This is story has been updated
Three-time and defending Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race champion Mitch Seavey of Sterling appears to have used a prohibited substance on his dogs for years if his 2014 testimonial for a supplement maker and his Facebook posts are to be believed.
“For nearly two decades, I’ve used Young Living Wintergreen Oil for after-workout massages on my elite canine athletes,” he posted on his Facebook page on Feb. 13, 2015. “In fact, we used so much Wintergreen we once tried a knock-off product from an online source – until the dogs began losing hair and suffering skin irritations.”
Wintergreen contains methyl salicylate, an Iditarod-prohibited chemical. Seavey has not returned phone calls.
Seavey sponsor Young Living Essential Oils in 2014 reported the elder Seavey was using its “Wintergreen (oil) to help soothe aching muscles.”
“I think using oils can help the dog from the feet to the ears,” a story on the company website quoted Seavey saying. “It also prevents future problems. We’ve tried a lot of different things but we always come back to the oils.”
Seavey’s connection to supplements and oils – including specifically wintergreen oil – was first reported in a craigmedred.news story after the Iditarod earlier this month publicly revealed the first positive doping test in its history.
The Iditarod said several dogs in one team tested positive, but the organization has refused to name the drug or the musher. Because of this, it is impossible to know whether Seavey’s team was involved.
But a variety of medical professionals and people with knowledge of doping rules contacted craigmedred.news after the original story ran to point out that wintergreen contains methyl salicylate.
Any number of websites for competitive horsemen warn against the use of wintergreen oil because it contains salicylate.
“Many substances can be absorbed through the skin and detected in tests,” says Equinews.com “Be careful of liniments that may contain oil of wintergreen, which contains methyl salicylate.”
Horse & Hound says almost exactly the same thing in a story titled simply “Avoiding accidental doping.”
It is possible Seavey used wintergreen oils unaware they contain salicylate. He was not answering his phone on Monday and has yet to return a message left on his voice mail.
Doping authorities said that if Seavey was using wintergreen as he claimed in the promotional statement for his sponsor, it should have been detected in Iditarod drug screenings.
Iditarod spokesman Chas St. George did not return a phone call.
The European College of Veterinary Pharmacology and Toxicology has investigated the drug and concluded its performance enhancing properties are limited.
“The relief of pain by salicylic acid or its precursor ASA (Acetylsalicylic acid) can induce better performance, especially if the horse exhibits pain like lameness before administration,” it concluded in its short report. “(But) if the horse exhibits no pain, it is quite unlikely that the performance is improved by salicylic acid.”
ASA is the active ingredient in aspirin, which is also an Iditarod-banned drug. In horse competitions, there is a threshold limit because, as the European report notes, salicylic acid “is a substance arising from plants traditionally grazed or harvested as equine feed.”
Dogs do not graze, but could be exposed to it by chewing on branches of willow or poplar trees, the bark of which contain salicylates.
An animal-rights activist picked up on the connection between Seavey, wintergreen and Iditarod prohibited substances by Monday. Along with the comments on his Facebook and sponsor pages, one noted a 2016 mention of Seavey using his sponsors’ OrthoSport, which contains wintergreen, with a link to a website showing a photo of a Seavey dog sniffing a bottle of the same.
The blog Humane Mushing was suggesting a game of connect the dots linking Seavey to wintergreen, wintergreen to salicylates, and salicylates to the publicly announced Iditarod doping violation, although there is at this time no evidence the positive test publicly reported by Iditarod involves Seavey.
The Iditarod rumor mill is rife with rumors as to who that test might involve, and while Seaveys name has popped up in the mix, there are lots of other names there as well, along with a whole lot of speculation as to what drug is involved.
Lack of transparency
Noting the speculation, musher John Schandlelmeier – a two-time winner of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada to Fairbanks – on Sunday pleaded with the Iditarod to at least name the drug.
“…Something would be gained by naming the prohibited drug involved,” he wrote in a column for the Alaska Dispatch News. “There is a vast difference between a substance that possibly could be found in a commercial beef product fed to an animal inadvertently and one that could only be introduced to a dog with intent.”
Contaminated meat has become the go-to excuse for those who wish to believe the first publicly revealed Iditarod doping test was purely accidental. But veterinarians with knowledge of the drug testing program who asked not to be identified by name say chemicals from meat products have been found in the urine of Iditarod dogs in the past.
Those chemicals, however, were present in such minute quantities, they said, the drugs were dismissed as inadvertent contamination and assumed to be from low-quality meat products fed the dogs.
It is possible, one veterinarian suggested, that salicylates were also detected in urine from Seavey dogs in the past but were at such low levels the drug was disregarded as meaningless. But the Iditarod has so far avoided discussion about this possibility as it has avoided discussion about other problems facing the world’s most famous sled dog race.
“The Iditarod Trail Committee has never publicly addressed the dropped-dog care protocol which drew criticism during the 2017 race,” Schandelmeier wrote. “Nor has it broken its silence on the issues raised by an independent filmmaker about how some kennels train their dogs for long distance events.”
The movie “Sled Dogs,” which is critical of the Iditarod for pushing dogs too hard, just finished a run at the Laemmle Monica Film Center in Los Angeles and is reported to be heading soon to iTunes.
Doping problems could not have come at a worse time for Iditarod, and Schandelmeier said the race’s lack of transperancy isn’t helping things. When an information vacuum is created, he suggested, it is likely to fill with worst of speculation:
“Conjecture and theory tar everyone with the same brush. As in every sport, there will always be competitors who cut every corner to do well. The goal of winning is not in itself a terrible aim. It goes back to how you play the game.
“The ITC needs to stand up and be the leader in our sport.”
The Iditarod Trail Committee (ITC) oversees what has been trademarked “The Last Great Race” – the 1,000-mile dogsled trek from Anchorage to Nome.
CORRECTION: An early version of this story listed the wrong website for obtaining a copy of the movie Sled Dogs.