An investigation by the Matanuska-Susitna Borough into an animal-care complaint filed by a dog there handler has cleared the kennel of four-time Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race champion Dallas Seavey of Willow of any wrongdoing.
“This complaint is absolutely false,” Iditarod race veteran and borough Mayor Vern Halter said in a statement on Wednesday.
People for the Ethic Treatment of Animals (PETA) tried to claim credit for the complaint, and the Borough tried to reinforce that idea.
“The person who complained gave the complaint to PETA before filing it with (Mat-Su) Animal Care,” Halter, an Iditarod veteran musher said in his statement. “PETA, an international animal rights activist group, emailed Animal Care first.”
The paperwork, however, is signed by the dog handler. Friends say PETA tried to use her for its publicity advantage. PETA has described the complainant as a”whistleblower.”
She is Seavey “Handler X” who fled the Seavey kennel on Friday upset by what she had seen there over the course of months. She was fearful and looking for help when interviewed by craigmedred.news. She is 22 years old and came north from a Western state where she worked for another musher.
“I’ve always wanted to run the Iditarod,” she said in a telephone interview.
Her identity is being protected here because she fears retaliation if anyone learns she is the person who reported the kennel of an Iditarod champion, though she does not hold Seavey personally responsible.
“I saw Dallas maybe three times,” she said. “He was trying to move to Talkeetna. He actually hires people. He doesn’t train any dogs by himself.”
What she described witnessing at the kennel was not so much animal abuse as the sort of cavalier neglect once common to many Alaska kennels, especially those in rural areas.
“I’ve seen so many dead puppies in the last five months,” she said, but most of them weren’t killed by people. As an example, she cited a young female that bred accidentally. Nobody wanted anything to do with the female’s puppies because they were an accident, and the mother was not capable of taking care of them.
The woman said she took them and cared for them until one of the kennel managers took them away from her.
“He said he’d take care of them,” she said. “He put them in with the mother, and she smothered them.”
Other puppies died when the people working at the kennel refused to take them to see a veterinarian just because they were sick, she said.
A couple of weeks ago, the young woman started talking to others in the Willow area about what was happening at the Seavey kennel and how she could leave and what she might do to save yet more sick puppies. How she hooked up with PETA is unclear, but Ashley Keith, a former handler for Mitch Seavey, appears to be involved.
Keith did not enjoy her experience with the Sterling musher, Dallas’s father, and left years ago. She later started a website called Humane Mushing, which “emphasizes being guardian (rather than owner) to a small number of dogs and including these dogs in your everyday life as members of your family just as you would any other dog.”
Seavey “Handler X” appeared to share those views at least to the extent she thought dogs deserved better treatment than livestock.
“Handler X” described herself as a “military brat” who had grown up always on the move with her parents. She got her first dog from a Fairbanks musher when she was 14, she said, and started to learn about sled dogs by bikejoring, which involves being towed by a dog in harness while on a bike.
“She was my main means of transportation,” the woman said.
She made a connection with the Seavey kennel via another musher on Facebook. She had many mushing friends on Facebook, she said, and one day she posted “what is my favorite thing?”
A Seavey handler answered with “dogs,” and they formed an online relationship leading to what she thought was to be her dream job. It didn’t work out that way.
By her second week at the kennel, she said, she concluded “my God this place is horrible.”
Still, she said, she did not blame Seavey.
“I believed that Dallas was a good person,” she said, but his handlers were not so good.
“They let seven puppies die from one litter,” she said, and they were always breeding more.
“They wanted to have them for the tourists,” she said. “They just wanted to breed them for the tourists.”
Before leaving the Seavey kennel, she said, she talked to her former boss back in the states. That musher has run Alaska huskies for decades and operates a tour business in the Rocky Mountains,
“My boss was like, ‘Come home,'” the young woman said.
The young woman admitted Friday night that she didn’t know what to do. She was fearful that if she didn’t report what was going on at the kennel some sick puppies would die.
The enemy of my enemy
Sometimes over the weekend, however, she ended up in the embrace of PETA. Some of those in the Willow area who had been trying to help here were upset.
They feared that if PETA got involved the situation would rapidly become politicized, and the conditions for the dogs might get worse, not better.
Sled-dog kennel management in Alaska is a very touchy subject. Standards vary widely from kennel to kennel, and sled dogs in the Mat-Su valley are not “pets.”
“‘Livestock’ includes, but is not limited to, domestic animals such as horses, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, ducks, and other animals normally considered farm animals, whether kept for profit or not, as well as sled dogs housed at a licensed mushing facility, or sled dogs owned by the owner or licensee of a licensed mushing facility, whether kept for profit or not,” borough code says.
“‘Mushing facility’ means a facility in the borough where sled dogs are housed and maintained, which has been duly licensed by the borough as a mushing facility….”
PETA is on record as opposing all sled-dog racing and has called the Iditarod “the most notorious of races.” Dallas Seavey, who was found with a doped dog team after the end of the Iditarod in Nome this year, has suggested PETA or some other animal-rights organization might be responsible for that, though no one has produced any evidence PETA had anything to do with the doping.
Everyone agrees the drug with which the dogs were doped – tramadol – is not what one would normally consider to be a “performance enhancing drug.” Seavey said he didn’t give the dogs the drug and has suggested it could have hampered his Iditarod.
The Iditarod’s biggest up and coming star, the 30-year-old finished second to his 59-year-old father. Dallas described his dogs as being unusually tired by the time they reached the finish-line of the 1,000-mile race across the wilds of Alaska.
“…After the finish in Nome…we talked to another vet that we’ve worked with in the past,” he said in an interview with KTVA-TV in Anchorage. “…Our crew and that vet were working closely together because (the dogs) seemed…down.”
Later, Dallas said, after he was informed of the tramadol in his dogs, “it was like, ‘Oh, now I see what was going on. They were hit with a heavy sedative.’ So we had them on heavy electrolyte. We were trying to get them to bounce back. Dogs that are usually very animated and perky aren’t wanting to get up and eat. Um, something was strange. And it was a short window. We got them on the electrolytes.We got them on all this stuff, and they seemed to bounce back. It’s like, ‘OK, maybe it was just a hard race.’ But I’ve never seem them finish like that, or after the finish be like that. And that was a bit concerning.”
PETA went on the offensive as soon as the Dallas Seavey doping positive was announced eight months after the race, and it upped the ante this week with a series of attacks on Dallas Seavey’s kennel that came complete with photos.
The Mat-Su Borough found no evidence to support anything improper related to those photos.
CORRECTION: An early version of this story said the complaint was filed against the Seavey kennel by PETA. Matanuska-Susitna Borough paperwork lists a Seavey handler as the complainant. PETA, however, tried to claim credit.