49th Running in the 49th State – Trail Reporting: Wednesday, March 17th

Wednesday, March 17



As my students track the race each year, they record their musher’s location and standing in the race, as well as the dogs that remain on the trail with the team. There are always a number of questions about why the number of their dogs decrease as the race goes on, which naturally leads to a discussion about the vets and the incredible care they provide to these animals.


So the question is, why do dogs have to be returned? 

Veterinarians check in on Aaron’s dogs. Photo Credit: Dave Poyzer

Volunteer vet James Kenyon examines a Laura Neese dog shortly after she arrived at the Kaltag checkpoint during the 2017 Iditarod on Monday morning March 12, 2017. Photo by Jeff Schultz/ SchultzPhoto.com (C) 2017 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED













During the race, volunteer veterinarians conduct over 10,000 exams, as dogs are consistently  checked as teams come through each checkpoint. Notes are recorded in the vet book carried on the sled, which act as a dialogue between vets at each of the checkpoints (think of it as a patient chart in hospitals – relaying patient information to doctors during each shift). During the race the dogs are closely monitored by each musher as well. Mushers are able to notify the vets at the checkpoints of even the smallest issues such as a change in a dog’s gait, or if a certain dog is not eating a normal amount. But all of these checks do not even include the pre-race check-ups, tests and screenings. 

According to lead veterinarian Stu Nelson, the most common race screening is referred to as “HAW/L”. “Although not perfect, it is easy for mushers and veterinarians to use as a guideline when things are happening fast and human fatigue is setting in. “HAW” is a voice command to go Left, which provides a meaningful connection. Going one step further, H  stands for Hydration and Heart (rate and rhythm), A  stands for Attitude and Appetite, W for Weight (bodyweight), and L stands for Lungs.” Based on the results of this screening, vets are able to make a decision about the health of each athlete and their ability to continue in the race. 

So to answer the original question, dogs can be returned for any litany of reasons. Anything from a pulled muscle, to catching a cold. I have even heard of a dog being returned because they were in heat and becoming too big of an issue for the other dogs!

The care these athletes receive is second to none, and their care is priority number one for Iditarod. The Iditarod website has added a wealth of information regarding the care the K9 athletes receive from the veterinarians. Click here to find out more: https://iditarod.com/leaders-in-dog-care/

Sunday March 14 , 2010 Veterinarian Doug Marks looks over Peter Kaiser’s vet book while examining his team at the Kaltag checkpoint. Photo by Jeff Schultz/ SchultzPhoto.com (C) 2018 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


Teachers: Use the video at the bottom of the link here (https://iditarod.com/leaders-in-dog-care/) to spark a conversation about the dogs in this race. After learning about this race, the care that is taken to ensure the safety of these athletes, hearing testimonials from those involved and watching other videos, do you think this is what these dogs are meant to do?