First, Kristy has a team of 14 dogs and Anna has a team of 14 dogs. They're dedicated. They cannot be swapped between them, replaced, or for any reason left behind except in the hands of qualified race officials and vets. Each dog underwent extensive testing in advance of the race, including EKGs and blood analysis, to ensure to the highest degree possible each was fit for this event. Each dog is also microchipped, and this chip is scanned to confirm their identify and a final urine test is taken to rule out prohibited substances the morning of the restart.
And then? They're off. Each musher must carry a veterinary log book from checkpoint to checkpoint so that vets along the trail can see any necessary notes about particular dogs from the vets before them. Mushers also have to have a lot of mandatory gear that pertains to the dogs - from emergency food supplies, to sufficient booties for the team to wear plus a spare, a cooker to melt snow and boil water to make their food, padded harnesses, and - new this year - one dog coat for each dog. Most mushers had them anyway, but now that too is an official requirement.
As anyone that has ever been a member of a sporting team can attest, in nearly any event, someone ends up getting hurt. When the coaches are attentive, caring, and responsible, the injuries are usually minimal. This is overwhelmingly the case for any dog that is "returned" during the Iditarod. A sprained wrist, a sore shoulder than can't be worked out, upset stomach, or a cracked toe nail... a slight variance in a dog's normal gait that tells the musher something isn't quite right. When that happens, a dog is checked in with race officials and vets in the checkpoint, settled in with handlers, and as soon as possible flown either back to the start in Anchorage or on to the finish in Nome, courtesy of the Iditarod Air Force.
Which brings me to an all important update about the twins and their respective dogs. Anna made it to Rohn, mile 188, before I saw her return her first dog. She was all the way to McGrath, mile 311, before she returned her second. Despite the long rest and what I can assure you were long massages and leashed walks, I see Anna returned a third dog before pulling out of Takotna. That means she is still mushing with a strong team of 11 dogs the rest of the way to Nome. Kristy is not dissimilar. She returned her first dog in Nikolia, mile 263, and her second in Ophir, mile 352. Which leaves Kristy with 12 amazing canine athletes in front of her sled.
Thanks to our Returned Dog Correspondents Kenny and Treven back at the kennel, I have information and pictures of 3 of the 5 total Seeing Double teammates that had to head home early. The two from Anna's team were Drax, a 2yr old Seeing Double dog who was showing signs of shoulder soreness, and Quonset, a 3yr old girl on loan from Ryan Redington, that was getting hip cramping. From Kristy's team, Seeing Double dog Mayhem (part of the Troublesome Five litter) headed back when she came down with a sore wrist. But they're all home safe at the kennel now, and by all appearances are acting like nothing at all is wrong! Take a look, below.
I'll be back with more dog updates as our RDC's collect the other 2 pups in Anchorage over the next day or so.