Quest vets give the OK as teams prepare for race

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Compare Lance Mackey and Donald Smidt, and it seems they have little in common.

Husky News

Photo by Eric Engman: Veterinarian Renee Rember bonds with Dan Kaduce’s sled dog, Guetknecht, while giving him a checkup as Kaduce, left, watches at the 2008 Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race Fairbanks vet check Saturday morning, February 2, 2008. Kaduce named the dog after the Guetknecht Meat Market, which was just down the street from where he grew up in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.

Mackey is seeking an unprecedented fourth straight Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race title; Smidt, a rookie from Van Dyne, Wis., merely hopes to finish.

Mackey motored in to the mandatory pre-race vet check in Fairbanks on Saturday in a fine Dodge Ram 2500; Smidt lumbered across the country in a beat-up 1984 GMC Sierra as old in years as the Quest.

Mackey’s got a squad of sleek Alaskan huskies built for speed and endurance; Smidt’s the first musher in memory to enter a team of registered Siberian huskies known more for their beautiful coats and dependability than their swiftness of foot.

The pair, however, did get the same welcome news from veterinarians at Summit Logistics off Van Horn road who gave their canines a full exam — the teams are good to go.

“All the dogs are fat and happy, no problems at all,” Mackey said. “I got compliments on what they look like and their weight and their attitude.”

“Everything’s good,” said Smidt, a herdsman for a large dairy who brought 19 Siberians and has his 14 Quest starters all but selected.

The vet check is an exercise required for the 24 mushers who’ll leave downtown Fairbanks on Feb. 9 to begin their 1,000-mile journey to Whitehorse, Yukon, in the 25th Quest. The same thing took place Saturday in Whitehorse. Dogs for the 15 racers in the Quest 300 also underwent an identical physical.

With the race start around the corner, the last thing Mackey wanted was surprise news about some problem he hadn’t detected.

“I’m very thorough on what I bring here to where I don’t want no surprises,” said Mackey, who’s had minor issues crop up at past vet checks. “I don’t want to be embarrassed. I want to know everything about that dog.”

Instead, on Saturday he got unexpected news of a positive variety.

“I was kind of surprised to hear their heart rates were real low, which means they have better hearts as opposed to a dog that’s got a high, elevated heart rate,” Mackey said.

Quest head veterinarian Vern Starks said a low resting heart rate — Mackey’s dogs were in the 80-90 beats per minute range — is an indicator of peak fitness.

In addition to the heart rate test (where an irregular heartbeat might be detected), the vet crew weighed dogs, took their temperatures and gave them an orthopedic exam. Dogs that didn’t have microchips for identification purposes were embedded with one and proof of rabies, parvovirus and distemper vaccinations were also checked.

Smidt’s Siberians passed not only the health test but drew interest for their appearance. He exhibits them at competitions and has American Kennel Club and international champions among the lot.

And contrary to popular belief, the Siberian huskies are not heavier than their Alaskan husky counterparts, Smidt contended.

“Just their coat makes them look heavier,” he said.

Quest veterinarian Margaret Eastman of North Pole has been involved with the race since 2000 and has seen a few Siberians but never a full team of them.

“The joke is they give you 80 percent 100 percent of the time,” Eastman said.

But Smidt’s 57th place — 13 minutes ahead of the Red Lantern winner — at the 2007 Iditarod was no joke, as he reached Nome with all 16 starters in 16 1/2 days. Only one other musher did not drop a single dog.

Smidt, 40, entered the Quest in part because it is more feasible for him financially. The race’s ruggedness, with fewer checkpoints and colder weather than the Iditarod, may also suit his durable team.

“To finish (the Quest) as a rookie, I think that’s about all you can ask for,” said Smidt, who handled for Dave Dalton four years ago.

Mackey said he sees aspects of Smidt in himself just a few years ago.

“It doesn’t matter what your truck looks like. It doesn’t matter what your clothes look like,” Mackey said. “If you’ve got the drive and determination, that means a lot.”

Source: NewsMiner

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