FORT KENT, Maine— When it comes to sled dog racing, dog care and safety are two things the Can Am Crown board of directors take very seriously. That’s why mushers are required to carry certain gear throughout the race.
Meeting one of those requirements just got a lot easier thanks to a donation by a major New Brunswick dog food manufacturer.
Corey Nutrition, makers of Inukshuk sled dog food in Fredericton, this year is supplying all the emergency dog food mushers must have in their sled bags.
There are 90 teams expected to race in the 2011 Can Am 250-, 60- and 30-mile races kicking off Saturday, March 6. Each musher is required to have 1 pound of emergency food per dog. That works out to 780 pounds of dog food.
“We are really glad to be involved in the Can Am this year,” Lindsay Richardson, Corey Nutrition director of corporate communications, said. “Mushers are a big part of our business and they are such a wonderful, close-knit community [and] some of the money they spend to go to these races is astronomical.”
Richardson will bring the 780 pounds of food packed in 1,560 half-pound bags for the mushers to pick up at the pre-race meeting the night before the race.
Organizers hope the donation will help eliminate some of the controversy the requirement has sparked in recent years.
“Some races don’t require the emergency food but we realize how important it is,” John Kaleta, a Fort Kent musher and member of the Can Am Crown board, said. “But we started running into problems with the weight requirement and people getting disqualified for their emergency food being underweight.”
In fact, Kaleta added, time penalties levied against one musher due to his having less than the required 1 pound per dog on the team caused him to drop from first to third place.
“The time penalty was quite substantial last year and it started creating quite a bit of animosity,” Kaleta said. “So some board members suggested we find some kind of sponsor to help rectify the situation and make everybody happy.”
In the past, some mushers have had a difficult time determining whether they had the proper weight of emergency food and could be seen waiting to use the scales at local hardware stores and supermarket produce sections.
“This donation will eliminate weighing their emergency dog food,” Alan Dow, Can Am Crown board member, said. “Every musher will be given the necessary amount.”
This past fall several board members attended the New England Sled Dog Trade Fair and Symposium in New Hampshire, where they met up with Richardson.
“We told him about the situation and that we were looking for someone to sponsor the emergency food,” Dow said. “He said right on the spot, ‘We can do that, it’s all settled.’”
Can Am mushers such as Penny Gray, now living in Fort Kent, know how important that emergency stock of food can be.
“You never know what you might encounter out there,” said Gray, who has raced in the Can Am and in Labrador. “Trail conditions, severe weather, getting off-trail, getting hurt; if you don’t need that emergency food, fine, [but] if you need it and don’t have it, that can quickly turn into a bad situation.”
Gray knows what she’s talking about. While racing in the Labrador 400 in the early 1990s, many of the teams, including her own, were forced to wait out a blizzard on the trail for three days.
“We were out in the middle of nowhere with just the gear in our sleds to last for three days,” she said. “If I hadn’t had that emergency bag of food with me, my dogs would have suffered.”
Can Am 250 musher Jaye Foucher of Ashland, N.H., has never faced a trail emergency, but agrees it’s essential to be prepared.
“It’s important on these longer, multiday races to carry [emergency food] for the same reason we carry a sleeping bag and fire-making equipment,” she said. “You just never know.”
In addition, Corey Nutrition’s prepacking the food in the half-pound bags is convenient, Foucher said.
“Normally I’m trying to figure out what kind of bag I can carry 12 pounds of dog food in that’s not going to break open in my sled bag over the course of 250 miles,” she said. “Then there’s the worry of ‘Do I have the required amount? Do I have too much? Too little?’”
Rico Portalatin has run the Can Am 30 for several years and this year is moving up to the 60-mile race, and he agrees with Foucher and Gray.
“Someone who runs 30-mile races may never use emergency food but it does give them a rehearsal and appreciation for gear that may be required on longer-distance races,” the West Hampton, Mass., musher said. “This food requirement also allows the public to see that at these events it’s always the well-being of the dogs that comes first.”
For Kaleta, Corey Nutrition’s donation is good for everyone.
“It’s really a win-win,” he said. “The mushers don’t have to sweat it out and worry if they have the correct weight of food, and the dog food company gets their product into the mushers’ hands.”