Dawson City in Canada’s Yukon Territory, the halfway point in the Yukon Quest race, is one of the three mandatory vet checks during this epic journey.
Each member of every dog team arriving at the Yukon Quest’s Dawson City checkpoint is thoroughly examined by the Yukon Quest trail veterinarians. A musher cannot leave this checkpoint in the race without having had a complete physical exam on each of his or her dogs. This requires a veterinary assessment of each dog's circulatory system, including heart rates and sounds; hydration status and body weight; respiratory sounds; gastrointestinal tract; attitude and appetite; and last but not least, a thorough orthopedic exam.
This is not the first time in the race that the sled dog teams are examined. At the first checkpoint in the race, another mandatory vet check takes place and, after Dawson City, a third mandatory examination will be held at the final checkpoint before the finish line.
Not only are there Yukon Quest veterinarians available at every checkpoint, but also at the dog drops, which are available for a musher to leave a dog which is injured, ill, or tired in the care of volunteers.
Veterinarians at Dawson City, and the other checkpoints, also examine each dog to address the musher's observations of the dogs' performance on the trail, and to offer advice or a second opinion on medical concerns which require attention. Mushers and veterinarians use these opportunities to learn from each other, and have done so from the Quest's beginnings. With every passing Quest, the teamwork and collaboration of mushers and veterinarians grows. As a consequence, even the "mandatory" exams are not mandatory to the mushers, who always want the veterinarians to examine the dogs.
Dawson City also is the only checkpoint where the dog-handlers are allowed to take care of the dogs (and the mushers). The 36-hour layover in Dawson gives each handling team the time to massage any muscle stiffness in their canine athletes, and to provide plenty of food and water with lots of tender loving care to each resting animal. Here, the handlers serve as an integral link between the resting mushers and the attending veterinarians as the dogs enjoy their extended recuperation, rest, and relaxation.
Veterinary oversight and support are integral parts of the race, not just at Dawson, but from before the start, when the pre-race exams are performed, to after the finish line. Each musher carries a Veterinary Diary throughout the race, in which the medical history of each dog is maintained. Although different veterinarians may observe the dogs from checkpoint to checkpoint, the Veterinary Diaries offer a seamless way for the veterinary team as a whole to monitor each dog from start to finish.
The Yukon Quest is renowned as a race where dog care is of primary importance. The teamwork between mushers and veterinarians assures the well-being of the canine athletes. It is amazing to see these outstanding animals coming into the Dawson checkpoint after more than 500 miles on the trail, sometimes in harsh conditions with severe cold, and looking around curiously, wagging their tails happily, barking at other dogs, and simply being the wonderful canine athletes that they are.