Commentary

Dogged journalism

 

yukon quest media

Yukon Quest chief veterinarain Kathleen McGill faces down a Japanese media swarm in 2010; times have changed since then/James Brooks, Wikimedia Commons

FAIRBANKS – I apparently did a bad thing on Friday. I went by the office of someone involved in a news story to ask questions face to face, something journalists used to do all of the time.

 

But in the computer age where so much communication is done by email, text or phone some people now seem to think this a serious no-no – a matter, in fact, worthy of a call to the police. 

The individual in question was Nina Hansen, the head veterinarian for the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, which just hung musher Hugh Neff out to dry. The University of Alaska Fairbanks Police Department called after I talked to her to accuse me of either harassing Hansen or making her uncomfortable.

Officer Krynn Finstad couldn’t seem to make up her mind which it was, but she very forcefully informed me that I hadn’t gone through “proper channels.” In order to talk to Hansen on campus, she said, a journalist must get clearance from Quest officials in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada.

So much for the attempts at transparency by Alaska sled-dog sports.

Finstad never could explain what authority the Quest had over anything that happens on the UAF campus, and she seemed to get a little irritated when asked if this meant a journalist had to get permission from NASA to talk to university professors with contracts related to work with that agency.

“Here’s the deal,” she said. “You’ve been informed of the proper way to of asking questions.

“It’s my job to protect the safety of people on the university…she felt uncomfortable…(but) no one calls me because they just feel uncomfortable.”

Then again, maybe they do.

Hansen was clearly uncomfortable about being asked questions about Neff, the two-time Quest champion last week suspended from that race for two years in a move unprecedented in Alaska sled-dog racing history. The 1,000-mile-race – Alaska’s second-tier long-distance sled dog race – runs from Whitehorse to Fairbanks and in alternative years for Fairbanks to Whitehorse.

I’m sorry Hansen felt uncomfortable. I’m equally sorry Neff got suspended.

The reason for Neff’s suspension, according to the Quest, is that Boppy, a dog in Neff’s team, died during this year’s race. The suspension is a serious blow to the business wich supports the 50-year-old Neff and his new wife, Olivia Shank Neff. That business is racing sled dogs and promoting sled dog racing, which is going to be hard to make work when you’re labeled a sled-dog-murdering dog driver.

I feel sorry for both the Neffs. I feel especially sorry for 5-year-old Boppy.  And I feel sorry for all responsible mushers caught up in the chaos that has surrounded the Iditarod and the Quest in the past year.

What started with Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race champ Dallas Seavey’s doped dogs back in the fall has only grown worse by the month. Seavey has accused a lot of people of trying to frame him. 

Neff also claims to be the victim of a “personal vendetta” intended to “destroy people’s careers and lifestyles.”

I’m sorry, more than anything, that so many questions surround these cases, and that the people running the races really don’t want to answer most of the questions.

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Aspiration pneumonia

Neff was quick to point out in a YouTube video that the Boppy, “a special boy to us,” was not the first Quest or Iditarod dog to die. Neither was Boppy’s death unique. He died of aspiration pneumonia. Aspiration pneumonia – which is causing by coughing up or vomiting fluid and then inhaling it – is, sadly, an all too common cause of death in sled-dog races in Alaska.

Katherine Keith from Kotzebue had a dog die from aspiration pneumonia in the Iditarod this year. She has not been penalized in any way, at least not as of yet. The Iditarod has not revealed the final results of the necropsy on that dog.

But Keith had a dog die of aspiration pneumonia in the 2017 race, too, and she was not penalized or suspended then so there’s no reason to believe anything will happen now.

A 2008 study of Iditarod dog deaths from 1996 to 2006 found aspiration pneumonia one of the more common causes of death for the 27 dogs that died in that time period. No one was suspended or otherwise penalized for those death.

The Iditarod, it should be noted here, is being unfairly singled out in this story because it keeps good records and is more studied than the Quest.  The Iditarod is to be commended for this. The race can be criticized for the shallowness of its reporting on dog deaths, but it has maintained a solid database on deaths and battled tirelessly to reduce them.

Keith’s dog was the only one to die this year. The race was run without a single dog death in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014. In 2015, two dogs died – both in the team of four-time Iditarod champ Lance Mackey from Fairbanks.

