One dog is dead and others are injured as the result of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race’s worst nightmare come true.
Two teams in the Alaska dog race, which has been losing support in Alaska villages for years, were early Saturday attacked by a snowmachine rider along the Yukon River in the Interior.
“Early this morning, as Aliy Zirkle was making her way towards the Nulato checkpoint, a snowachiner repeatedly attempted to harm her and her team,” the race reported in a press release. “One dog received a non-life threatening injury.
“Upon arrival at the Nulato checkpoint, Zirkle reported the incident to race officials and a report was filed with the Alaska State Troopers. Contact was also made with the village police officer in Nulato.
“Jeff King, who was behind Zirkle, experienced a similar incident 12-miles prior to his arrival at the Nulato checkpoint. This incident resulted in the death of Nash, a three-year-old male. In addition, Crosby, a three-year-old male, and Banjo, a two-year-old male, received non-life threatening injuries. King requested and received medical attention at the checkpoint.
“The suspect has been identified by the village police officer in Nulato, and authorities are conducting an investigation.”
King and Zirkle were both reported to be upset, but OK.
Alcohol was reported to have been involved in the incident as it often is in crime in rural Alaska. But alcohol is really just a contributing factor that removes the inhibitions that hold resentments and anger at bay, and in some villages there has been deep resentment about the Iditarod brewing for years.
The race is in some places seen now as an invasion by the rich and famous that comes and goes and gets a lot of national attention, but leaves nothing behind. Villages used to be a part of the Iditarod, but no more.
In many of them, the Iditarod flies in crews of checkers and veterinarians from the Lower 48 to man the checkpoints, and flies them out again as soon as the last of the racers go through. Racers are “corralled” to minimize their interactions with villagers.
The corralling began with good intentions. Some racers were gaining a competitive edge by forming relationships with village residents who then provided them assistance during the race. But the unintended consequence was to push Bush villagers farther from Iditarod mushers at a time when some of them were coming to be seen as Alaska celebrities, sometimes national celebrities.
The situation was not helped by the fact dog teams themselves are all but gone from the Bush. The cost of maintaining them is prohibitive. Dog food, which must be flown in, is financially out of reach of the many, who can afford but one or two dogs if any.
Unemployment curses the region. There is surplus of young men out of work, which almost invariably creates problems in any society.
Fans of the Iditarod were quick to lash out with cries for speedy prosecution and punishment for the offender in this case, but the story here goes a lot deeper than one drunk on a snowmachine.
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