Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

THOROUGH INSPECTION – Veterinarian Kim Friedenberg, right, checks Tamra Reynolds’ dog Duke while Jennifer Roach, centre, looks on Saturday morning. Reynolds, left, is preparing for her first Yukon Quest sled dog race.

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Photo by Marcel Vander Wier

TAKING A LOOK – Veterinarian Matt Allen, right, and volunteer Sandro Holzinger, left, inspect the limbs of musher Nicolas Vanier’s dog Dark, while Vanier looks on.

Canines cleared for journey

The stars of the 2015 Yukon Quest were cleared for takeoff Saturday.

By Marcel Vander Wier on February 3, 2015

The stars of the 2015 Yukon Quest were cleared for takeoff Saturday.

Each of the 26 mushers’ dogs went under the microscope during simultaneous vet checks held in Whitehorse and Fairbanks, Alaska.

Seven mushers’ dog teams went through the procedure at Northerm Windows in Whitehorse.

Rob Cooke, Magnus Feren Kaltenborn, Tamra Reynolds, Normand Casavant, Nicolas Vanier, Ed Hopkins and Jason Campeau each made appearances in the Yukon capital for the pre-race necessity.

Each dog that lines up in the starting chute Saturday will have been thoroughly examined by a veterinarian.

While technically a race rookie, the 42-year-old Reynolds has eight years experience from her time as a handler for 2012 champ Hugh Neff.

“I kind of know this part of it pretty good,” she said of the pre-race procedures of the food drop and vet check. “After the race starts, that’s a little bit different.”

Reynolds, who trains out of the Annie Lake area, said the vets pointed out a couple of “tweaks” that may affect what dogs make her final canine roster.

“I’ll keep my eye on them for the next couple of days and just see if they’re small things or if they’re going to linger,” said the Yukoner – one of three female mushers slated to complete the 1,600-kilometre journey.

“That will help me decide which 14 out of 16 I will take.”

Mushers were permitted to have a maximum of 16 dogs examined, and teams arrived at hour intervals throughout the day.

Mushers will begin the race with a maximum of 14, and minimum of eight dogs in front of their sleds.

Dogs new to the Yukon Quest were fitted with a microchip in their neck, and their body condition was ranked on a scale of one to nine.

Other examinations on the checklist included range of motion, teeth and gums, body functions, heart rate, potential frostbite areas, and a check for possible foot and wrist contusions.

Each examination took about 10 minutes.

Four vets from Alpine Veterinary Medical Centre volunteered their time at the Whitehorse vet check, including Amanda Breuer, Matt Allen, Kim Friedenberg and Jessica Heath.

Heath said each of the dogs examined passed their physicals just fine.

“If the mushers have decided to bring them to the vet check, then we know they’re already in pretty good shape,” she explained. “They’re not going to want to bring a dog that they think has any chance of not being able to run 1,000 miles.”

In fact, Heath said a typical sled dog is in excellent shape.

“Every dog we’ve seen today has been awesome,” she said. “They all look really good and ready to go.

“We can’t actually disqualify a dog from the race, but if we found something we’re really concerned about, then it would be up to one of the race judges to pull that dog,” Heath added. “We evaluate every limb and make sure that they don’t have any pain or lameness anywhere so they’ll be comfortable when they’re running.”

The veterinarian said the canine athletes she inspects are completely capable of running a mushing marathon.

“They show that they are, right?” Heath said. “Most of the mushers who enter the Quest finish, and when they choose not to finish, it’s usually because they’re putting the welfare of their team against completing the race. Sometimes they make the really tough choice to not finish because they do care about the welfare of their dogs.

“These guys have been training for years to be able to do this. A lot of these dogs are veterans, so they’ve done it before. They know they can do it.”

Meanwhile, Reynolds said her race plan continues to change as her core of veteran huskies haven’t panned out as hoped.

“They’ve all kind of told me they’re not really wanting to do 1,000 miles anymore,” she said. “So now my team is primarily three-year-olds with a couple leaders. But I only have one dog that’s ever really run 1,000 miles before.”

That dog just happens to be Juanita – one of Neff’s Golden Harness winners from 2012.

The Yukon Quest, featuring 26 mushers, gets underway in Shipyards Park this Saturday at 11 a.m.

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