Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by John Tonin

MAKING SURE THEY'RE READY TO RUN – Dr. Helen Eddy inspects one of musher Rob Cooke's dogs during the Yukon Quest vet check on Saturday at Northerm Windows and Doors.

Preparing to run, vets check Quest dogs

The 37th running of the Yukon Quest is less than a week away.

By John Tonin on January 28, 2020

The 37th running of the Yukon Quest is less than a week away. The race begins on Feb. 1 in Fairbanks, Alaska. On Saturday, mushers on both sides of the border took one step closer to the start chute, as they brought their dogs in for the mandatory vet check.

On the Yukon side, the vet check was held at Northerm Windows and Doors. Three mushers, Rob Cooke, Denis Trembly, and Michelle Phillips, brought their dogs to be inspected in the Yukon.

The vets were volunteers; not all were going to be on the Quest trail. Dr. Jessica Heath has experienced following the Quest but will not be on the trail in 2020. She detailed what the vets are looking for at the vet check.

"Every dog that comes in for Quest check is going to have a full physical exam," said Heath. "One of the things we do is evaluate their body condition. That's looking at how much muscle mass and body fat they have. That's so we can monitor that throughout the race.

"Then we check their heart their lungs and their vital signs. We check their muscular-skeletal system and make sure all of their joints are comfortable and check for pre-existing injuries that might set them up for injuries on the trail."

It's a long journey from Fairbanks to Whitehorse and Heath said all information gathered about the dogs at the vet check will be available to the veterinary team following the race.

"We are making sure all these dogs are healthy enough to run," said Heath. "We are also establishing a baseline of where they are at so that we can follow them on the trail and make sure they aren't losing condition and getting sick.

"Every musher will have a book with their team in it. That will have all the baseline information for each of there dogs. The vets on the trail, even if they haven't seen these dogs before, will have a reference of how they looked at the start of the race and be able to use that information to help them."

Heath gave the example of body condition. Each dog's weight was taken before their inspection. The vets on the trail will know the dog's starting weight and will be able to determine if the dog is getting thin.

Heath said the inspection of the dog's feet is also important at the vet check.

"They run on their feet," said Heath. "If dogs get a lot of damage to their feet, then that can be really painful for them. That's something really important for mushers to look after is making sure their feet are in good condition and have healthy skin.

"If that starts to break down, they won't be able to run."

Heath said the vet check is important to make sure the dogs are happy and healthy to ensure that they can finish the 1,000-mile distance.

"It's a long distance so we are making sure they are in good enough condition to complete that," said Heath.

For the dogs competing in the Quest, they are required to have a microchip. The vets also looked for the chip, which Heath said is about the size of a grain of rice.

"The microchip is just so we can verify the identity of a dog," said Heath. "It's making sure the dog we see today is the same one that's showing up on start day."

The next mandatory event for all the entrants will be Meet the Mushers Wednesday in Alaska. Thursday is the Start and Draw Banquet.

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