The causes of death for those two dogs were never determined, and the oddity of two deaths in one team in one race never was explained. But Mackey was not penalized or suspended.

The Quest has had fewer dog deaths than the Iditarod over the years – an average of a death about every other year – but the Quest is a much smaller race run at a slower pace because checkpoints are far apart. Field size alone, however, could account for the difference in deaths given that Iditarod is about three times the size of the Quest.

Only once in the history of the two races combined has another musher been penalized for a dog death. That happened in 1996 after the Iditarod enacted a rule saying that if a dog died a musher would automatically be disqualified. That same year the team of five-time Iditarod champ Rick Swenson, a man noted for his dog care, ended up stumbling into open water on the Yentna River.

There the dogs tangled and as Swenson was trying to get them untangled and out of the water, one of the dogs drowned. With Swenson, who ran 35 Iditarods without a dog death, booted after a death in a freak accident, the Iditarod decided to rewrite the rule stipulating mandatory withdrawal in the event of a dog death.

Since then, no one has been penalized for a dead dog.

Some are now calling for restatement of the Iditarod’s old dead-dog rule. Veteran musher Rayme Smyth of Big Lake has suggested a no-fault rule that says simply a musher cannot officially finish the race unless all of the musher’s dog – both those in the team at the end and those  dropped along the 1,000 mile trail on the way to Nome – are alive.

Meanwhile, the Quest’s decision to sanction Neff for a dog death is precedent setting whether the Quest understands that or not.

One death?

The Quest has tied its action to the one death. The Quest said Neff was suspended solely because the dog that died was physically in worse shape than other dogs that have died in Alaska long-distance races.

It had whip worms; it had moderate intestinal inflammation, which is somewhat normal in dogs halfway through an ultramarathon; it had skeletal muscle decay and muscle wasting; and it had “severe weight loss,” according to the what the Quest publicly claimed to be a “Final Necropsy Report.”

Only the so-called “final necropsy” report wasn’t a necropsy report at all. It was a summary of a necropsy report. The Quest hasn’t made available the necropsy or the toxicology report on Neff’s dog. The Quest has, however, said there was no “doping positive” involved.

Former Quest champion John Schandelmeier, who revealed in comments posted at craigmedred.news that he had seen the actually necropsy, says “there were prohibited drugs in the system also, though not in ‘a significant quantity.'”

Everyone learned earlier this year from the doping case involving four-time Iditarod champ Seavey that there is doping and then there is doping. Dog races have no black-and-white standards for what concentrations of drugs are allowed in dogs. There are floating standards, and what constitutes a positive drug test is what race officials decide is a positive drug test.

Schandelmeier, who knows a lot about sled dogs, concluded that “the whip worm was not an infestation, and had no real bearing on the dogs’ condition.” I’m inclined to give considerable weight to Schandelmeier’s conclusions, given his considerable experience.

In the interview that made Hansen uncomfortable, she said almost nothing. She refused to talk about the condition of other dogs in Neff’s team, saying that such information is covered by “client-patient privilege.” She said she could lose her license if she said anything.

(Note to Alaska sled-dog races: If mushers aren’t already signing release forms allowing vets to talk about the dogs in their teams, they should be. Transparency here would benefit everyone.)

Hansen did confirm that two of Neff’s dog were dropped at the “hospitality stop” of Clinton Creek, where Boppy died, and that those dogs were alive when hauled into Dawson on a sled behind a snowmachine. She would not say what the condition of those dogs in Dawson or what their condition when the race released them to Neff.

The Quest has not said why Neff was not disqualified for dropping dogs at a hospitality stop. It has been revealed there were at least two satellite phone conversations between Neff and Quest race marshal Doug Harris. Harris did not return messages left on his voice recorder.

Without more information, there is no way of knowing what transpired in those conversations. For all outside observers know, Harris could have told Neff  it would be fine to drop dogs at Clinton Creek, planning to use those dropped dogs to later disqualify the musher if he didn’t drop out of the race at Dawson.

How Neff’s team looked upon arrival in Dawson also isn’t known, and Hansen wouldn’t say. The Quest reportedly forbid photographers from taking pictures of the team arriving in Dawson. That could have been because the dogs looked terrible, and the Quest didn’t want bad press. It also could have been because the dogs looked great, and the Quest was, as Neff claims, plotting against him and didn’t want to provide evidence to show that the rest of the team was healthy and ready to keep going along the trail.

