Eagle Cap Extreme Sled Dog Race
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January 15th, 2010 – by: NoStrangers
Here is a story I wrote for my paper just prior to the race about one of Bino's dogs who had a hard time in an earlier race and this year helped puppies learn their sport.
‘Cash’ hopes to be the Comeback Canine
By Kathleen Ellyn
Wallowa County Chieftain
Over 100 dogs have come to Wallowa County for the 2010 Eagle Cap Extreme Sled Dog Race, but at the mandatory veterinary check Wednesday morning, one dog was getting a lot of attention.
‘Cash’ is an unremarkable-looking little black Siberian Husky and his expression is long-suffering. He has no idea what the fuss is about.
But four veterinarians crowd around him with hopeful expressions. Two years ago Cash was part of Bino Fowler’s 12-dog, 200-mile team. Cash, along with his sisters Emmylou Harris and June Carter (of the Country Legend’s litter) had trained well and although they were just ‘puppies’ about 18 months old, Fowler expected to do well.
But just 50 miles into the rigorous race �" recognized as the toughest in the lower 48 states �" Cash started lagging and then, to Fowler’s surprise, fell in harness.
When Fowler got his team stopped and ran forward, Cash didn’t want to get up.
“He acted like he just got tired,” Fowler recalls.
The first 50-mile checkpoint at the remote Ollokot Campground in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest was just ahead, so Fowler unhitched Cash and ‘dropped in him the sack’ on the sled and made for the checkpoint and the best veterinary care possible.
Ollokot is a primary base camp for the race and is set up to feed and house mushers, their dogs, support crew, radio communications specialists, and veterinarians. It is the first checkpoint for the racers where both dogs and mushers get a drink and a snack, get checked out by the veterinarians, and can grab some shut-eye if they like. The veterinarians overseeing the race are all highly skilled sled-dog professionals with years of experience �" some at the Iditarod.
Back in 2008 when Fowler arrived at Ollokot, Wallowa County veterinarian Randy Greenshields quickly realized that Cash was in serious trouble. “When I examined Cash, he had very fast, irregular heart beats that sounded like shoes tumbling in a clothes dryer,” said Greenshields.
Cash’s 2008 race was over.
Fowler “dropped” Cash, (left him behind in the care of the veterinarians) and continued with just eleven dogs.
“It was a no-brainer (decision),” Fowler said. “It was the right thing, the responsible thing to do.”
Leaving Cash behind with the best sled-dog vets in the world didn’t stop Fowler from worrying about his racing buddy, though. He asked that Cash be left at Ollokot, rather than transported by snow machine and transport truck (both with special dog boxes) back to Race Central in Joseph, Oregon where Fowler’s dog handler awaited them.
“I wanted to be able to check on him on the return route,” Fowler said.
Cash, for his part, disagreed with the decision to leave him behind. He was eating and drinking well and seemed bright and happy after a brief rest.
But no one was taking any chances with Cash’s health. He stayed in Ollokot.
“Cash was not happy about being left behind,” Greenshields said. “Even as weak as he was, he was howling because he wanted to go, too.”
Two of Cash’s litter-mates, Emmylou Harris and June Carter went on to finished the race, but all of the dogs found the Eagle Cap Extreme course very, very challenging. By the end of the race, Fowler had just eight of his original 12 pups still running, and finished in third place.
All of Fowler’s “dropped” dogs recovered just fine, thanks to his good pre-race training and sharp eye for any developing problems and first class veterinarian advice along the route.
“That was my first long race,” Fowler said. “I learned the value of a stethoscope as part of my vet kit and I learned that the vet staff was there to help me and to help me make good decisions.”
Those decisions resulted in Fowler being chosen for one of the most prestigious awards a musher can receive �" best handler. The veterinarians make the award.
“(Winning that award) is the highlight of my career at this point,” Fowler said. “Sometimes they give the award because you have solid athletes and make it around and make it look easy. I had to drop puppies along the way. I didn’t think I’d be recognized as making solid decisions by the vet team. I didn’t think I had a chance at it.”
But in sled dog races, in endurance challenges of any kind, there is rarely a team or individual so well prepared�" and so lucky �" that nothing happens along the route that requires a “solid decision.
Witness the results of Iditarod veteran John Barron’s 2008 race. Barron had to scratch (pull out) of Eagle Cap Extreme at the halfway point. In fact, the Eagle Cap Extreme course for 200-milers has 37,600 feet of trail that climbs. The 100-mile course has over 16,000 feet of trail that ascends. One way to picture that kind of climb is to recall that Mt. McKinley in Alaska is 20,320 feet above sea level.
“The (trail from) Ollokot to Halfway is some of the most difficult, steep, tough trail you are going to find anywhere,” Fowler said. “John Barren, one of the most experienced racers to come to the race, found it tough �" and I think that attests to how tough that course is.
Sometimes a “perfect” run is the one that challenges you the most.
Fowler and Cash are back this year, older and wiser.
“Cash has never had another cardiac event,” Fowler said. “(In 2008) when I cam back (through Ollokot) he looked good, he was chipper and he’d made a bunch of friends at the Ollokot Hilton.”
Now, after a thorough check with his home vet, a cardiogram, and two years of maturing and training, Cash is ready for the intense veterinarian examinations.
He’ll be running this year with his littermates Emmylou Harris and June Carter �" with Emmylou running lead with another female, Yahtzee.
Fowler wouldn’t want to leave Cash behind. “He’s built like a million bucks,” Fowler said. “He fits in real nice with the build of my team and I dig his personality which is stoic. He’s just a real nice, smooth worker. Good appetite, good feet, smooth moving. A nice part of the team. All the things you want that make up a good sled dog.”
And Cash’s heart?
“He’s got a huge heart,” Fowler said, making the immediate leap to the quality of the try in the dog, rather than the health of the pump in the dog. But winning that best handler award has set Fowler’s goals securely. “ I want a tough course so I can match up with some of the best teams in the world,” he said, “(But) my goal is a sound finish with healthy, happy animals.”
Cash is ready to go in 2010. He passed his veterinary check; he’s in the best shape of his life, and he would hate to be left behind.
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