Checkups before checkpoints

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Yukon Quest head veterinarian Kathleen McGill is a dog person.

Yukon Quest head veterinarian Kathleen McGill is a dog person.

At Summit Logistics on Saturday, McGill and members of her staff completed the annual pre-race vet check. A similar gathering was held in Whitehorse.

"I come for the dogs," said McGill. "They just happen to be attached to people."

According to the rules of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, the vet check is held at one central location and is mandatory for rookie mushers. Veteran mushers can opt to have veterinarians come out to their kennels and do the check-ups there.

"The main thing is to make sure that each musher is able to start the race with as many healthy dogs as possible," said McGill.

After Two Rivers rookie Richie Beattie brought his team into Summit Logistics, Healy rookie Regina Wycoff was next. One by one, Wycoff’s team was meticulously examined by McGill and other race veterinarians.

"One of the primary indicators we look for is to see if there’s any lameness in the wrists or back," said McGill. "We look at their feet and skin condition, listen to their hearts and lungs.

"The mushers already have these dogs at a very high level of maintenance," she said. "So these dogs won’t have many of the usual pet problems that other (nonracing) dogs have."

Each of the dogs was weighed and catalogued by name, and they were implanted with a microchip that allows race officials to track their status at all times.

Wycoff ran a line from the front bumper of her truck to the back bumper, attaching each of the animals to the line after they were done being inspected.

"I think they’re in pretty good shape," said Wycoff after 13 of her dogs were checked out. "They’re darn good dogs. I’m confident that they’ll finish, but that depends on what I do out there on the trail."

Wycoff has experience in races like the Klondike 300, Knik 200 and Copper Basin, but this year’s Quest will be her first 1,000-mile effort.

"I’ve done middle-distance races for three or four years," said Wycoff. "This is the next step. They (the dogs) love to run and they deserve to run a long race."

With its often brutal weather, unforgiving trail and vast open spaces, many mushers consider the Quest to be unique among dog sled races.

"It’s a little bit more raw," said Wycoff. "But that’s what we deal with. The toughness of the dogs really comes out on this trail."

For McGill, in her sixth Quest and third as head vet, there are hazards of the occupation. One of Wycoff’s last dogs to get examined, a black and brown Alaska husky named Max, was nervous about all the scrutiny and attention he was getting.

He let his frustration out in the only way he knew how. Max peed on the examining table and on McGill’s medical bag on the floor beneath.

Fortunately, no innocent bystanders caught any friendly fire.

"I learned a long time ago as a veterinarian that sometimes you have to step back," McGill joked.

The start of the 2006 Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race is six days away. The first team will leave the starting line on the Chena River in downtown Fairbanks at 11 a.m. on Feb. 11.

Source: Daily News Miner

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