Asked very specifically about all of this in an email to the UAF-Police-Department-approved, designated Quest spokeswoman, the response was the Hansen treatment: no response.

Neff’s response to almost the same questions sent the Quest has been the same: no response.

It is known Boppy was in the Clinton Creek cabin of “Sandra and Earl” when he died. It is not known if there was veterinary help available or how the dog was being treated, if at all. Hansen has said the dog should not have been allowed to leave the Eagle checkpoint.

In her uncomfortable interview, she reaffirmed an earlier statement that she wasn’t in Eagle when that happened, but that she would still take responsibility for the decision. Deciding what dog is and what dog isn’t too skinny to leave a checkpoint is a very iffy proposition.

Modern-day sled dog are lean like world-class marathon runners. To many observers, most of the dogs look “too skinny” from the start. What is skinny and what is too skinny is a difficult judgment call even in a physical examination.

A highly knowledgeable dog person on the Iditarod Trail with Keith this year said “I saw (her) dog hours before it died in Koyuk. It looked awful and emaciated. No way it could have gotten in that bad of condition in one day.”

Obviously, however, Iditarod veterinarians didn’t think that when they allowed Keith to leave Shaktooklik for the difficult crossing of the Norton Bay ice to Koyuk, even though a significant number of veterinarians these days think way too many Iditarod dogs now arrive at the Bering Sea coast “too skinny.”

“Too skinny,” on the other hand, is an awfully easy call to make after a necropsy, and an awfully difficult call for a vet to make against a veteran musher in the middle of a big race. All of which poses obvious questions:

How many other dead dogs were “too skinny,” and was this suspension really about one dog, or is it more about the man nicknamed “Huge Mess.”

Huge Mess

Neff “was the Iditarod rookie of the year in 2004,” Shannon Proudfoot wrote for Sports Net Magazine in 2012, “but he’s since acquired the nickname ‘Huge Mess’ because of his tendency to fly through the early stages of a race and then flame out. Neff is a flamboyant personality with a keen sense of self-branding—he roared out of the 2012 Quest start chute brandishing an Alaska flag and wearing the red-and-white stovepipe hat of Dr. Seuss’s cat, his lead dogs in matching jackets.

“‘I have a big advantage compared to most of the other mushers because I’m crazy,’ he says with practised nonchalance.”

Neff might claim to be crazy, but he’s not. He’s calculating. He’s made a living racing dogs and touring the country to speak to schools and various organizations about his adventures as an Alaska musher.

Last year at about this time he brought his “Tails of the Gypsy Musher” show to New Hampshire to lecture on the “mushing culture” for a fundraiser at the Onset VFW Post.

By the middle of May, he was at the AKC Museum of the Dog in St. Louis, which on its event paged welcomed “Hugh Neff, from Laughing Eyes Kennels of Tok, Alaska. ‘Tails From The Trail: Yukon Quest, Iditarod, and Beyond’ Lecture and film with Q&A with Hugh Neff, 2012 & 2016 Yukon Quest Champion AND he will be accompanied by Sled Dogs: George and Amigo.'”

In 2016 he was in the Chicago-area stomping grounds of his youth where WGN-9 Morning News described him as “the most travelled dog musher in the world.…Just this past February ‘The Gypsy Musher’ as he is called, won his second thousand mile quest with his dog George Costanza leading the pack.

“‘George is a pretty amazing dog,’ Hugh said.  ‘He was my leader when I won four years ago and my leader when I won this year too.’

“Now in his off-season George and Hugh travel the world promoting passion: Passion for life, passion for health, passion for exploring.”

Neff is by all accounts a first-rate story-teller, but he’s had some problems as a dog driver. It borders on the unbelievable that the Quest could decide to overlook them in the wake of the latest Neff disaster and instead make a decision based on a lone dog death.

