What’s up, doc? Yukon Quest dogs get pre-race vet check-up

Yukon Quest musher Nathaniel Hamlyn, left, looks on while his dog Diesel gets checked out by vet Dr. Helen Eddy, centre. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)
One by one, mushers and dog handlers brought barking dogs inside a large industrial building in Whitehorse, northwest Canada for the pre-Yukon Quest veterinarian check on Saturday.

All dogs that could potentially run this year’s Yukon Quest were examined by vets in Whitehorse and Fairbanks, AK to make sure they are fit enough to run the 1600 kilometre race. Quest veterans can have their own veterinarians do their check.

Inside, there were four folding tables with a vet and team of volunteers stationed at each one. With 15 to 17 dogs to check per team, the vets and handlers worked efficiently to examine each dog.

It was like an assembly line of fur and tails.

“It gives the vet team an opportunity to take a look at the dogs to assess their body weight, their general conditioning and to make sure that they’re healthy and ready for the race. And also, that they have the proper vaccinations that are required,” said Yukon Quest race marshal Doug Harris.

Yukon Quest race marshal Doug Harris says the vet check makes sure dogs are healthy and ready to race. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

It’s also a way to track any pre-existing conditions in dogs, said Harris, who used the example of one of his dogs that had a slight heart murmur.

He says the heart murmur didn’t affect the dog, but it was recorded so further into the race at another vet check, the vet was aware the heart murmur wasn’t a result of the race.

Harris says dogs that fail the exam are not allowed to run.

There are four mandatory vet checks along the trail.

‘Ready to roll’

Tagish, Yukon musher Michelle Phillips packed up her dogs after their exam. A few noses poked out of the boxes on the back of the pickup truck.

The results of the exams are confidential – just like the results between a doctor and patient – but Phillips was happy with how the check went.

Yukon Quest musher Michelle Phillips says the vet check means your dogs are in good shape and ready to roll. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

“It means your dogs are all in good shape. Ready to roll and you know all these months of work have all come together and your team’s ready to go,” said Phillips.

This will be Phillips’ seventh Yukon Quest.

Mount Lorne musher Nathaniel Hamlyn had 15 dogs checked by vets. By Saturday, he will have to decide which dog will have stay at home.

Hamlyn says it was good to get a second opinion on your dogs.

“Everyone’s checked out so you know from the start where you’re at. And if anything happens on the race, you know it didn’t happen in training,” said Hamlyn.

Low snow levels could mean more dog injuries

While only eight teams were checked in Whitehorse, there were 19 examined in Fairbanks, AK.

“There were a couple of dogs in Fairbanks that are not going to start, that we identified as dogs that might experience problems on the trail,” said Yukon Quest’s head veterinarian Dr. Christina Hansen, who lives in Fairbanks.

This is Hansen’s tenth year with the race and her fifth year as head vet.

She says she believes all dogs in Whitehorse will be allowed to start.

The low snow conditions along the trail have been a concern for organizers for the past couple of weeks leading up to the race. It has already lead to changes in the trail course for both the 1600 kilometre race and the 480 kilometre race.

Hansen says low snow conditions can be a little harder on the dogs.

“We do expect to see a few more orthopedic injuries, sore wrists, sore shoulders, things like that. And that is why we are rerouting, hopefully minimizing that,” she said.

She says that is also why teams are allowed to use as few as eight dogs leaving Whitehorse and Carmacks.

The Yukon Quest leaves Whitehorse, Yukon on Feb. 2.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: High-speed snowmobile road race in northwestern Canada marks 50th anniversary, CBC News

Norway: Swedish musher wins Finnmarksløpet, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: Iditarod adds four new board members amid criticism, Alaska Public Media

Jane Sponagle, CBC News

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