OXFORD – The Down East Sled Dog Club Trade Fair and Seminar will be held Oct. 7-9 at the Oxford County Fairgrounds, and organizers hope it will stay there.

“We’re hoping the fairgrounds become our permanent home,” said Kathy Pickett, trade fair chairwoman. “We have quite a contingent of members in the Oxford Hills area.”

The Down East Sled Dog Club, which dates back to the 1950s, promotes sled dog racing and educates people about the health and maintenance of sled dogs.

Sled dogs are powerful draft animals, capable of maintaining average speeds of 8 to 12 miles per hour for hundreds of miles, including rest stops. The Alaskan husky is the predominant racing dog in North America.

The annual trade show and seminar has been held in different parts of Maine on Columbus Day weekend before its three-year run at the fairgrounds on Pottle Road.

The sled dog club boasts about 200 members who come from all over Maine and compete in races in the United States and abroad, Pickett said. “My daughter will be competing in Belgium in December,” she said.

The event will be held Friday through Sunday. Featured speakers will include Rachel Sedoris, the first legally blind competitor in the grueling Iditarod race across Alaska, the world’s best known sled dog race. Each team of 12 to 16 dogs and their musher cover more than 1,150 miles in 10 to 17 days, with Anchorage as the starting point.

Sedoris raced with a visual interpreter who used a two-way radio to warn of obstacles such as low-hanging tree limbs and sharp turns. Sedoris was scratched from the race after reaching the Eagle Island checkpoint when her dog team showed signs of a virus.

Sedoris, who lives in Oregon, plans to compete in next year’s Iditarod, again with a visual interpreter. The 34th annual race begins in March 2006.

The Iditarod race travels north in even years and south in odd years. Both sections of the trail are part of the Iditarod National Historical Trail, which was used in early years for all winter travel. Dog sleds delivered mail and groceries and hauled gold and furs.

Vendors at this weekend’s event will include dog sled builders, dog food and supplement suppliers, mushing and skijoring equipment suppliers, sled dog clubs, sled dog tour operators and race organizations.

Also appearing will be Jerry Vankek, a veterinarian who has officiated at the Iditarod and is considered one of the world’s foremost experts on dog care.

There also will be dry land race events, including a “cani-cross” race on Friday at 5 p.m. in which a human and a dog are attached by a line and a belt and run together, Pickett said. On Saturday, a “bikejoring” race will team bicyclists and dogs. On Sunday, sled dog teams will race in a relay format and pull carts, bikes, and scooters behind them.

The event begins at 5 p.m. Friday and runs 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $2 per person and $5 per car.


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