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Final checks before Can-Am races signal healthy dogs, good trails

FORT KENT, Maine — The surest sign that the Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Races are set to begin is the arrival of plenty of happy, howling sled dogs and their mushers to veterinarian check-ups at Lonesome Pine Trails in Fort Kent.

A sled dog undergoes a veterinarian examination at Lonesome Pine Trails in Fort Kent on Friday, Feb. 28. (Jessica Potila)

Such was the case on Friday when volunteer veterinary professionals examined dog teams from New Brunswick to Minnesota to ensure their good health to race in the Pepsi Bottling & Allen’s Coffee Flavored Brandy Can-Am Crown 30, In Memory of Willard Jalbert Jr. Can-Am Crown 100 and Irving Woodlands Can-Am Crown 250 on Saturday.

Veterinarian Melanie Donofro came from Tallahassee, Florida, for her fifth year as a Can-Am volunteer. 

A sled dog belonging to musher Gavin Baker of Ottawa appears slightly surprised as veterinarian Melanie Donofro of Florida uses a stethoscope to listen to the dog’s heartbeat at Lonesome Pine Trails in Fort Kent on Friday, Feb. 28. (Jessica Potila)

“I love sled dog races and I love this race. It’s well run and the team (of Can-Am organizers) is amazing. I just love it and I’ve worked a lot of races,” Donofro said. 

Donofro said on Friday that the sled dogs she examined were healthy and ready to race. 

“These guys take very good care of them,” Donofro said of the mushers. 

Among the human athletes participating in Can-Am this year is Kasey McCarty of Lexington, who will race her dogs in the 100-mile event. McCarty has competed in Can-Am since 2008, and already has plans to return next year. 

“It’s the community, the volunteers and how professional the race is,” she said of her continued participation in Can-Am.

McCarty said that with a team of many young dogs this year, some who are racing for the first time, her goal “is just to go out and have fun.”

She also hopes to gear up the yearlings for the 250-mile Can-Am race next year.  

As with the dogs, the trails also passed muster for the races come Saturday, according to Can-Am Chief Medical Checkpoint Coordinator and Treasurer Mira Saucier. 

A winter storm in northern Maine on Thursday provided a weather windfall to the races, Saucier said. 

Prior to the storm, some of the trails were hard packed. 

“Mother Nature took care of us,” Saucier said. 

A sled dog rolls in the snow at the Lonesome Pine Trails parking lot on Friday, Feb. 28. (Jessica Potila)

As of Friday afternoon, trail volunteers, including Can-Am President Dennis Cyr, were all out grooming the trails of last-minute snow. 

“They have been out all day; we haven’t seen them,”  Saucier said. “We like our trails to be of the highest quality.”

Musher Gavin Baker of Ottawa said the Can-Am trails are one of the reasons he has returned for “many years.” 

“Rarely do you get a hard trail here,” Baker said. “I’ve been coming here for many years. It’s kind of been the rock of the races that we go to as mushers.” 

“The community of Fort Kent welcomes us mushers and when we come back we are treated like family year after year,” Baker added. “We just love coming to the Can-Am; it’s a great race.” 

Admission to the Can-Am is free of charge and spectators come from all over the United States and Canada to watch the dogs take off.

The Can-Am Crown races will kick off at 8 a.m. Feb. 29 with the Willard Jalbert Jr. Can-Am Crown 100 mushers taking off from the starting line on Main Street.

The Pepsi Bottling & Crossings Can-Am Crown 30 mushers and their teams will follow at 9:10 a.m.

  The Irving Woodlands Can-Am Crown 250 will begin at 10:20 a.m.

Racers will finish at the Lonesome Pine Trails Lodge.

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