ANCHORAGE – After a couple of rough days on the Iditarod trails, dogs dropped from the race need a little TLC.

“They’ve got little nicks on their legs and on their paws,” said Magi Wagner-Johnson. “This year it’s just really different. They’re coming in really tired; they’re sore. The trail just took a toll this year like I haven’t seen before.”

Wagner-Johnson’s been taking care of dropped dogs for 14 years. She looks forward to it every year because it breaks up the monotony of her daily life. She and the other caretakers are inmates at the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center.

Wagner-Johnson is finishing an eight-year sentence for a violation on a second-degree murder conviction.

“It’s something to move on from and never forget why I want to make those changes, so nothing like that ever happens again,” she said. “There’s a lot of remorse involved with it. It’s hard to forgive yourself after something like that and this is one of the ways that you can heal.”

“It’s hard not to have a favorite. They’re all gorgeous and they’re all friendly,” laughed Sgt. Denise Dickens, who’s seen the impact the dogs have had on the inmates.

“It absolutely does renew their spirit. It gives them hope that there’s positive encouragement for them,” Dickens said. “Not everything is a negative environment. There is positive. There is ways to turn their lives around and to become a positive person in society again.”

Jennifer Lyon snuggles Dallas Seavey’s dog Patron. She’s in for a second-degree theft conviction.

“I love it,” Lyon said. “If they’d let me come out for every shift, I would.”

This is her first, and hopefully last, time working with the dogs. Her seven-month sentence is almost over.

“Maybe he’ll leave the same time I do. Huh, buddy? Maybe we’ll both go home tomorrow,” she said to Patron.

The women feed and water the dogs until handlers can pick them up. The inmates are sad to see them go but know there will soon be another batch of dropped dogs to take care of while the mushers make their way to Nome.

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