Asa Taylor (right) of Lexington Township helps hold in place a sled dog Friday as veterinarian Laura McConnell examines the dog in advance of the Can-Am sled dog races that start Saturday on Main Street in Fort Kent. The dog is a member of Lexington musher Kasey McCarty's team. Credit: Jessica Potila | SJVT

FORT KENT, Maine — The dogs have arrived.

Mushers brought their teams to Lonesome Pine Trails on Friday for veterinarian checks in preparation for the 26th Annual Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Races.

Veterinarian Laura McConnell of Denton, Texas, said the dogs she checked out were all healthy and ready to race on Saturday.

“Actually, they look really good,” McConnell said. “I saw a couple of little pad splits (on their feet) but they’re in good body condition. I don’t know if they have less miles on them.”

Among the teams McConnell examined was that of musher Kasey McCarty.

McCarty and her team out of Lexington Township in Somerset County will race in the Willard Jalbert, Jr. Can-Am Crown 100.

“This is fun,” McCarty said of her seventh time participating in Can-Am races.

Can-Am board member Alan Dow said the roughly 6 inches of snow that fell on the St. John Valley Thursday into Friday shouldn’t severely impact trail conditions and might even be better for the dogs.

“It’s easier on the dogs’ feet. If the ground is hard it cuts their pads,” he said.

As for the humans racing in Can-Am, Dow shrugged off the idea that the snowfall would be a hindrance to them.

“It’s mushers, they’re used to that,” he said.

McCarty agreed.

“It will make the conditions a little slower, but that’s OK,” she said. “The more snow the better.”

The National Weather Service of Caribou forecasts partly sunny weather with temperatures in the upper 30’s on Saturday.

More than 50 teams are registered to take part in the 30-mile, 100-mile and 250-mile Can-Am races this year, including many familiar faces such as eight-time Can-Am 250 defending champion Martin Massicotte. Amy Dionne of St. David, and Jessica Holmes of Portage are the only Aroostook County mushers competing in the race.

There also will be some new faces taking off from the starting line on Main Street in Fort Kent on Saturday.

“We have a lot of new mushers in the 30-mile race,” Dow said.

Also registered in the 30-mile race is Jeffrey McRobbie of Wayne who is returning to Can-Am for the first time since 2016, when his sled was struck by a snowmobile just two miles from the start line.

Snowmobiles and dog sleds share some of the trails, and a 15-year-old snowmobiler, who wardens charged with operating to endanger, was able to avoid hitting the dogs but not the sled. Following the impact, the dogs continued continued running about a mile down the trail before a spectator caught them.

McRobbie ended up with a shattered arm, pins holding his finger in place, and lacerations over his right eye, but vowed shortly afterward that he would one day return to Can-Am.

Following the accident, Can-Am officials implemented additional safety precautions for mushers and their teams out on the trails.

“We have increased security by the Maine Warden Service and patrols by members of the Fort Kent Sno Riders snowmobile club,” Dow said Friday

Those folks are among more than 300 or so volunteers who turn out each year to help make the Can-Am a success.

“We should thank the volunteers; the volunteers are VIPs,” Dow said.

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