Homer is a little off the Iditarod’s beaten path, but when you live in Nome, the end of the world-famous sled dog race, you’re in the thick of the action. That’s exactly where Nancy and Dan Levinson found themselves when they lived in that Bering Sea community.
“We used to house the mushers, particularly in the 1980s,” said Nancy Levinson, now a Homer resident. “Our last three years there, we housed John Suter and his wife. John is the one who drove poodles in the Iditarod.”
For 16 years, Suter raced standard poodles in more than 280 races, including four Iditarod finishes. Because of his team, Suter became known as “the Poodleman.”
After the Levinsons moved to Homer in 1999, Dan Levinson used Suter and his team as the basis for the text of a children’s book.
“The Phantom Poodle of Rainy Pass” tells the story of two young girls who spot a mysterious and shy animal during a wintry outing. Their curiosity and persistence pay off, and, with the help of a few peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, they finally befriend the animal, which, they discover, is a poodle. Excited at the possibility of keeping the canine, the girls are broken-hearted to discover it already has a home and they are eventually forced to tell it good-bye. Dan Levinson doesn’t leave young readers with a sad ending, however, and the girls’ rescue of the “phantom poodle” is rewarded.
“Neither of us knew what to do with it, how to get it published, so he ended up giving it to (Suter) and said, ‘If you can do something with it, fine,’” said Nancy Levinson of the text her husband wrote.
Suter didn’t know any more about book publishing than did the Levinsons, however.
“Then, about a year or two ago, this gal outside wrote a book about flying poodles,” said Nancy Levinson. “It was a Christmas story about poodles pulling Santa’s sleigh.”
Written by Karen Morss, “Flying Poodles — a Christmas Story” is illustrated by Ginger Nielson. It provided the inspiration and information Suter needed to continue with the book project begun by Dan Levinson, who died in 2003.
“(Suter) called me in May and said he thought he’d just go ahead and get the story published. All I had to do was sign a release and then I’d have nothing more to do with it,” said Nancy Levinson, who soon discovered it was a bit more involved than that, with Morss requesting her input on layout, artwork and proofing.
The final version includes two recipes, as well as information and photos of Suter and his racing poodles.
“I love the book and think they have done a great job,” said Suter. “Nancy did a lot of work editing and a review of the book as well, which was needed and we are grateful for that.”
“The Phantom Poodle of Rainy Pass” will be available at the Homer Bookstore soon.
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.