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Musher shares tales of dog sled races

Musher PModisplays one boots he wears as part his sled dog driver gear during Saturday's presentatiDundee Library East Dundee. 11/3/12.

Musher Pat Moon displays one of the boots he wears as part of his sled dog driver gear, during Saturday's presentation at the Dundee Library in East Dundee. 11/3/12. Denise Moran~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 6, 2012 6:14AM

EAST DUNDEE — When it comes to the Iditarod and other sled races, it’s all about the dogs, says musher and Chicago native Pat Moon.

Thirty-two area residents came to Dundee Library on Saturday for a free presentation by Moon, who talked about his experiences at dog sled races throughout the world, and to meet his Alaskan husky, Hera. The program was run by the Friends of the Fox River Valley Public Library District.

Moon said he first began racing in 2006. He has twice competed in Alaska’s Iditarod.

He has also raced in the lower 48 states, Canada, Russia and Europe.

“I compete in four to six races a year,” Moon said.

His next race will be the North Hope Stage Sled Dog Race in the Kostroma region of Russia on Feb. 16-24, 2013.

Hera modeled the various gear worn by sled dogs such as a harness, coat and booties.

“When the harness goes on, the dog knows it’s time to work,” Moon said. “Each harness is specially made for the individual dog. When it gets really cold, such as 45 degrees below zero, the dogs wear coats. While the coats are not waterproof or windproof, they help to keep in the dog’s body heat.”

Moon said that booties prevent snowballs from forming between the dog’s pads. Chapstick is used on the dog’s nose.

“The smell will make the dog lick its nose and keep it warm,” Moon said.

Top priority

A team can start with 16 dogs and finish with at least seven. If a dog is injured during the race, it is called “dog in basket.” The dog gets to ride in the sled until the next checkpoint, where it is examined by a veterinarian.

“When a driver says he needs a vet now, everything stops. An injured dog takes top priority,” Moon said. “At the Iditarod, there are 50 vets but no medical doctors. A mandatory piece of equipment for every driver is the vet book. The vet writes information about each dog in the book. If I lose the vet book, I’m disqualified from the race.”

Dogs receive good treatment because, Moon said, “they are running the race. You can’t push a rope.”

In addition to watching over the dogs on their team, drivers must also keep themselves in good shape.

“If you can’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of your dogs,” Moon said.

He showed the audience the different type of clothing typically worn during a race.

He said that he wears a pair of beaver mittens over a pair of fleece gloves. There are also mittens sewn into the sleeves of his jacket in case he loses a pair. Gloves are essential in preventing frostbite.

Moon wears a fleece hat and a baseball hat with a brim to keep the snow out. He also wears a head lamp and neck gator. Race bib overalls have a number of pockets for items such as dog booties.

Moon said he especially feels good when he changes into a new pair of socks during the race.

“If my feet are cold and I’m grumpy because of it, my dogs will think they did something wrong to cause my grumpiness and not run as fast,” Moon said.

A dog can eat 17,000 calories a day, according to Moon, which equates to 53 Big Macs. They can run 100 to 130 miles a day. The Iditarod and the Yukon Quest races are both about 1,100 miles long.

The audience enjoyed their visit with Moon and Hera.

“If a person brings a dog to the library, people should come and see it,” said West Dundee resident Joan Sussmann.

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