Illustration: Girl coming out of a globe

Real-World Geography: How people use geography and the geographic perspective in their everyday lives and careers.

Illustration by Mary Crooks

Stuart Thornton

National Geographic Education

Real-World Geography is a new series that profiles people from all walks of life who use geography and the geographic perspective in their careers.


As a kid living outside of Houston, Texas, Michael Davis developed an interest in working with racehorses.

When Michael realized he wanted to become a veterinarian, he spent his high school years working toward that goal. “Going into college, I knew that I wanted to be a veterinarian, so I figured everything between high school and graduation was going to somehow be contributing to becoming a veterinarian,” he says.

Working with horses may have helped prepare Michael for a future studying other fast four-legged creatures, the sled dogs who race in Alaska's grueling Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Michael has worked with the Iditarod for nine years on identifying the causes and finding a way to prevent stomach ulcers in sled dogs.


Michael says that finding a treatment for gastric ulcers in racing sled dogs last January was a career milestone. “To be able to sit there and look at a body of work and say as a result of that we’ve cured a disease, I can’t imagine that will ever get old,” he says.


Securing funding for research and study. “I’m apparently good at it, but it’s still the hardest part of my job by far,” Michael says.


“I guess geography is the physical environment around us. . . . Falling back on my ever-so-crude breakdown of Latin, geography is mapping land.”


Michael says that the isolated geography of the Iditarod Trail creates a challenging work environment, where he has to do top-notch research without access to the usual facilities and equipment. “The only thing we can count on is what we’ve brought with us,” he says.

Michael says that Alaska’s geography is what makes it possible to host an event like the Iditarod. “If you are going to run 1,000 miles, you are going to have to be out in open country,” Michael says. “If you are a dog doing it, you are going to have to be up in the Arctic, because you need the very, very cold temperatures in order to be able to throw off the heat you are generating.”


Veterinarian. “I have to recommend the same thing that I did: get out there and simply get involved,” Michael says. “Even if you are not going to get paid. Even if you are going to have to muck stalls for nine hours in order to have one hour of the kind of activity that you actually want to do. That kind of investment eventually does pay off.”

Read about Iditarod veterinarians here.


Michael says individuals interested in learning about racing animals should watch the creatures in action. “From a non-science standpoint, I think doing what you can to watch the events,” he says. “Watch it closely and try to analyze what you see happening and why people are doing what they are doing.”

Follow the Iditarod with Zuma, the "Official Canine Reporter of the Iditarod," on her blog at Zuma's Paw Prints provides a dog's-eye-view of the race.



Real-World Geography

  • Illustration: Girl coming out of a globe

    Jeff King

    The musher and four-time Iditarod champion uses his skill, perseverance, and experience to prepare for the race.