JOSEPH - Sometimes people look over Liz Parrish's eccentric cast of sled dogs and wonder who the leader is.

Some might think a bigger dog, like rowdy Tie from the family of Knot and Rope, might be in charge.

Others would see the small but confident Sinclair the boss, sitting on top of the trailer keeping his cool.

But you ask Parrish who's the pack leader and you find out in a hurry.

"You're looking at her," is her response.

The 49-year-old stands little over 5 feet but commands the respect and loyalty of her team at every turn.

Her small stature, though helpful when considering the dogs have less weight to pull, would make controlling an eight-dog team almost impossible if they didn't hang on her every word.

"There's not enough of me to stay stopped if (the dogs) don't want to stay stopped," she explained. "That's why I have to have them trained to obey whatever I say."

Parrish went on to explain a good musher is like a good coach who has a team who respects her and follows her commands.

"They have to trust me the entire race, when I say to go and where I say to turn," she said. "Then when it's time to rest they have to eat when I say, sleep when I say and focus when I say. It's more than just pulling a sled."

As a dog-friendly bed and breakfast owner living near Klamath Falls, Parrish became interested in dog sled racing when she adopted a puppy named Briar.

Realizing the strength of her young dog, she decided the sky was the limit and to jump head first into the world of mushing.

"Briar opened the door for me," Parrish explained. "I started to realize instead of just having house dogs, I could have sled dogs. And that led me straight to the Iditarod, because how do you know if you can run through the wilderness with a dog team if you don't try?"

Since deciding to reach for the goal of an Iditarod experience, Parrish has worked toward making it a reality in 2008, when she turns 50.

Saturday's second-place finish at the Eagle Cap Sled Dog Race will help Parrish to that goal, as the 200-mile trip counted as one of two qualifiers for the world-famous trek. She now has to complete a 300-miler or longer.

Dog handler Elaine Gazdeck said the main thing that will help Parrish reach her goal is a calm and steady approach to the race.

"She has this saying: 'It takes as long as it takes,'" Gazdeck explained. "She's methodical and always positive, and most importantly cares about the dogs and keeping them in good shape."

Parrish recently won the Best Care prize after a long distance race, awarded by the veterinarian team to the musher with the animals in best shape after crossing the finish line.

"If they're stressed, I know it, and if they're happy, I know it," Parrish said. "I want them to be happy."


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