Dr. Bob Sept: Vet helped keep dogs and race healthy

Hundreds of Dr. Bob Sept's patients have done something he hasn't -- they've run the Iditarod. Of course, they did it in the teams of race champions like Rick Swenson and Susan Butcher and in the teams of also-rans. Sept did hundreds of hours of veterinary work free.

It's a labor of love, like serving as a race vet year in and year out and as chief veterinarian in 1981 and 1982. He's still at it. In 2000, he led a team of vets who saved one of Swenson's dogs that had slammed into a tree, winning Sept the race's Golden Stethoscope award.

But Sept has been more than a doctor to the dogs. He has been a doctor to the race as well. When he took over as race president in 1983, the Iditarod was ailing. The race was in debt, the three paid staff members, not all full time, were overwhelmed, and the Iditarod had not yet gained worldwide acclaim.

"It was a whole different ballgame," Sept said. "We were always just one step ahead of the debt."

There were times when, to keep merchandise in the Iditarod store, Sept had to write personal checks to T-shirt printers who didn't trust Iditarod checks and wouldn't carry the race on credit.

What saved the race? More than anything, Sept said, it was Libby Riddles in 1985. That race, Sept recalled, was the most difficult, with no money to have food flown in to checkpoints and bad weather hampering volunteer efforts to deliver it. That victory brought worldwide publicity, which brought sponsors eager to cash in on it. They allowed Sept to leave the race in better shape than he found it and to step into the less stressful roles of vet and checker.

"It was like a year-round thing," Sept said. "I was working it almost every day. I was always on the phone. There were never any days off. Your thought is, 'Well, I'll get this up and organized, and I'll leave.' But it's not easy."

Fortunately for the Iditarod, Sept was up to the job.

Inducted 1997 Greatest accomplishment As race president, took over an Iditarod that was in debt and helped guide it to firm financial footing. Vital stats Born: Pocatello, Idaho Hometown: Anchorage Age: 61 Positions held Chief veterinarian, 1981, '82 Race president, 1983, '84, '85 Veterinarian, checker, rules committee member Other contributions Helped improve the care of dogs and the rules governing their treatment. Awards Golden Stethoscope -- 2000