Of all the volunteers who rally to make the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon a success, among the most important are the hard workin’ volunteer veterinarians and vet techs. These highly-trained veterinarians come together from across the continent to volunteer at the race, hailing from Canada, Tennessee, California and beyond.
The veterinarians’ main role is to ensure the health and wellness of the dogs before, during and after the race. Before the race begins, each four-legged athlete gets a thorough inspection by the veterinarians, who check for healthy joints, muscles and paws. At checkpoints during the race, teams are checked again by the veterinarians to make sure they are staying healthy on the trail.
One of the biggest challenges the volunteers face out on the trail is treating animals in the cold. Sometimes, these ingenious volunteers have to figure out how to treat the athletes with little equipment and no electricity. During the 2014 Marathon, when wind chills reached -55 degrees during the race, IV tools used to treat dogs froze in the extreme cold temperatures. Vets had to seek out shelter in the wild woods of Northern Minnesota to warm them up before treating the dogs.
This year, one of the biggest challenges may be warm weather. Because temperatures are expected to reach the upper 30s during the race, dogs face the danger of overheating on the trail. Some dogs may wear white jackets on particularly sunny days; not to keep them warm, but to deflect the sun and keep them cool as they run.
According to Vet Team Coordinator and Certified Veterinary Technician Beckie Hacker, the best part about being a volunteer is watching the dogs do something they love.
“These dogs, they love their job. They love pulling, they love running. They are bred for this.”