Updated: Mitch Seavey expected in Nome before 4 p.m.
Bad news just kept coming for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday even as it prepared to crown another champion.
As Mitch Seavey from Sterling sped toward a race-record finish, Alaska’s biggest sporting event reported a fourth dog had died – this one in the team of Katherine Keith from Kotzebue. Keith is the partner of former Iditarod champ John Baker.
Only one dog died in the Iditarod last year, and its unfortunate death was the result of the kind of accident that could happen on any city street: it was run down and killed by a drunk driver.
This year, Keith was racing just behind Baker as both tried to crack the Iditarod top-20 when a 4-year-old male named Flash collapsed and died on the sea ice about 10 miles out of the Bering Sea coast checkpoint of Koyuk, the Iditarod Trail Committee reported.
The death marked more misfortune for the Baker-Keith kennel, which suffered Iditarod fatality number three on Saturday hundreds of miles from the race course. A Baker dog named Groovey, a three-year-old male, died in Anchorage after being hit by a car.
Groovey, according to an Iditarod press release, got loose from a dog handler and went missing only to later turn up dead near the intersection of two busy Alaska streets. The Iditarod reported his death on Monday after Anchorage Animal Control identified Groovey by his microchip.
The death was the second Iditarod related dog-death away from the race course this year. The Iditarod on Saturday reported a dog that had been dropped from the team of Scott Smith died of heatstroke, a danger more commonly associated with dogs locked in hot cars in the summer, while being flown to Anchorage. The dog had been dropped after it injured a wrist.
The details surrounding that death remain unclear. The Iditarod at first suggested it was related to the dog being shipped while still wearing a dog coat – a windbreaker put on thin-coated dogs to protect them when they are on the trail. But it has since emerged that the dog – a 2-year-old named Smoke – was one of three dogs among 75 being shipped to Anchorage which suffered heat stroke.
“Two additional dogs on the flight…displayed symptoms of hyperthermia,” an Iditarod spokeswoman emailed on Monday. “They were observed and released from pet E.R. (emergency room) on Saturday.”
The Iditarod has yet to respond to a query as to whether those dogs were also wearing coats or provide a timeline for their journey to Anchorage. The original Iditarod press release said “Smoke died unexpectedly during air transit from Galena to Anchorage,” but it is unclear whether the dogs were on a direct flight.
Some pilots with connections to Iditarod believe the Galena dogs might have been shipped first to Fairbanks and then later to Anchorage and somewhere along that journey exposed to an environment warm enough to cause heatstroke. Pilots familiar with the 60-year-old, “Indiana Jones”-esque cargo plane being used to ship dogs out of Galena have questioned how a dog could over heat in its unheated cargo compartment.
The first Iditarod dog to die was a two-year-old belonging to Seavey. It was running in a “puppy team” being driven by Seavey handler Seth Barnes from Stocton, Ala. when it collapsed just before the Galena checkpoint less than halfway into the race.
Iditarod later reported a necropsy on the dog found “abnormalities...but the underlying cause of death was not determined. ” The abnormalities were not disclosed, but the Iditarod said the dog would undergo further testing.
Barnes was running a conservatively paced Iditarod with orders to acquaint young dogs with the trail when the dog died. He was the 43rd musher into Galena. Seavey was the first.
Barnes eventually continued along the trail and was in the coastal village of Shaktoolik on Tuesday. Seavey, a two-time Iditaord champ and already the oldest musher ever to win the race, was far ahead with his son, Dallas, looking to be the only one with any hope of catching the leader and then not much.
The younger Seavey, a four-time and defending champ, trailed his father by two hours leaving White Mountain, the race’s penultimate checkpoint, on Tuesday morning, and he looked to be trying harder to hold off a challenge for second from Nicolas Petit of Girdwood than catch Seavey the elder.
Petit was only 13 minutes behind Seavey the younger who was down to only eight dogs. Petit had 13, but there is an old rule in mushing that says a team can only go as fast as the slowest dog. Dallas dropped two dogs in White Mountain,apparently hoping to pick up speed, and his trail times were already indicating his team was a little faster than that of Petit.
Neither of them, however, had shown the speed to match that of Seavey the elder who has been behind one of the fastest teams in the field since the race left Fairbanks on Monday. He was on pace to easily break the Iditarod record time of 8 days, 11 hours, 20 minutes and 16 seconds set by his son last year.
But the course for the race is different this year. Dallas set his record on the traditional Iditarod Trail route from a starting point in the Susitna Valley north of Anchorage, up and over the Alaska Range, and then north to the Yukon River.
