Reflection by Dr. Kathleen McGill, Head Veterinarian of the Yukon Quest
In reflecting on my years as a trail veterinarian and a Chief veterinarian, there are many memorable moments. I have gone from being a geezer wannabe to actual geezer status; I have been a dropped dog - in the hospital for IV fluids; and along with another trail vet, was the first medical personnel on a scene at a fatal car crash. I’ve made life long friends, marveled at the northern lights, drank a lot of trail coffee, slept on floors, in cars, pushed chairs together to lay on and finally, slept with my head drooped on my folded arms; most importantly, I have listened to the soft jangle of harness and team as the musher’s headlamp bobbed up down coming through the night to a checkpoint. I have had the rare privilege of watching these amazing, four legged athletes and their mushers run 1000 miles...
What have I learned over the years;
From the Dogs:
Trust Team Work: Neither the dog team nor the musher can finish or win the race without the other. An unique arrangement. Each has to be in peak condition, mentally and physically, to run 1000 miles.
Rules of the Trail: Live in the moment; Be passionate about your job; Howl at the moon; don’t pass up a bed of straw or a warm blanket, get exercise, be hungry, clean your plate, be tough, be tougher than you look and surprise everyone!
Opportunities: It doesn’t matter where in the team you pull; we are all important. Work hard, learn from your elders and do your best. You could be a lead dog some day.
From the Mushers I have learned;
Rules of the Trail: Sacrifice; your team eats and sleeps first. Compassion; massaging sore muscles, a well placed ear scratch, a hug for your dog means more for your heart and theirs than all the medication in the world.
Decision Making: knowing what is best for your dog and your dog team, even if it means scratching. In the end, I have learned compassion, respect, responsibility and resiliency from both the four footed and the two footed.
Finally as a trail veterinarian, I hope I have been able to actively promote sled dog racing and encourage the humane welfare of the sled dogs that run the Yukon Quest.