Michele Forto, MIS
- Bought my first Nordic-breed dog in 1994
- Participated in my first dog mushing race 2000
- Started Denver Dog Works in 2006
- Started hosting Dog Works Radio, podcast in 2009
- Moved to Alaska in 2010
- Started Alaska Dog Works 2010
- Started university at the University of Alaska Anchorage 2015
- Graduated from UAA in 2020
- Started master’s degree in 2020
- Graduated with Master’s in Interdisciplinary Studies 2023
- Started doctorate 2023
- Purchased Mushing Magazine 2023
Michele Forto, 51, was born and raised in the San Joaquin Valley in California surrounded by fields of cotton and orchards of almond trees. Her father was a hobby farmer with her grandfather, who raised beef cattle, pigs, and chickens. Her favorite thing to do as a child was to help him out and ride her horses. “I had the same dreams most little girls have, that I’d grow up to become a veterinarian and spend my days amongst the animals I so adored,” says Michele. But life got in the way and as we’re all aware dreams and paths change. She married her high school sweetheart and started a family in the 1990s. In 1999, her life would be changed, Michele, explains, “My husband of 11 years would succumb to a motorcycle accident and my three young children and I would be set on an adventure none of us could have dreamed of.”
Michele adds, “In 1994, I purchased my first Nordic breed, an Alaskan Malamute, that we would later discover was half-wolf. Toby was a fantastic dog taking care of the boys and protecting little Nicole. In the autumn of 1999, I was drawn to learning as much as I could about weight-pulling with Toby. This is when my path crossed Robert’s and he introduced me to a world I thought only existed in Disney movies that my kids watched. I thought he was crazy, adventurous, and passionate about sled dogs. They were/are everything to him the one constant thing in his adult life that has never judged or turned away from him.”
Robert quickly took to the kids who were 2, 5, & 7 and the adventures began! Michele go on, “Robert taught me how to care for a kennel of 40 Siberian Huskies, how to give basic dog care and minor first aid as well as what exactly is a gang line!” “I learned that dogs can do more than pull my kids in their wagons or on their little hill sleds,” says Michele. Robert at that time was a mid-distance musher by lower 48 standards. He switched to sprint mushing with the kids and Michele in Colorado so they could participate in races as a family. “My first dog sled race was in the winter of 2000 and who knew then that my life would go to the dogs,” Michele exclaims.
“Way back then training teams on our Risdon-style dog cart, we got from a musher named Frank Hall. We trained on the dirt roads in the mountains of Colorado in the fall and then in the ski resort town of Winter Park, Colorado in the winter. We participated in races all over Colorado, Wyoming, and South Dakota.”
Eventually, the dream would bring them to Alaska in 2010. “Back then our kennel was young and now our kids are now adults. We had big plans in the works including an expedition that combined mushing, snow machining, and fat tire biking with some of Alaska’s emerging outdoor leaders. Life is much different today as a dog musher than it was over two decades ago. Now we have some of the most beautiful trails in the state of Alaska right out of our back door and I can sit and watch the northern lights and a view of Denali right from my living room,” Michele continues.
In the mid to late 2010-2020s, Michele went back to school to earn a Bachelor of Kinesiology, a Masters in Interdisplancy Studies in Sport Business Leadership and currently working on a doctorate researching holistic leadership. When Michele is not knee-deep in dogs she enjoys beekeeping, bikjoring, dryland mushing, roller coasters, and national parks.
“Currently, I am the lead trainer of Alaska Dog Works and one of the producers of Dog Works Radio, a podcast that I have been doing with Robert since 2009. I am also the “chief husky wrangler” and you will find me most winters providing support for Robert and his college students he teaches at UAA and APU as well as the logistical manager for all of our business interests. I am excited to see what the next couple of decades will bring, especially our expanding media mini-empire with our purchase of Mushing Magazine in the summer of 2023,” Michele declares.