Can-Am donation gives Presque Isle animal shelter a boost

3 months ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The races may have been canceled this year, but Can-Am officials still had something to pay forward.

Leaders of the Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Races in Fort Kent came to Presque Isle Friday to donate more than 700 pounds of food originally intended for sled dog teams to the Central Aroostook Humane Society.

The society serves 30 communities in Aroostook County, taking in rescues, reuniting strays with owners and caring for adoptable dogs and cats at its shelter. Already this year, an influx of rescued animals has kept the building overflowing. The food will help feed dogs there for a year, staff said.

“This is an amazing gift,” said Betsy Hallett, shelter executive director. “We can always use the extra food with the amount of animals we take in.”

The donation will also cut down the shelter’s expenses, which is another welcome boost, Hallett said.

The Inukshuk food is packaged in 1-pound bags, because it’s designed for mushers to carry along as part of their emergency gear, said Can-Am Vice President Sarah Brooks. The mushers carry a pound of food for each of their dogs on each leg of a race.

The nutritious, high-protein mixture is made by Corey Nutrition in Fredericton, New Brunswick, and is used in other high-profile races like the Iditarod in Alaska, said Brooks, who also serves as coordinator at the Portage race checkpoint.

Sled dog mushers have to carry emergency supplies in case they get stalled and have to spend extra time somewhere along the trail, said Dennis Cyr of Fort Kent, Can-Am president. Along with gear like an axe, spare dog lines, snowshoes, a knife and headlamps, they carry sustenance for their dogs.

All the gear is carefully weighed by race officials. If they use some of the dog food, they restock at the next checkpoint to make sure they’re always supplied, Cyr said.

“The safety of the dogs and the health of the dogs is our priority in the Can-Am races,” he said. “Really, the mushers are along for the ride. The dogs are the athletes.”

When race organizers had to take the unprecedented step of canceling this year’s races because of early thawing and lack of snow, they had somewhere between 700 and 800 pounds of dog food piled up. They wanted to donate it where it would be used and appreciated, and instantly thought of the Presque Isle shelter, he said.

Cyr and Brooks unloaded the boxes Friday with the help of shelter staff and board members.

“This is wonderful and we’re so grateful,” said Christine Standefer, humane society vice president.

The humane society is in the midst of a fundraising and building project to construct a new animal shelter, just up the road from its current location.

The race cancellation was an economic blow to the St. John Valley and beyond, because the event brings people from around the U.S., Canada and even other countries to the area. But organizers are looking to 2025.

“We’ve already had meetings to plan for next year,” Brooks said.