Iditarod Dogs Get Medical Checks Before Last Great Race
Veterinarians will test nearly 1,400 dogs
WASILLA - Karin Hendrickson’s huskies are ready to trek a thousand miles through the Alaskan wilderness. Before they can take off though, they have to make a trip to the vet.
“Good job, sweetheart,” Misty Libby, a licensed vet tech, whispered to one of the dogs while she’s getting her blood drawn.
“We check for 24 different chemistries, kidney function as well as a CBC which is a complete blood count. We check white blood cells, red blood cells, make sure everything is going well and there are no problems,” said Sabrina Pennington, a licensed vet tech.
Drawing the dogs’ blood is the easy part.
“The dogs are surprisingly wonderful about it. They tolerate what we do very well,” said Pennington.
It’s getting them to hold still for a heart check up that presented problems for a few pups.
“They're sled dogs. They know one thing and one thing only and they like to run. They think that's fun. This here's not so fun. They think it's a silly human trick,” said Cassandra Winslow, the Assistant Head Vet Tech for the Iditarod.
In the three weeks leading up to the Last Great Race, veterinarians will test nearly 1,400. Each musher is allowed to have up to 24 checked. “I brought 22 dogs,” said veteran Iditarod musher Karin Hendrickson. "I have a pretty small kennel so that's pretty much everything I've got.”
While the health of the dogs is always a top priority for the Iditarod, this year testing may be more important than ever. Four dogs have already died in races across the state. Mushers said while they can’t control what happens on the trail, they do everything they can up front to make sure their dogs are in good shape.
“Last year I had a dog with a little bit of a problem that we caught during blood work. We were able to treat her and she ended up finishing in lead for me. Without the blood work, we wouldn't have known. It's huge,” said Hendrickson.
This is just one of many steps at the start of the race to ensure all the dogs are able to make it across the finish line.