Iditarod Plans to Update Protocols

Iditarod Plans to Update Protocols

Michala McCullough, Editor-in-Chief

Changes are in the cards for Alaska’s Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race after the asphyxiation death of a dog who was buried in the snow by extreme winds, organizers said in a statement on March 13.

Race officials said they also plan to meet with the owners of 5-year-old Dorado. Dorado was found dead at the Unalakleet checkpoint Friday, just five days after being dropped from the race.

Dorado belonged to the team of Iditarod rookie Paige Drobny of Fairbanks, 38, who continued running the race with the rest of her team, finishing on March 14 in 34th place.

Dronby’s husband, Cody Strathe, said last week that he and his wife have been the front runners in asking the Iditarod Trail Committee (ITC) to develop new protocols for the care of dogs that have been dropped from their team.

The planned changes by the ITC include construction of dog shelters at two of the major checkpoints and more frequent checks on animals.

“This type of self-examination is an important part of ITC’s historical commitment to the improvement of the welfare of the canine athletes that annually participate in the Race,” officials said in the statement.

Race officials said in the statement that the severe weather prevented planes from landing, so more than 130 dropped dogs accumulated at the village.

The statement goes on to say, more than two dozen race volunteers moved as many dogs as possible placing slightly more than 100 inside an available hangar, according to organizers. The rest of the dogs, including Dorado, were moved to a more protected area thought to be the safest place to minimize accumulation of blowing snow.

Dorado’s death hasn’t been blamed on anyone, including a volunteer veterinarian who last checked on the dropped dogs around 3 a.m. on the morning of March 15.

Dorado was found dead after the next check at 8:30 a.m. Race organizers said seven other dogs also were covered with snow, and all except Dorado were in good condition.

Dorado’s death has prompted People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to send a letter to Nome District Attorney John Earthman asking for animal cruelty charges to be filed for alleged criminal negligence in the death.

The death was the first Iditarod dog death since 2009, when six dogs died. Iditarod officials said Dorado’s death was “the first time in memory that an incident of this type has occurred.”