FORT KENT, Maine — Among the major items on the Can-Am Crown to-do for every musher is the mandatory vet check for every sled dog team competing in this weekend’s 30-, 60-, and 250-mile races.
“These dogs are all looking good and we haven’t seen any problems yet,” Dr. Laura McConnell, a race vet from Windham, said Friday afternoon from the staging area at Lonesome Pine Ski Lodge. “It’s a lot of fun working outside with working dogs.”
McConnell was among a team of veterinarians from Maine, New England, Canada and Denmark who volunteered time this weekend for the races.
On Friday afternoon they were busy checking teams entered in the event’s flagship race — the Irving Woodlands Can-Am Crown 250 beginning at 10 a.m. today on Main Street.
Mushers in the Can-Am Willard Jalbert 60-mile race leave the start chute at 8 a.m. with the Can-Am Pepsi Bottling Co. 30-mile racers following starting at 9 a.m.
For many of the vets, the Can-Am has become an annual event.
“This is my 11th year here,” Michele Papero, a veterinarian tech from Branford, Conn. “It’s a way for me to use my skills in a nonconventional way [and] lets me do field medicine, which is very different than in the clinic where I work.”
A big draw for Papero and McConnell are the people behind the race.
“I’ve worked some races where they have us eating granola out of a baggie and living in a cold tent,” McConnell said. “At the Can-Am every time you walk into a checkpoint it’s like ‘what can we get you to eat?’”
Papero said working the Can-Am is an eye-opening experience and one she treasures.
“These are just some of the most wonderful dogs I work with all year,” Papero said. “They are level-headed, sweet and enthusiastic and that bond between the musher and their dogs is something I’d never seen before coming here.”
Fellow vet tech Manuela Esposito agreed.
“Just look at the dogs,” she said. “They all look so happy and have big smiles on their faces.”
Before the race, every dog is checked for overall body condition, hydration, flexibility, gait and attitude.
It doesn’t stop there with vets stationed at the Can-Am 250 checkpoints in Portage, Rocky Brook, Maibec and Allagash.
“Out on the race course we will check to make sure no dogs are limping, their eyes look good and their urine looks OK,” Esposito said. “Plus the mushers are good at doing their own inspections and telling us what’s going on.”
McConnell was finishing up with the check of 250-musher Christine Richardson from New Hampshire and was pleased with what she saw.
“They look awesome,” she said.
For her part, Richardson said the prerace check is an excellent opportunity to “pick some brains” of the medical professionals.
“I had two dogs we knew we were leaving behind from the race,” Richardson said. “It was really nice to be able to get a second opinion from the vets here and know we are doing the right thing with them. These are people who really know what they are talking about.”
Inside the lodge, Can-Am president Rita Canaan was busy checking in mushers and attending to a myriad of last-minute details — including transportation of snow.
“Can you believe we have to bring in snow to Fort Kent?” Canaan said with a laugh. “We are putting it on the streets for the start.”
Recent warm temperatures have made snow a somewhat rare commodity in town this year and volunteers are going as far as St. Francis to bring in enough of the white stuff for the mile run the racers take down Main Street.
“But the trails look great for the race,” Canaan said. “We are all set for a beautiful race.”
In all, 80 mushers are signed up among the three races vying for a $40,000 purse.
The winning teams for the Can-Am 30 should be arriving back at Lonesome Pine early Saturday afternoon with the 60-mile winners by late afternoon.
Depending on the trail, the winner of the Can-Am 250 should be in early Monday morning.