A quick rundown:

  • In the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, Neff pushed a team until it quit on Golovin Bay in a blizzard. Neff and the dogs spent 10 hours exposed in the wind and cold out on the ice, and he later accused the Iditarod of basically wanting him dead by not acting to rescue them sooner. Veteran musher and Iditarod commentator Sebastian Schnuelle shot back with a post that accused Neff of racing irresponsibly by keeping the pedal to the metal. “It was Hugh’s own personal choice to not rest at any of the available places,” Schnuelle wrote. “He knew he was down to 8 dogs. To rest 1.30 hrs in Elim is a risky move in the best of conditions with a large team. It gets even riskier with a small team. It is outright foolish to do with a small team in bad weather.”
  • In 2011, Neff charged into a Quest storm and ran into trouble, only that time a dog died. Leading the race as it approached Fairbanks, Neff tried several times to get his dog team up and over Eagle Summit. Lead dog Geronimo ended up dead of aspiration asphyxiation, meaning he vomited up so much stomach fluid he choked to death on it.
  • In 2009, Neff was caught cheating in the Quest. He took to a plowed road to avoid what was described as a twisty, bumpy trail  through the woods on the way to Eagle. Race marshal Doug Grilliot was irate, saying Neff cheated to gain an advantage. There was considerable debate about what the punishment should be, the Yukon News reported, but eventually it was decided to assess Neff a two-hour penalty.
  • In 2001, Neff was disqualified from the Quest after vets concluded his team was not fit to continue. Such actions in Alaska races are rare.

Neff ran his first Quest in 2000. He has suffered two dog deaths in the 18 years since. Swenson ran almost exactly twice as many Iditarods with but one dog death. Other top mushers have had dogs die, but few can match the rate of death of Neff.

But he is not the worst. Keith has had two dogs die over the course of only five Iditarods. And four-time champ Lance Mackey from Fairbanks had three dogs die in Iditarod in 14 races. They are, however, anomalies.

The vast majority of mushers run the race without a fatality. Some mushers manage to run the race for decades without a dog death, and almost no one on the racing scene in the past decade has a reputation to match that of Neff for going out fast only to fade and struggle.

The debate in mushing circles now is whether the penalty fit the crime. Hansen and  bunch of other Quest officials clearly don’t want to talk about that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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63 replies »

  1. I have handled dogs for Hugh Neff, and have known him about 15 years or so. What I can say, from first hand experience working with his dog team in Willow or Whitehorse, is that he ALWAYS puts his team of 4 legged athletes first. I have never seen him mistreat his team or any individual dog, not once. Deaths happen, it’s part of the danger of running the races. No one has a crystal ball to see future weather conditions, or anything else mother nature throws our way. To say he intentionally tries to win at any cost, including hurting his team, is not only ignorant, but slanderous.

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  2. I’ve mentioned this story before, about a dropped dog of mine that escaped from an airplane that crashed @ Rhone checkpoint during 82 Iditarod. The dog was dropped due to a swollen front leg and a vet recommended he be dropped. Anyway, the dog was not going to be captured and race folks wanted to know if he had some favorite feed and I’m 100 miles down the trail.
    They were never able to capture the dog and eventually the checker and radio operator left by dogteam and headed back to Anchorage, along with a musher who had scratched due to having lost a dog on the ice out of Rhone. The teams ate lunch @ Rainy pass and someone noticed a loose dog outside-sure enough it was the dog that had gotten loose from the scratched musher. They all took off again towards Anchorage and a bit further down the trail the last musher told me that he noticed a dog following them. He waited behind a tree and when “Bashful” came along he grabbed him and got bit for his trouble but Bashful then ran up and into the team of dogs. This fellow put a harness on Bashful and he pulled the rest of the way back and was finally captured. Just dumb luck here. Nobody’s fault, clearly.
    I mention this because of Mitch’s mentioned exception to the no fault death rule would have applied in my above case had Bashful not been captured. The number of other potential exemptions are numerous and need to be considered IMO.

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  3. I’m pushing a no fault deceased dog rule because it simplifies the problem and respects The sancticy of the team as a whole . Very straight forward. If a dog passes you are ineligible to be considered a Finnisher . Irregardless of cause . Thus no drama no confusion. The primary requirement of finishing the race is every dog must be alive . Many many mushers back some formulation of this rule . Current champ , also Jeff king and even Mitch . Mitch thinks it needs tempered by making exclusion if a dog passes once it’s in committees control and a window of 8-12 hours has passed . Others say if a third party caused the death an exception should be made. I tend to agree to both to some degree. It’s up to itc rules committee and board to formulate a functional rule and determine what rule mushers will race under . There is backing for a change . It has been said a rule change could treat some one unfairly. This would be exceptionally harsh to someone racing only once . Though I truly think all dogs alive to be eligible as a finnisher is needed for our dogs as well as the sport even though it ignores to some degree the inherent danger of travel .

