Instead of taking a vacation to Tahiti in the middle of winter, Karen Stasiak, Area Veterinarian for Zoetis in South Texas/Louisiana chooses to visit Fort Kent, Maine to volunteer her time. Since 2007, Karen has been volunteering with other veterinarians in the annual Can-AM Crown Sled Dog Race. This year’s race started last week on March 5. Local residents of Fort Kent host the volunteer veterinarians at their home each year. Sometimes in below 22 degree Fahrenheit (-30 degrees Celsius) weather, they examine and assist all of the canine participants before the racing begins.

Pre-Race Examinations

Karen and the other volunteers examine 450 to 700 dogs in the mandatory pre-race veterinary checks. The health of these canine athletes is of utmost importance to all involved in the race. Karen pays particular attention to body condition, feet and skin that might be prone to frostbite. For the dogs that pass muster, she swipes a green mark on their hip. For those that don’t pass, she swipes a pink mark. The mushers look forward to receiving her assessment and they follow her advice closely as they must choose if and how they will use a particular dog.

“It’s amazing to see all these dogs in the parking lot getting their vet checks every year,” said Karen. “This event is supported so enthusiastically by the community and I’m so proud to be a part of it!”

Typically, the sled dogs are mix breeds, with many husky-hound crosses. All of them are filled with anticipation for their upcoming treks. Some look forward to a 5-hour, 30-mile race, others race 100 miles for upwards of 10 hours; the endurance teams are usually out in the wilderness for 3-4 days logging 250 miles. The veterinarian teams are responsible for checking the dogs before the race, at designated check points, and at the finish.

Red Lantern Duty

Notably, the least desired job for a volunteer veterinarian is the “Red Lantern Duty.” The Red Lantern veterinarian must be present at the finish line for the last sled team as they finish very early in the morning. Usually by the morning, everyone has gone home and only a team of three greets the last place finishers.

Karen volunteered to be the Red Lantern veterinarian in 2015 and it was one year where all of the other veterinarians joined Karen in the wee hours of the morning to cheer on the final team. Instead of finishing to just three pairs of clapping hands, the musher and dogs felt the joy of having a small crowd celebrate with them. 

Below are photos from this year’s event. For more information about the Can-AM Crown Sled Dog Race, click here.