The Ultimate Volunteers

The May issue of the Iditarod ERunner was recently published and features a great article by Dr. Stu Nelson, the Iditarod Head Vet.  You can read the article and magazine here [LINK]. In the article, Dr. Stu talks about the reasons why this year’s race was “G.R.E.A.T. “  (You’ll have to read the article for the meaning behind the acronym!)

I can tell you that part of what makes this race so great is Dr. Stu and his team of amazing vets. This year there were fifty-five vets and twelve vet techs who volunteered their time and services for the race.  Of those, forty-three were on the trail.  The professionalism and dedication to the four legged athletes shown by these medical professionals was second to none.

Every team was welcomed and watched coming into the checkpoint by a team of vets.  The vets started assessing the dogs as soon as they were in sight, watching their gaits coming in and their behaviors when the sled was stopped.  Mushers who were parking at the checkpoint to rest for a while were interviewed by the vets.  The conversations between the two always showed mutual respect as they both had the same goal in mind…. happy and healthy dogs.  Vets would then go through the team giving thorough, hands on exams to each dog.  They use the acronym HAW-L to assess the dog.  They look at the heart and hydration, appetite and attitude, weight, and lungs. The dogs’ legs, paws, and temperature are also checked.

Even when mushers seem to “breeze” through checkpoints they really don’t!  Every musher is required to stop at every checkpoint and the vets examine the dogs while the musher takes care of signing in and out, gathering their drop bag supplies, and getting a quick update on trial conditions.  This idea of breezing through a checkpoint is something that I really had to talk to my students about. They really need to understand this concept to understand how to interpret all of the data that comes out of the race. Mushers who pass through a checkpoint with little or no rest usually move down the trail just a bit before stopping and camping. Some mushers choose to stay in checkpoints to have easy access to the amenities offered, some mushers prefer to camp outside the checkpoints in order to provide their dogs with a quieter place to sleep.  It’s a great thing to get your kids to reflect on in a journal entry. If they were running the race where would they plan to stop? In checkpoints or out on the trail and why?

The vets are able to communicate with each other via the yellow Vet Log Books.  Most mushers carry them attached to their sled handle in some fashion for easy access. The vets are able to leave comments about the dogs for each other via this book.  It’s a great system that works well for everyone involved.

So, along with everything else that is so great about this race, be sure to add the vets and their dedication to the dogs to the top of the list!