Dr. Medora Pashmakova serves as a volunteer veterinarian at the Iditarod
Posted April 09, 2015
Team of dogs and
musher arriving to a checkpoint.
I developed an interest in endurance athlete dogs in the last
year and dove into researching their physiology, lifestyles, and
race-related medical conditions. I am grateful to Dr. Mike Willard,
an avid former sled dog veterinarian and researcher, who was an
essential contact in introducing me to the Iditarod head
veterinarian, Dr. Stuart Nelson.
Each year, the Iditarod race is supported by 30-50 volunteer
veterinarians (approximately half are rookies and half are
veterans). I volunteered as a rookie for the 2015 Iditarod. Dr.
Nelson requested my presence in Anchorage during the race in my
capacity as a criticalist, to receive and triage the “dropped dogs”
from the race. Each team starts with a mandatory 16 dogs from
Anchorage and traverses 1049 miles to reach Nome, Alaska. It is not
unusual for a third of the starting dogs to be relieved from racing
on the trail, or “dropped,” for a variety of behavioral, medical,
or other issues. These dropped dogs are housed at the trail
checkpoints and cared for by veterinarians and volunteers at every
step. They are then flown back to Anchorage in a commercial
airliner as a shipment of anywhere from 15-50 dogs. They are
received at the Anchorage airport and taken directly to the
Millennium Hotel, the headquarters of the Iditarod. There, a team
of volunteers and veterinarians (including me)
identify and examine each dog, providing basic treatment or
referring for more advanced care to a local veterinarian or
emergency facility. The most common medical issues included mild
orthopedic sprains and strains, dehydration, or just being
Making friends with a shy
lady sled dog in her trailer.
Many dogs just need a little rest and are otherwise healthy and
can be picked up directly by their handlers. However, they are
housed in the nearby
Hiland Correctional Facility, where female prisoners take care
of them until they are picked up. This facility is instrumental in
caring for dropped dogs and has been for almost 30 years.
I spent a total of two weeks as a dropped dog veterinarian in
Anchorage this year and can only say that receiving and caring for
300-400 dropped dogs exceeded all expectations and has been the
most professionally rewarding experience in my career.
Concurrently, the rest of the veterinarians for the race were
spread out along the trail checkpoints and were caring for the
health and well-being of 1400 or so dogs. Despite being dispersed
among large and small towns—sometimes villages with only basic
facilities—and all of us in frigid temperatures, the Iditarod race
coordination was able to keep everyone in touch and execute a
mission to keep both people and dogs safe in their travels to Nome.
Huge team effort!
It's been a blast out here. My hope is that this becomes an
annual event and that we keep Texas A&M represented at the
race, continuing the tradition that Dr. Willard started!
Contact Information: Megan Palsa,
firstname.lastname@example.org, 979-862-4216, 979-421-3121 (cell)
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