A Criminal Matter? Iditarod Dog Dies After Being Buried in Snow

Race organizers defend their actions, but PETA urges that animal cruelty charges be brought.

Michael Leaverton  |  Mar 21st 2013


Earlier this week, in a touching story about how an Iditarod sled dog found her way home a week after escaping during the race, we talked a bit about the dangers of the Iditarod, which is to blame for the deaths of 136 dogs since records have been kept, according to PETA.

Today, we learned that another dog has been added to that list: Dorado, who died after being removed from this year’s race and was waiting to be flown home. What went wrong? Well, he was left outside all night in freezing, blowing snow, where “temperatures plunged to minus 15 degrees and winds reached 45 mph,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

He wasn’t outside alone, either, or left there accidentally. No, he was intentionally put there, along with 35 other sled dogs who had been scratched from the race. They were put outside because the indoor area — two airport hangars — were already full with other scratched dogs waiting to go home, about 135 in all. They were all gathered there awaiting transport back to Anchorage.

Dorado was found the next morning, asphyxiated “as the result of being buried by snow in severe wind conditions,” according to a release by the Iditarod Trail Committee. Other dogs were also buried, but Dorado was the only one who had died. Someone had last checked on the dogs at 3 a.m.

“Between that time and daylight, drifting snow covered several dogs, and Dorado was found to be deceased,” race organizers said in a statement. “The entire Iditarod family is mourning this loss.”

Many, however, are also outraged. PETA, for one, is urging that criminal charges be brought under animal cruelty laws.

“It would appear that [the dog owner] and any Iditarod organizers responsible for Dorado’s safety can be directly blamed for this animal’s horrific death,” the organization said.

Nome District Attorney John Earthman doesn’t see anyone being charged, however, since animal cruelty laws in Alaska exempt dog-mushing competitions.

Plus, according to Earthman, dogs in Alaska are apparently buried in snow all the time and do just fine, and therefore jurors won’t be convinced that the Iditarod organizers acted criminally. 

“To Alaska jurors, especially in Western Alaska, the weather out here in the winter can be very, very bad,” Earthman said. “And the local practice, and this includes excellent sled dog handlers, is these dogs usually spend the winter outside.

“These sled dogs do just fine in weather conditions that folks in the Lower 48 would find simply horrific.”

Stuart Nelson, the Iditarod’s head veterinarian, says that Dorado was simply not used to the conditions, being from an area with a milder climate. 

“Dogs that are in the coastal areas, they live like that all the time. This dog probably wasn’t used to being in those kind of conditions,” Nelson told the Anchorage Daily News. “It would be very unusual that a dog wouldn’t be able to just curl up, let the snow blow over, and weather the storm just fine.” 

“You look at Iditarod history, teams have been caught out there in storms, and that’s what happens. For some reason, it didn’t work for this dog. Maybe being from the Interior, he was not used to high winds.”

As for the dog’s owner, he’s left with a lot of questions. 

“We thought that our dog was being cared for,” said Cody Strathe, who owns Squid Acres Kennel with his wife and team musher Paige Drobny. “That’s the race organization’s responsibility. We, as mushers, trusted them.”

Via the Los Angeles Times and the Anchorage Daily News; photos via Squid Acres Kennel’s Facebook page

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