You’ve heard of the crazy cat lady? Meet her remarkably logical foil, Sarah Dobbrastine—Munson nurse by night; indefatigable mom of 25 huskies by day. Here’s how she’s saved these pups, has given them a second chance at life and turned her passion into a Northern Michigan nonprofit.

This article first appeared in Traverse Northern Michigan. Find this story and more when you explore our magazine library. Want Traverse delivered to your door or inbox monthly? View our print subscription and digital subscription options.

Sarah Dobbrastine never set out to have 25 dogs.

She started with one husky, Toby, in college. When she decided to try mushing, she borrowed three more huskies and hooked the foursome up to the only wheeled machine their combined strength and speed wouldn’t send airborne: her dad’s John Deere riding mower. 

She loved the fun and exercise. So did the pups. And then … ? “People just kept offering me huskies.”

High-maintenance old-timers, exuberant young pups, adults deemed unfit for adoption and facing death row—Dobbrastine took them in. Soon she had her own team of four. Then five. Then six.

2 huskies sitting in a bus

Photo by Dave Weidner

“When I reached seven, I thought, I gotta figure something out to afford to feed these guys.”

In 2014, she opened Second Chance Mushers, LLC, offering dog-sledding rides at Grand Traverse Resort. The extra money helped, but it wasn’t enough to cover her growing brood of canines. So, when a better-paying nursing gig in Lansing beckoned, Dobbrastine moved the whole pack down for a better-fed life.

All was well until Malakai, whom Dobbrastine calls her “love-of-my-life dog,” was diagnosed with cancer. Vets amputated one leg and gave Mal six months to live.

Dobbrastine quit her job and moved the pack back Up North. She wanted
Mal to live out her last days doing what she loved—swimming, an obsession that earned her the nickname Malagator—in the place her furry family was happiest.

A white husky with its eyes closed

Photo by Dave Weidner

A white husky with its eyes closed

Photo by Dave Weidner

Mal outlived the vets’ prediction by nearly two joy-filled, water-logged years. And though Dobbrastine couldn’t save Mal, she hasn’t quit rescuing huskies—now through Second Chance Mushers Rescue, which gained nonprofit status in 2020.

“I’m definitely at my max point,” she says. “I mean, I was good at 22 [dogs], but then my cousin knew about three puppies that were going to be disposed of. But they were only 14 or 15 weeks old. And I had a day to make a decision. So, I drove down to mid-Michigan and picked up three puppies.”

Saving huskies is easy, Dobbrastine says. It’s the daily feeding, cleaning, laundry and exercise that’s hard. She cooks up about 20 to 30 pounds of meat weekly, a combo of purchased and freezer clean-out donations, and serves it, plus several different kinds of dog foods, supplements, medications and fresh water twice each day.

All 25 dogs sleep in the house—and every one of them tries to sleep in Dobbrastine’s bed.

A woman and her huskies in a school bus

Photo by Dave Weidner

Despite working 12-hour shifts several nights a week, Dobbrastine takes the pack outside to play, train and bond every day. If there’s snow, she’ll mush a team or two 5 to 10 miles with her sled. If there’s not, she’ll mush from a donated golf cart up and down Central Lake’s back roads.

Some days, she’ll let the dogs chase her down the wooded trails around their home while she launches tennis balls from a backpack stuffed full of them. Come summer, one lucky bunch at a time gets to cruise Torch Lake on a decades-old pontoon Dobbrastine bought for them, lazing in the sun and diving in and dog paddling, Malagator style, to their heart’s content. And, of course, to Dobbrastine’s.

“The thing is, people have their passions in life,” she says. “Some people might love traveling and hanging out with friends. I live to do things with my dogs.”

Want to meet the dogs?

Second Chance Mushers offers mile-long dogsled rides at Schuss Mountain, $70, for up to two people (e.g. one adult or an adult and child, max weight 200 pounds) Thursdays through Sundays Feb. 9 to March 19, as conditions allow. Dobbrastine uses a school bus to take her fur babies on outdoor adventures all year long. Want to help? Sponsor a dog ’s monthly expenses on the Second Chance Mushers Rescue website.

Lynda Twardowski Wheatley is an award-winning writer specializing in stories that showcase Michigan travel and recreation, history, and the passionate folks who make this place so extraordinary.

Dave Weidner is a local photographer for Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine. Follow him on Instagram @dzwphoto.

Photo(s) by Dave Weidner