Iditarod Musher Giving Up On Poodles

FAIRBANKS, Alaska - The musher who introduced poodles to the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race says his experiment failed and next year he will give them up for ``real dogs.''

John Suter will drive his black standard poodles up the Iditarod Trail for the last time in 1991.

The three-time Iditarod finisher has been trying for 14 years to raise an all-poodle team to run in the 1,200-mile sled dog race from Anchorage to Nome. He's spent an estimated $150,000 on the project and weeded through 80 poodles, a span of six generations, he said.

``It just didn't sell,'' he said recently by telephone from his home in Chugiak. ``You can score on the news with poodles but you can't get a cup of coffee or a bag of peanuts with them.''

Suter said he wrote poodle clubs across the nation to say he will be giving away free poodles at the end of this year's race. He said the San Bernardino Poodle Club said it would find homes for the animals.

``I'm going to go to real dogs,'' Suter said.

In 1990, Suter made it to Nome in just more than 16 days - without a poodle in his team. He had begun the race with 12 poodles, most of them 1 1/2 years old, and eight huskies. But in McGrath, about 500 miles up the trail, race veterinarians told Suter he would have to drop the eight poodles left in his team.

The vets said the poodles' fur, which got wet in warm weather, couldn't insulate them well enough. The dogs were shivering, and the risk of hypothermia was too great, vets told him.

``Those young poodles looked great up to about McGrath, and then they faded really bad,'' Suter recalled.

He said he also suffered from lack of sponsorship and money.

``In four years I haven't moved one inch forward in terms of sponsorship,'' he said. ``A serious company wants a serious dog team for a serious race.''

And since he began mushing poodles 14 years ago, Suter rarely has been one to be serious. In 1988, he made it to Nome in 18 days, 1 hour, 50 minutes and 50 seconds with three poodles - Umiat, Ulu and Toto - in his team. He put Umiat in lead a mile outside Nome and became the first musher in race history to cross under the driftwood arch on Front Street with a lead poodle.

After the race, Suter appeared on ``The Johnny Carson Show,'' numerous news shows, and was featured in Sports Illustrated magazine.

``When the cash register didn't ring after Carson and Sports Illustrated, it finally came to a halt,'' Suter said.

He had his best Iditarod finish in 1989, finishing 31st, in 14 days and 22 hours.

Suter said his goal in the 1991 Iditarod is to finish with the largest poodle team in history.