operational. The August Fund recognized some of the supporters who have been a huge part in their mission. Before everything got started prior to being a nonprofit, Lana Johnson and Diana Livingston of Girdwood 2020 and Girdwood Inc. offered important guidance.
The transition from being an outside sled dog to a retired house pet varies. Part of the agreement in adopting is giving the dogs a trial period with their new owners to see if they can adapt to “normal” life. Adoptees will require some patience with these lovable former athletes, and if things don’t go as anticipated, the co-founders are there to coach anyone seeking guidance. Armour herself often turned to St. Louis when she first adopted August who was often being shy and skittish.“
“A lot of them will incorporate themselves into house life in no time, and others take awhile.” said St. Louis. “It’s just so amazing to watch a dog who doesn’t know how to just be a dog go from working and living outside its whole life to all of a sudden realizing that they’re retired and go out on walks to the beach and have treats, sleep on the couch at night. It’s heartwarming to watch them transition.”
Ventura, CA residents Michael Machuzak and wife Janice have been supportive from the beginning with adopting their sixth and seventh Alaskan huskies, Lida and Malaga.
They found out about the fund through the good word of their daughter Holly Machuzak-Peterson, who helps foster dogs and used to live in Girdwood as a handler for Nic Petit and Kristen Bacon’s dog teams. Once they researched the fund, Michael and Janice adopted their first two beloved dogs, Moon and Pluto.
Michael said, “These wonderful dogs have entered our home and our hearts.” I thank my daughter Holly, and Julie St. Louis who is truly a devoted saint for making that happen.”
Clients are proud to adopt these legends of the trail who are highly trained, well socialized and are generally in great health due to the care the mushers provided and the veterinary service the August Fund ensures in all their dogs.
Adoptees and longtime supporters Russell and Patti Davis said, “Right after we got our girls, we took them in for a vet check. Our vet was amazed at how cooperative and how good health they were in.”
Alaska mushers are encouraged to partner with the August Fund. If people want to adopt directly from a musher not networking with The August Fund, the founders will reach out. They may also contact mushers directly to see if they have of adoption system in place. That way everyone involved understands how to communicate taking on dogs at the proper time, under agreed conditions while providing vital information to people looking to own a retired race dog.
The August Fund is setting new goals to expand its work, including raising money and applying for grants for fencing at the main kennel and having more access to veterinarians.
The August Fund has positively changed the lives of retired dogs. Today, August is still active and doing well. But Armour admitted that he is slowing down, and he will turn 15 years old in May. The work of the August Fund is a rewarding experience for everyone involved. The co-founders respectively thanked anyone who’s supported the fund and been on the boarding staff one way or another. Regarding adoption of these dogs looking for a special home, many clients share the same feeling of gratification.
“We couldn’t be happier with the outcome of adopting these dogs from the August Fund.” said the Davis’. “They have rewarded us time and time again with their companionship, unconditional love and humorous antics. I imagine that there will be more August Fund dogs in our future.”
Editor’s Note: This article was updated 4/21/19 to make a number of minor corrections.