Iditarod 2006

By Ted A. Diamond, DVM

During early March 2006 I was fortunate to have the opportunity to serve as one of 35 volunteer veterinarians on the 34th Iditarod sled dog race in Alaska. The Iditarod covers 1049 miles of Alaskan wilderness and is known as “The Last Great Race.” The following is a brief summary and some photographs of my experience.

My adventure began when I attended a required 3 day conference of the International Sled Dog Veterinary Medical Association (ISDVMA) in Anchorage the week prior to the race. As an Iditarod “rookie,” I received a crash course on the unique medical problems of sled dogs and the protocol for their treatment on the trail. This conference included a day of hands-on examination of about 60 dog teams at a mandatory pre-race “vet check,” my first exposure to working outside in sub-zero degree temperatures!

Following the conference, the adventure continued as my wife Robin participated in the ceremonial start as an “Iditarider,” braving the crowds and cameras along Anchorage’s 4th Avenue and traveling 11 miles of trail with rookie musher Kim Kittredge. The start of the race was a thrill of a lifetime for both of us, but especially for Robin.

Immediately following the start, I was whisked off to the first of 5 checkpoints by pilot Gary of the volunteer “Iditarod Air Force.” Over 2000 volunteers from all over the world save their vacation time to participate in this race, providing the support personnel for the complex infrastructure required to make the race happen.

I spent between 1 to 4 days at each checkpoint examining the teams as they passed through, caring for the sick or injured dogs until they could be flown out of the smaller checkpoints on their way back to Anchorage.

Among the most impressive things I observed during my 2 weeks on the trail was the tremendous bond between mushers and their dogs and the incredible amount of work involved under very difficult and often sleep-deprived conditions.   Time and time again I would marvel at the mushers as they attended to the physical and emotional needs of their “canine family,” always before they attended to their own comfort needs.

The Iditarod has responded to concerns by animal welfare groups over the last 15 years by improving the conditions for the dogs on the trail and instituting strict rest and veterinary care requirements. The research sponsored by the Iditarod on the unique problems of the canine endurance athlete continues to improve the health of sled dogs everywhere. In general, the care and condition of the dogs on the race was excellent!

I learned a lot about Alaska and the world of the sled dog during my stay. Now that I am no longer considered a “rookie,” I hope to return to the great North for further adventures on “The Last Great Race.”

Iditarod 2006
Alaskan Huskies
At the start
Checkpoint volunteers
Iditarod airforce
Massage time
Bedded down for the night
Frosty 2
Getting cold
Skwentna River checkpoint
Koyuk on the Bearing Sea
Alaska: The Last Frontier
At the pre-race vet check
4th Ave Anchorage
In the air
Out of the race
Canine endurance athletes
Staying warm
Eskimo child
Skwentna mascot
Sitting nap
Alaska by comparison
K9 Hilton
Iditarider Robin
Gary Paulson
Yukon river
Me and the gals
Coming into Koyuk
On the gangline
Ready to go
Takotna view
Jeff King: The winner
Trail headquarters
I love straw
In the chute
Swingly at Skwentna
Team from 2000 feet
Heading home
Cozy blankets
On the trail
Pelt for sale
Takotna sunset
The route: 1049 miles
In the truck
The first turn
Vets at rest
Frosty 1
Dropped dogs going home
Taking it easy
On the job