Because of low snow in the Range this year, the Iditarod elected to officially start the race in Fairbanks to the north. That avoided a crossing of the range and put mushers on the flatter, snow-covered rivers of the Interior that join the Iditarod at Ruby on the Yukon.
The race has twice before run this course. Dallas holds that record, too, going from Fairbanks to Nome in 8 days, 18 hours, 13 minutes and 6 seconds in 2015. Barring disaster, that record and the overall record is certain to fall to his father this year.
Forgot to mention that since she was weakened from giving birth, and couldn’t keep up with the team,Norman killed her!
Thanks Craig. Nice to get reports from someone who knows what it’s like out there.
Its sad to hear about dogs dying while racing the Iditarod but it’s even more depressing to read the ignorant comments that follow, like: the dog died doing what he loved, he was born to run, he must have had a genetic disorder, fatalities happen in all professional sports, pet dogs have it worse, etc. All those pathetic explanations do is divert responsibility from the mushers and the Iditarod, which is clearly the intention. But a dog in peak physical condition, dropping suddenly and dying instantly, is often indicative of a dog being pushed too hard for too long. A dog driven to its death.
Sled dogs are bred to run for money. The dogs are tools. Anyone who universally believes that mushers love their dogs hasn’t spent much time around either. Most “successful” mushers have over 100 dogs and they keep them outside chained to boxes or barrels year round. Not because they are loved, nor because they don’t perform well if they live indoors, but because its the cheapest, easiest way to warehouse enough dogs to make a “winning” team. Iditarod puppy mills pump these dogs out by the hundreds.
The biggest difference between a dog lot and a hog lot is that pigs on farms live in pens because its illegal to chain them, a standard provision of the Animal Welfare Act. But the mushers secured a specific exemption from the Animal Welfare Act for sled dogs, so for them, its anything goes. Likewise, sled dogs are specifically exempted from every state and federal animal cruelty statute; in the Mat-Su they are legally defined as LIVESTOCK. A musher who drives a dog to death will never be held accountable by the judicial system; they are often glorified by the court of public opinion.
The Iditarod is inherently cruel to dogs and it’s a sad testimony to human nature that cheers on and excuses obvious signs of animal abuse. The only dog smiling on the podium yesterday was Mitch…his lead dogs wouldn’t even look at him. There is love of money, love of themselves, but there isn’t much love for the dogs. People who love their dogs don’t treat them that way.
Have to agree with a lot of your perspective on the race. Any time you get big egos and big money involved in a sport, corruption and potential abuse are likely. I have gradually lost interest over the years as the race has become more and more about breaking records. You can run a horse into the ground; and I believe you can also run a dog to death,especially if he’s part of a team. Heck, I have almost hiked myself into the ground on several occasions. One solution: give the biggest purse to the musher who is the best at dog care, and disqualify anyone who has a serious injury or dog death. Reward those who are the best at reading the condition of their team. It is “all about the dogs.”
Gee Rod, I don’t think your comment is going to help those who lost their dogs get over it.
As Amundsen said to England’s Geographical Society back in 1912 when he was criticized for eating his dogs “The English treat their dogs like gentleman and their gentleman like dogs”. Referring to the death of Scott on his return from losing the race to the south pole. Seem Americans are going the same route.
Dog worshippers need to get over it. Don’t quote me on that one.
Sent from Rod Arno’s iPad.
i don’t know that Americans are ready to go back to 1912, Rod. but who knows. the Russians were down to eating cats, too, in Leningrad under seige, and i can’t imagine how awfully they tasted. i had dog on a reservation once. it wasn’t that bad. i just wouldn’t want to eat mine or have to make the selections for the table, although the late Norman Vaughan used to wax eloquent on the subject of how selections were made as to which dogs would live and which dogs would be eaten. it was a different time. now, Iditarod says “it’s all about the dogs.”
Yeah, Craig, when I read Norman’s account of the poor female who had puppies during the expedition, and had to watch them being killed, and later dug them up and ate them, I started hating Norman Vaughn. Then, shortly after giving birth, she had to go on, and while in harness, running, she gave birth to her last pup, and knowing it’s fate, she in desperation, killed and ate it, I tell you, if Norman was still alive himself, and I could get to him, I think I could have lowered the boom on him. He’s no hero in my estimation. I think it’s great if people want to do heroic things, but any companions they bring along should be capable of full understanding of the risks. Dogs, ponies, horses should never have to die for any but their own chosen causes.
See additional comment above. It should have been put here.