It's About Time! Iditarod Plans Changes After Sled Dog's Death
The fallout from the Iditarod dog death continues. This week we wrote about Dorado, who died from asphyxiation while being kept outside by race officials all night, and organizers of the annual event have agreed to make changes.
Dorado had dropped out of the race, which is a common occurrence in the 1,000-mile endurance competition. He was with 135 other "dropped dogs" at a checkpoint, awaiting transport to Anchorage. Unfortunately, because of the amount of dogs, about 30 of them had to be kept outside.
During the night, a storm hit, and temperatures plunged to minus 15 degrees, winds reached 45 mph, and eight dogs were buried in the freezing, blowing snow. Dorado died, the only dog to do so.
"Sled dogs generally curl up in weather conditions such as this and are insulated by the snow," the Iditarod Trail Committee said in a statement. "In this case, all of the dogs except Dorado were in good condition.
According to the Associated Press, Dorado's owners asked the Iditarod Trail Committee to develop new protocols for the care of dogs that have been dropped from the race. The committee plans to meet with them, but they've already agreed to make changes.
The plans include construction of "dog boxes" at two major checkpoints (the hub communities of McGrath and Unalakleet), more frequent patrols of the dropped-dog lots, and more flights to retrieve dogs that aren't being kept at checkpoints with access to Alaska's limited road system.
"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.
The Iditarod Trail Committee, however, maintains that it did nothing wrong.
"ITC does not believe it or any others acted negligently in any way relating to the death of Dorado or that Dorado’s death was foreseeable," reads the statement.
PETA is urging Nome District Attorney John Earthman to file animal cruelty charges in response to Dorado's death. But because state law says the animal cruelty section "does not apply to generally accepted dog mushing or pulling contests or practices or rodeos or stock contests," there would have to be criminal negligence in the death.
Earthman doesn't see that happening, noting that "it's not unusual in the region for dogs to be outside overnight in similar conditions."
"You have to have a gross deviation from reasonable conduct under the circumstances," he said. "I know for a fact there were plenty of dogs out in that very storm all up and down the coast of western Alaska."
Whatever the outcome, it's good to know something positive will result from Dorado's death, that "dropped dogs" like him will now get the care and attention they deserve. It's unacceptable for officials of the premiere sled dog race in the country to explain away a death by saying that sled dogs can handle getting buried in the snow. These dog weren't fit to finish the grueling race. It seems like the Iditarod Trail Committee's "self-examination" was overdue.