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Wildfire: An inspiring story of love, courage and healing

UPDATE: January 2023

Almost exactly one year following the tragic hit and run accident that broke Wildfire’s left rear tibia, fibula, and femur, Wildfire returned to racing.

Wildfire joined the Redington Mushing team on the Gunflint Mail Run on January 7, 2023. This race is an 80-mile race in the northern tip of Minnesota in Cook County, and Redington Mushing took 2nd place!

Wildfire had several surgeries at Mission Animal Hospital to repair his leg with three plates, and more than 20 screws. The injury was so severe, no one knew what his future would hold. His return to racing took months of tender loving care, strict activity restriction while the bones healed, professional rehabilitation, and strategic training.

Dr. Heather Hadley, who performed Wildfire’s surgeries, went to watch Wildfire race and reconnect with this special dog. She had a blast cheering him on!

Wildfire will also be joining Redington Mushing’s team for the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon starting on January 29, 2023.

UPDATE: October 18, 2022

Wildfire has been busy since our last update! He’s traveled around the country and back to Mission Animal Hospital for some further treatments. Check out what he’s been up to!

May - August: Wildfire traveled to Alaska and participated in summer training sessions, which included pulling a cart of tourists through beautiful mountain trails.

Dr. Hadley, who performed the advanced surgeries to repair Wildfire’s leg, made a “house call” up to Alaska to see Wildfire in action. She was thrilled to take one of these “wild” rides and to experience Wildfire’s LOVE of running with his team!

September: Wildfire traveled back to Minnesota to walk the runway at Mission’s Raise the Woof Gala with Redington Mushing’s Sarah Keefer and Ryan Redington. Wildfire was the star of the show!

Now that Wildfire’s fractures have healed, he had some of the plates and screws used to repair his leg removed by the Advanced Surgery Practice at Mission. Given the nature of the sport of mushing, this procedure was performed to help prevent cold sensitivity and/or irritation related to these implants.

October: After some R&R, Wildfire traveled to Wisconsin, where he is currently finishing a prescription of low-impact activity before beginning fall/winter training.

Wildfire continues to impress us all with his resiliency and determination to run! We’re excited to see what lies on the path ahead for this elite athlete!

UPDATE: March 7, 2022:

The 2022 Iditarod is underway! While Redington Mushing is tackling the grueling 1,000-mile sled dog race in Alaska, Wildfire continues to make great strides in his recovery at home - his gait is getting stronger, he can do stairs with ease, and he is mastering the underwater treadmill during his rehab sessions at Twin Cities Animal Rehab and Sports Medicine.

This weekend, Wildfire's ears perked up when he heard the dogs during footage from the Iditarod start and then he frolicked in the freshly fallen snow. Wildfire's caretaker reported that his energy was palpable - almost as if he understood the journey his team was about to embark upon...albeit without him. Although Wildfire may think he's ready to RUN, he still has a long way to go to join his buddies on the trail. For now, we'll embrace how far he's come!fa

Slideshow of more images of Wildfire and his recovery.

UPDATE: February 8, 2022:

While his Redington Mushing team is working hard preparing for the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, Wildfire is working hard on his recovery at home. Mission’s Advanced Surgery Team, pictured here in their “Spread Love like Wildfire” t-shirts, performed two surgeries on Wildfire in January after he suffered injuries in a hit-and-run with a snowmobile. He is now beginning to walk on his injured leg and the care team at Mission and Twin Cities Animal Rehab & Sports Medicine has developed a rehab plan for him. For the next three weeks, while the fractures continue to heal, Wildfire will focus on exercises to improve his range of motion and weight bearing. He will also receive pulsed electromagnetic field therapy to improve his healing and reduce inflammation and pain. Muscle and joint supplements will also be utilized to help optimize his recovery. Then, when he’s ready, he’ll begin underwater treadmill therapy!

Posted January 26, 2022

Greetings Friends,

I hope the first month of the New Year finds you in good health and spirits. Here at Mission Animal Hospital, 2022 has begun in such an extraordinary way I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t invite you behind the scenes of the headline-grabbing story in which we have been honored to play a part--the story of a three-year-old sled dog named Wildfire.

Many of you may have learned the basics of Wildfire’s story from the local media: on the evening of Saturday, January 8, the rising star and wheel dog was running alongside 14 canine teammates pulling the sled of champion musher Ryan Redington on a wide shared trail in Northern Wisconsin when a snowmobiler came from the opposite direction and, according to Ryan, sped up and veered straight into his dogs. The snowmobiler stopped briefly, Ryan said, and then, without a word, as Ryan lay head-first in the snow, his sled flipped, a few dogs bruised and cut, and Wildfire whimpering in pain with badly broken bones, the snowmobiler sped away.

Like most stories of heartache, hope, and heroism, this one, it appears, also includes a villain.

But the details about the human who seemed to inflict intentional harm on the dogs remain unknown, and ultimately, the story of Wildfire and the snowmobiler is a matter for the police.

Wildfire (circled) and team with musher Sarah Keefer at the start of the 2021 Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon.

With the support of Ryan and his training partner, Sarah Keefer, I’d like to share with you the story of Wildfire and Mission—a story that begins seconds after the pup was sent flying through the air, and Ryan ran to lay at his side, weeping. “I’m gonna take care of you,” he promised.

