Nature Column #9506--St. John Valley Times--March 1, 1995



Watching the start of the Can-Am 250 Dog Sled Race, I was impressed by the way the dogs jumped up and down in harness as they waited for the countdown at the start. When given the signal to go, they flattened out, dug in, and took off at high speed. What eager teams they were!

As Ruth Schenk and I drove to Maibec's Lumber Camp in T13 R14, we saw many birds in the road in small groups -- a few pine grosbeaks, many white-winged crossbills, and a small flock of uncommon red crossbills. The "watchmen" couple greeted us warmly, and he gave us a nice walk along a deer yard. I've never seen so many deer tracks of all sizes. They nearly covered the road, and in several places branched off into the woods, which have much less snow than surrounding areas. There were tracks all through the sections that are being cut this winter. We saw about 50 of the beautiful, graceful animals.

Keith Peppler was the first to pull in to Maibec on Sunday afternoon. Dr. Rooks started examining the dogs immediately. This vet check is done for each team before the start of the race, then at each checkpoint, and also at the finish. Keith told Dr. Rooks he would be dropping a dog. "He just isn't having any fun anymore", said Keith. He unzipped the bag on the sled, and the dog stuck his head out for a look around. Keith said the dog had been "in the basket" for 45 miles! Another dog who needed a rest had also been in the basket part of the way. This team nestled into the straw we provided for a restorative sleep. Several had their forelegs wrapped in neoprene sweats as they rested.

Andre Nadeau's team arrived soon after Keith's. Andre immediately gave each dog a handful of corn syrup, working from the sled to the leaders. This restores energy quickly, but also stimulates the appetite so that a hearty, hot meal can be fed in a short time.

Spencer Thew dropped a dog at Maibec, but the dog was very reluctant to leave its master and team mates. It kept looking and pulling back toward the team and did some whining. Dogs that are dropped usually have an injury to a joint or a foot pad. Others may be exhausted, dehydrated, or injured from fighting with a team mate at a rest stop. Ian McKenzie had two dogs who fought and had to be dropped. When Ian's team left without those two dogs, they howled in protest at being left behind.

When Paul Boudreau arrived, he told us it had been a difficult trip because of soft snow. He said, "Here's a treat, boys", as he tossed his dogs chunks of beaver meat, rewarding them for their hard work.

Barry Young mixed a soup for his dogs as soon as he pulled in. Each of 12 bowls got a scoop of a sugar-starch mixture, some beaver ground with other meat, and hot water our crew of helpful young men provided. (Wayne Saucier, Guillaume Breteau, Jim Grandmaison, and Ben Collings, who was a judge with Ruth, Pat Pelletier, and me). Barry constantly talked to his dogs, who watched him eagerly. "Here's the first course, boys and girls". Their appetite stimulated by the soup, Barry announced "Here's the entree, ladies and gentlemen." Barry was the only musher to finish with all 12 dogs in harness.

John Kaleta gave his dogs a soup of Energy Pack and horse liver with other meat to restore their energy before the main meal.

As you can see, each musher has a unique approach to his own team of dogs. It's wonderful to see how each musher interacts with his dogs. In the Triple Crown this is especially important, because overall condition of the dogs at the end of the race, the number of dogs dropped, and the placing of the team all combine in a point system to determine the winner.

Dr. Rooks inspected each team at the finish line, checking for the amount of fat on the dog, the condition of the feet, lameness (by articulating the joints of the legs), and hydration.

The vets pick up the skin over the back and the neck, and the rate with which it falls back gives an indication of whether or not the dogs have gotten enough fluids during the race.

From start to finish the dogs are loved and cared for by their owners and the veterinarian team. The dogs love to run, and they are cared for like any star athletes.

Gale L. Flagg

Fort Kent, Maine 04743

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