The high-power, California public relations firm Dallas Seavey said he hired to investigate accusations he doped his dogs in this year’s Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race has made it official; the four-time Iditarod champ will next year run Norway’s biggest sled-dog race instead of the Last Great Race.
Abigayil Crowder, a 23-year-old dog handler who quit Seavey’s operation in October and accused him of running a “puppy mill,” had been the first to reveal Seavey’s plan to run the 750-mile Finnmarksløpet.
The Seaveys tried to discredit Crowder. Dallas’s wife, Jen, characterized Crowder as part of “an organized attempt by anti-mushing activists” to smear Dallas. But the Finnmarksløpet announcement now marks the second time the Seaveys themselves have confirmed statements made by Crowder.
She’d earlier reported dogs were being abused at the Seavey kennel. The Seavey’s dismissed the possibility, but later revealed they had fired a handler Crowder accused of mistreating dogs. Handler Whiskey Miller denies the accusation, but the Seavey’s concluded it was credible enough to warrant his dismissal.
Jen also fired Hanna Hurt, Miller’s girlfriend. Hurt is not sure why she was let go.
“I can only speculate on why Jen would do anything,” she emailed. “I have only ever talked to her twice. Once, very briefly, in my first week of working for them, then when we were fired. When this whole thing was going down, Dallas was out of the country (in China) and Jen was taking care of the damage control.”
Crowder, Hurt and Miller all agree the Seaveys seldom visited their Willow kennel with its 100 or so dogs. In separate interviews by email and telephone, they said kennel manager Jesse Salyer, a former oil field worker, was in charge of running the kennel and training Dallas’s race team.
“He’s put in a lot of sleepless nights between keeping up with the race dog’s running schedule, running errands, and whatever else might be asked of him,” Hurt said. “He really appreciated having extra hands around. I don’t think he had any say in the final decision to fire us.”
Crowder said Seavey was making plans to run the Finnmarksløpet before the Iditarod Trail Committee in late October revealed he was the musher whose dogs had been found to have been doped with tramadol, a pain killer, back in March. Seavey has denied doping the dogs.
The Iditarod informed Seavey in April that four of four dogs in his seven-dog team tested positive for tramadol after the finish of the race in Nome. Four of four in a sample of seven leads to a mathematical probability of better than 99.9 percent that all of the dogs were doped.
Seavey in a YouTube denial of doping said Iditarod chief veterinarian Stu Nelson later told him “a person would have to be completely ignorant about this drug to think that it would not cause a positive drug test at the levels that they saw this test at any time line that it could be given. I believed that they had come to that conclusion. That I had been cleared of all wrong doing.”
Seavey said it thus came as a shock when the Iditarod in mid-October announced it planned to add a strict liability provision to its doping rule. It was in explaining the rule change that the race revealed it had detected doping, but couldn’t sanction the unnamed musher involved because the race couldn’t prove the doping was “intentional.”
A strict liability rule, the norm in other endurance sports from horse racing to cycling, puts the responsibility on the competitor to show how the doping might have taken place if he or she didn’t do it.
Seavey has suggested other mushers might have sabotaged his team because they were jealous of his success; animal right’s activists might have sabotaged his team to give the Iditarod a black eye; or Iditarod officials might have sabotaged his team to get even for his involvement with a petition demanding the board of directors reverse a rule that allowed mushers to carry satellite phones.
Seavey has presented no evidence to support any of those claims. But he told the Alaska Dispatch News he has launched an investigation into why and how his dogs tested positive, and “in the meantime,” the newspaper reported, “he has hired Singer Associates, a communications and public relations firm headquartered in San Francisco, to help him with the drug-testing issue.”
Since the doping story broke, Seavey has ignored repeated requests for information from craigmedred.news, although he has posted in the website comments. He was Thursday texted a simple question asking “when was the Finnmarksløpet decision made?”
He did not respond.
The Iditarod has a ceremonial start in Anchorage on March 3 and a restart in Willow on March 4. The race takes eight to nine days to complete. The Finnmarksløpet starts on March 9 in Alta. It is impossible to run both races in the same year.
After Seavey was revealed to be the musher with the doped Iditarod team, he announced he was pulling out of the 2018 race in protest because the Iditarod revealed his dogs were doped instead of devoting its efforts to trying to protect him.
Singer on Thursday announced Seavey’s entry in the Finnmarksløpet on a national, public-relations news wire.
“Champion Musher Dallas Seavey Sets Sights on Competing in Top Trifecta of Sled Dog Racing with Entry into Norway’s Finnmarksløpet,” the release headlined.
“Seavey has always wanted to compete in Finnmarksløpet,” it said. “Competing in Finnmarksløpet makes it possible for Seavey to potentially become the first person to win an Iditarod, Yukon Quest, and Finnmarksløpet.”
The penultimate graphed said that “Seavey decided to not participate in the 2018 Iditarod due to the Iditarod Trail Committee’s recent handling of allegations that four of his dogs showed signs of tramadol. Seavey is continuing to fully investigate all circumstances surrounding those allegations. The Iditarod Trail Committee did not place sanctions on Seavey and has expressed hopes that he will continue to compete in the Iditarod.”
The lab that did the testing said all four dogs were doped, and that the similar levels of tramadol found in their urine indicated that they were all most likely given the same dose of the drug.
Despite the doping issue in Alaska, the 30-year-old Seavey’s announcement was heralded in Norway.
“The biggest star has signed up!” the Finnmarksløpet webpage headlined above a photo of Seavey.
“Seavey is the biggest long-distance mushing profile in the world at the moment. He is also the musher with the best accumulated results over the past ten years in the Iditarod,” the race announced. “He and his father, Mitch Seavey, have dominated the top of the list in the world’s longest sleddog race since 2012. According to Seavey, he has wanted to race FL-1200 for many years, however, as that would mean that he could not race the Iditarod he has not signed up – until now.”
The Finnmarksløpet is sanctioned by the International Federation of Sleddog Sports. The IFSS has a strict liability rule. Had Seavey’s dogs been found with tramadol in an IFSS race instead of the Iditarod, which is not an IFSS member, he would be facing sanctions.
“Athletes are responsible for any prohibited substance or its metabolites or markers found to be present in their dog’s samples. Accordingly, it is not necessary that intent, fault, negligence or knowing use on the athlete’s part be demonstrated in order to
establish an anti-doping rule violation….”
But the Finnmarksløpet says it got a greenlight from the IFSS to allow Seavey to race.
“The Iditarod and the Finnmark Race are not run by the same organisation nor the same doping regulations,” it said on its web page. “We are subject to the Norwegian Sleddog Association and the IFSS, which in turn are subject to the WADC, the World Anti-Doping Code. We have been in touch with the leader of the IFSS anti-doping committee. They emphasize that the participant has not been found guilty of any misconduct and he is free to sign up for any IFSS race he may want to.”
CORRECTION: Abigayil Crowder was mistakenly identified as Abigayil Fowler throughout an early version of this story.