FAIRBANKS -- Mushers planning to compete in the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race passed their last major hurdle Saturday when veterinarians checked dozens of canine athletes.
Forty-two mushers are signed up to start the 1,000-mile race Saturday, including Deborah Bicknell of Juneau.
"It's the once-over they get to make sure they're fit for the trail," said head Quest veterinarian Margaret Terhar. "It's very rare a dog comes to the vet check that is not fit for this race."
The sled dogs' teeth, skin, lungs and feet were on the checklist.
One dog examined by Terhar, a husky named Cheyanne, had a heart rate of 84 beats per minute. "That's fit," the veterinarian said. House dogs normally have a heart beat of about 120.
"These dogs are a lot different than the animals we treat at home," said Terhar, whose regular practice is in Green Bay, Wis. "They're so physically fit.
"Our pet population is overweight, so all of the problems associated with that, these guys just don't have."
This is Terhar's second year as head veterinarian. She started with the Quest as a trail vet in 2000.
"It's hard to leave my practice," she said. "But once you start working this race, you have to come back."
Eleven trail vets will be evaluating dogs during this year's Quest. Every dog team is examined at each checkpoint along the trail. Mushers start the race with 14 dogs. They can finish with as few as eight.
"We got real good bills of health," said musher Dan Kaduce, a Quest rookie, after his vet check was complete.
Kaduce said dog mushers become amateur veterinarians because they are constantly monitoring their dogs.
"We probably know more than a lot of vets about running dogs," he said. "I'm sure I can spot a sore wrist on someone's team before any vet can."
From now until the start of the race, Kaduce said, his main job in taking care of his dogs will be keeping up the team's morale.
"I want to make everybody as happy as possible for the start line," the musher said.
The race this year runs from Fairbanks to Whitehorse.