VeterinarianTurner Lewis to Discuss 'The Iditarod: The Great Alaska Dogsled Race'

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There Are Strange Things Done ‘Neath The Midnight Sun 

There are strange things done ‘neath the midnight sun

By the men who moil for gold.  

The Northern Lights have seen strange sights  

That would make your blood run cold. 

So spoke Robert Service, the bard of the Yukon. 

The unforgiving Alaskan wilderness, which attracted so many men doing the Klondike Gold Rush at the end of the 20th century, and was their final resting place, has been immortalized by Robert Service, and the other Yukon poets.  On the remorseless tundra, far from any semblance of civilization, survival would depend on the relationship between man and his mush dogs. 

The Call of the Wild by Jack London, published in 1903, takes place in the extreme conditions of the Yukon, where strong sled dogs were in high demand. Buck, a domesticated dog, is snatched from a pastoral ranch in California and sold into a brutal life as a sled dog. The novella details Buck's struggle to adjust and survive the cruel treatment he receives from humans, other dogs, and nature. He eventually sheds the veneer of civilization altogether and instead relies on primordial instincts and the lessons he has learned to become a respected and feared leader in the wild.  Both The Call of the Wild and London’sWhite Fang are written from the view-point of his canine character, enabling London to explore how animals view their world and how they view humans. White Fang examines the violent world of wild animals and the equally violent world of humans. 

It is this bond been man and animal that vividly comes to life each year in the Iditarod. The Dotard is the annual long-distance sled dog race run in early March from Anchorage to Nome.  Begun in 1973 to test the best sled dog mushers, teams frequently race through blizzards causing whiteout conditions, sub-zero temperatures and gale-force winds, which can cause the wind chill to reach minus 100° F.  The 1050 mile race attracts a yearly field of over 75 mushers (as many as 108) and over a thousand dogs, and is the most popular sporting event in Alaska.  The race’s namesake is the Iditarod Trail, which was designated as one of the first four national historic trails in 1978, taking its name from the Athabaskan term for “far distant place”.

Care and monitoring of the sled dogs is paramount. Modern racing dogs are all mixed-breed huskies bred for speed, tough feet, endurance, good attitude, and the desire to run. Each team is composed of twelve to sixteen dogs, and no more may be added along the race. Volunteer veterinarians monitor the dogs before the race, and at the checkpoints along the way. 

   Dr. Lewis has provided veterinary care for the Iditarod from 1993 through 2013. The Iditarod veterinarians work tirelessly under the most difficult of conditions in the Alaskan wilds. In addition, he has participated in pretty much every major dog sled race, including the Kusco 300 (Alaska), the John Beargrease (Minnesota), the Yukon Quest Canada and Alaska), and The Race to the Sky (Montana). 

Dr. Lewis received his veterinary degree from Michigan State University in 1968 and practiced in Stoneham, MA, and later in Chelsea, MA, where he worked until semi-retirement in September 2006.  He is past president of the Chelsea Rotary club, and served as Trustee of Kalamazoo College, where he did his undergraduate work. Currently he is a board member of the International Sled Dog Veterinary Medical Association, having served as Secretary/Treasurer for six years and now as Treasurer for the past three years. He now lives in Halifax, Vermont with his wife Kay; he has two adult children (both married) and five grandchildren. He continues to practice in semi-retirement, providing relief work for several veterinary hospitals.


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