Story last updated at 2/19/2014 - 2:31 pm
FAIRBANKS (AP) - A new nonprofit aimed at helping people with disabilities learn to dog mush got a boost when it was featured on the U.S. government's disability website recently.
An entry about the organization, Noble Paws, was posted to disability.gov's blog on Jan. 29, along with a YouTube video on its Facebook page back in December.
Since then, views to the Noble Paws website have exploded. "Our Facebook page got significantly more likes," said Steve Vick, the nonprofit's president. "Traffic on our website has increased by about 10 times."
Noble Paws was started by Vick, who has mushed more than a decade. He said he noticed that many sports had been adapted for people with disabilities and that he wanted to add dog mushing to the list.
Since dog sleds are mostly made to be stood upon, Vick knew he couldn't use a traditional sled design. So he designed a sled with a gate that flops down and turns into a ramp so a wheelchair can be rolled up onto it, as well as a sled with a seat, a fat tire in the back and handlebars for steering and braking. It's designed for people with limited leg mobility.
Willow sled builder Dan Schlosser will be building the sleds. His father, who has been paralyzed for 18 years, has been giving input. "It's pretty extreme, but I think we can do it," Schlosser said. "It'll take some time and a little bit of work."
Right now, Noble Paws is raising money to get the program going. They've raised almost $5,000 of the initial $32,000 goal, which will cover the construction of four to six of the specialty sleds and operating costs such as the care of a dog team and insurance, Vick said.
Vick has already purchased five acres, with cabin, in the Goldstream Valley for Noble Paws. The land is located next to miles of mushing trails and is where Noble Paws will teach people to mush. Eventually, it will be the home to a dog team.
Noble Paws doesn't have a dog team yet. Vick plans to lease or borrow a team the first year, which would keep operating costs down.
"As we become financially sustainable, we'd have our own team," he said. "We need to train dogs to work with people with disabilities. We're not focused on speed but on discipline."
Noble Paws has been reaching out to organizations that work with disabled people, including the Fairbanks Resource Agency and organizations that work with disabled veterans, as well as the Make-A-Wish foundation.
FRA is working on setting up a meeting with Vick and is interested in learning more about the opportunities from Noble Paws, said Marie Mitchell, outreach coordinator for FRA. Make-a-Wish has had children ask for dog mushing to be part of their wish experience.
"Once they are up and running, there is a possibility that we will look into their organization and opportunities they're offering and see if it would fit with our wish children," Make-a-Wish Regional Director Nicole Sheldon said.
For now, Vick is focusing on fundraising and getting 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service. Noble Paws is a registered nonprofit corporation with the state of Alaska.