Dr. Tracy Patton has been a veterinarian in Claremore for 22 years. Formerly the owner of All About Animals, he partnered with Dr. Robert Kendrick in 2018, and they opened Rogers County Pet Hospital AKA RoCo Pet Vet. This allows both doctors to serve more furry patients, with more services and more flexibility.
A few years ago, Dr. Patton’s wife, Rachel, took a position as a teacher in Alaska. Naturally, he went to visit her frequently, and he fell in love with the landscape and the culture. While his wife has now returned home to Claremore, Dr. Patton still has some unfinished business in Alaska.
Back in 2013, he attended canine rehab/physical therapy training in Knoxville, TN. He met a veterinarian nutritionist who worked with sled dogs. Dr. Patton became fascinated with the sheer athleticism of the animals. When Rachel moved to Alaska in 2016, Dr. Patton had the opportunity to learn more about sled dogs. He said the sport is as popular there, as football is here. Even the most isolated residents have sled dogs that they race locally. He started reading up on the Iditarod race, which was actually co-founded by a native of Kingfisher, Oklahoma, named Joe Redington Sr. along with Dorothy Page, the first official Iditarod race was held in 1973, although sled dog racing dates back much further than that.
In 1925, Nome, Alaska suffered a diphtheria outbreak. The city’s supply of antitoxin was expired, and the only way to get more from Anchorage was by sled dog. Ships were too slow, and planes couldn’t be used. The governor approved a safe route and sled dogs were responsible for delivering the fresh medicine a distance of nearly 1,000 miles.
Now that you know the history of the Iditarod, let’s get back to Dr. Patton! He is a member of the Iditarod Trail Committee, which was the first step in him applying to be a veterinarian in the 2020 sled dog race. In an attempt to cross an item off his bucket list, he sent in an application in June, which was reviewed, and after a phone interview with the head veterinarian, Dr. Stu Nelson, was approved in October. Dr. Patton said “I think my work in physiotherapy with athletic dogs, service dogs, and search and rescue dogs, dogs that have to get sound and healthy fast to get back to their job, was a factor in getting selected. I’m grateful for the opportunity.”
As a volunteer, Dr. Patton will work alongside veterinarians from across the country, many of who return year after year. Other volunteers for the Iditarod include pilots, who volunteer their time and planes, to fly injured dogs to hubs if they can’t be treated on the trail, or will fly volunteers to various checkpoints.
Race distance is 1000 miles. Temperatures can get as low as -40F and colder with wind chill. The average time for the actual race is 12-13 days, but Dr. Patton will spend nearly a month there to allow a week of training before, and wrap-up after. Volunteers won’t be staying at the local Holiday Inn; they sleep in schools, churches, or community centers, which are set up as barracks.
The dogs are generally Alaskan Huskies. The Alaskan Husky is not considered a pure breed. It is defined only by its purpose, which is that of a highly efficient sled dog. They will eat approximately 10,000 calories per day during the race, while running 10-12 hours a day, at an average of 8-10 miles per hour, reaching 14 at times. This year’s dogs will be lucky to be getting care from one of Claremore’s best!
Best of luck to Dr. Patton on his Alaskan adventure in March 2020!