Every animal lover knows that promise. As Ryan tried to comfort the hurt, frightened Wildfire, he wasn’t speaking as the leader of the celebrated Redington Mushing team, the two-time winner of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon and the grandson of the founder of the legendary Iditarod race that takes competitors through 1000 brutally cold, grueling miles in Alaska. In that moment, Ryan wasn’t a champion musher, and Wildfire wasn’t an elite athlete.

They were just a guy and his dog.

“I felt helpless,” Redington said. “I could barely say the words because I was crying so hard. I just kept telling him, we’ll get you to a vet and get you fixed up, as soon as possible.”

As every animal lover also knows, that promise is easier said than done. At every turn Ryan and Sarah met obstacles. The vet closest to Ryan’s home near Brule, Wisconsin, said he couldn’t handle Wildfire’s injuries, telling them they had to get to an experienced surgeon in Minneapolis. With Wildfire kept comfortable on pain meds, Ryan and Sarah began making calls. One clinic gave them a quote of about ten thousand for the surgery. Sarah wasn’t worried. “I told Ryan if we ask for help on Facebook, we’ll get the money in half an hour.” She was off by 10 minutes; the close-knit mushing community took 40 minutes to raise the funds. But even with cash on hand, Sarah and Ryan faced another problem: time. “People kept telling us they couldn’t get Wildfire in for two to three weeks,” Ryan explained. “We were desperate.”

Then they called Mission--and Wildfire’s luck turned. We had an opening in our schedule the next day. But the very best thing that was about to happen to Wildfire and his humans wasn’t about timing, or even the bill that came in at about half the other estimates—it was the woman standing in her kitchen looking at his X-rays on her computer while her little girl tugged at her sleeve asking, “Is he gonna be ok? Is he gonna be ok?” Dr. Heather Hadley knew better than to offer anyone easy assurances. Wildfire had suffered multiple breaks to his tibia, his fibula, and his femur, as well as severe damage to the soft tissues of his left back leg. But with 10 years of experience as a board-certified veterinary surgeon, Dr. Hadley felt confident in her ability to handle the complex repair.

And just as strongly, she felt called to help.

A native of Duluth, Dr. Hadley has been a lifelong fan of sled dog racing, attending the famed 400-mile Beargrease Marathon along the shore of Lake Superior since childhood, and volunteering for pre-race exams as a veterinary student. As word of Wildfire’s injury spread across social and traditional media and thousands of concerned friends and strangers began paying close attention, Dr. Hadley understood exactly what was at stake: “Even if Wildfire were a family pet, destined to a lifetime of snuggling on the couch, I’d be worried. But there were totally different expectations for Wildfire. He’s an athlete, born to run. And I knew he had touched the lives of so many. I didn’t want to let anyone down, including him. I felt a lot of pressure. But I also felt privileged for the opportunity as I believe his case came to us for a reason. We were meant to be part of Wildfire’s journey. We were meant to help.”

And so we did. In two surgeries that totaled eight hours and involved the care of five veterinary technicians, three veterinary assistants, and a second board-certified veterinary surgeon, Dr. Hadley used three plates and more than 25 screws to stabilize Wildfire’s fractures. In the operating room, she gave Wildfire the same calm, collected focus she gives every other patient at Mission. “When I'm in the OR,” Dr. Hadley said, “the rest of the world fades away and it's just me, my team, and the patient.” Meanwhile, Sarah and Ryan calmed their nerves as the hours passed spending time with their other dogs and receiving updates from the Mission staff. “Everyone was so kind, so professional,” Ryan said. “From the minute I walked through the door I felt I was at the right spot.”

Dr. Hadley with Wildfire during a recent recheck following his surgeries.

Wildfire’s story with Mission is far from over. The night after his first surgery, he spent his first night ever sleeping indoors—while Dr. Hadley lay awake most of the night thinking about the complexity of the case, the painstaking work that was required to get the alignment of the bones as perfect as possible, and the hard recovery that lay ahead. She could hear her daughter’s question echoing in her head. Will he be ok? She could also hear Ryan and Sarah: Will he ever race again? But despite the success of the surgery, Dr. Hadley could offer no guarantees. Wildfire will need months of rest and rehab before anyone knows if he will ever run again.

For now, Ryan is back in Wisconsin training his 38 dogs for the Iditarod’s 50th anniversary race in March, while Wildfire is spending his time relaxing and munching on raw chicken drumstick treats in the suburban Minneapolis home Sarah shares with her husband and their Siberian Husky, Sky. “Just getting him out to pee is a big production, but he manages, no accidents,” Sarah says. “And he’s wagging his tail again--and he’s super sweet on Sky. He’s happy again.”

Wildfire at home with Sarah, and his dog-crush Sky.

And so we enter a new chapter in Wildfire’s story, a story of heartache turned to hope through the hard work and heroism of the star wheel dog and so many of those around him. Mission is honored to remain part of Wildfire’s journey as Dr. Hadley and the entire staff help guide him to the best possible outcome, whatever that may be. “If he is still a sled dog, that’s the ultimate best. But even if he can’t be a sled dog anymore, we’re still thankful for the surgery, thankful they didn’t have to amputate his leg,” Ryan says. “We just want him to have the use of his leg. If he can’t run, he’ll be the team mascot.”

For that, friends, will be happy ending enough.

We invite you to follow Wildfire’s inspiring story with Mission on Facebook and Instagram and here, where we promise to share news about his recovery, his team—and, oh yes, that crush on Sky.


Dr Susan Miller Executive Director

View more images of Wildfire and his recovery.


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