    Liked by 3 people

    • Simplicity, I suspect, will be its downfall IMO. Just like when Swenson lost his dog, things will no longer be simple.
      Imagine if Jeff King would have been DQ’d when Demoski killed his dog with snowmachine? And that’s not the first dog to die by snowmachine in Iditarod, either.
      Obviously a dog death makes for some extreme measures but simplicity is not the way here IMO.

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      • Bill you are 100% wrong . Your Good intentions aside . Jeff said at last meeting he would have been happy to step aside when his dog was hit . He understands the damage done when a dog dies . It’s incredibly simple . For back ground my father and brothers were the primary people who formulated the last deceased dog rule close to how it stands today . As iofc rep Vern halter pushed it through. There was a meeting of over 40 mushers at the rewrite meeting. This is aprx 20 years ago . We voted in unanimous decision. We were wrong . We should have made it simple and clear . Looked way in advance for the betterment of the sport . We didn’t see the potential damage coming to the race . Hugh neff , lance Mackey and others were not even on the radar . Racing was very different. Very different . Swenson was wronged because the rule he raced under was very harsh . It wasn’t clearly a no fault rule . Interesting fact is he publicly supported the rule that slapped him so hard . I challenge any one in the world to try to accomplish what king and Swenson have done . Their dog care is unbelievable. Especially Swenson. So bill if you walked in my shoes you would have seen a lot and realized it’s time for a clear and simple rule . It will rectify almost all of iditarods problems. In the long term . From image to strategy , to health to image to finances and to survival. I’m for the no fault hiatus if a dog dies . 2 years then ten years then permanent. Extreme but effective.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Just my opinion Rayme and I’ll stick to it.
        Nice of Jeff to, after the fact, say something that when it actually happened to Rick nothing of the sort happened. Talk is cheap, whiskey costs money!
        Just like the position of Mitch, there will always need to be exceptions to protect the totally innocent. There is a rule about losing a dog, automatic DQ, and it has worked out although I suspect that there could be an extreme case where a musher would not be at fault (but this just hasn’t happened). For example had Jeff lost (disappeared) a dog that spooked from Demoski, there would have been a DQ and, I suspect, Demoski would have been fined additionally for Jeff’s loses. This might have caused some grief but too many cases for too many years and this rule has worked out.
        It is still my opinion that the dog death one will not work (without exceptions).

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      • Bill let’s simplify it for you . Can a team Finnish without penalty for lost required gear ? Can the team Finnish without musher ? Dogs are more important to Iditarod than gear or a musher . Shouldn’t they be protected and held to higher regard ? Comprehend ? Was it Einstein who said if you keep doing something the same way and expect different results- that’s the definition of insanity. Thus we need a different rule . Automatic no fault. Survival of the dogs is paramount to this race . Within 10 years if this rule isn’t enacted this race could probably go extinct as we know it . With it a way of life and many noble sled dogs will no longer have job . I’m willing to take the risk of a rule change . It’s time .

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m not against new rules, just this one. You seem to be afraid of confronting the shortcomings of these races with a no-fault simplicity rule that I am opposed to. I gave my reasons and you have yours (race may not survive unless your rule is enacted).
        I say BS. Comparing it to having all required gear makes no sense IMO. What exception could there be for not having required gear? Give me one example that a musher could offer here?? Someone stole my ax, sleeping bag….? Not the same.
        And at no time did I suggest doing the same thing and expecting something different. Frankly, I think the Quest has done something (finally) towards making the dog death accountable.
        You say that’s insanity?

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      • Bill look harder at what I said . Open your thinking . Look further in the future. Stop making assumptions about what I’m afraid of . You can either make it personal or you can try to understand the problem. The problem is dogs die in the race and nobody likes it . How do you reduce that without playing bs blame game witch opens cans of worms and drags it all into press tarnishing 50 innocent mushers for sure and possibly the one with the deceased dog . How do you remove human error from officials , judges , ect ? With a simple rule everyone understands. If you sighn up , all your dogs must survive to be a finnisher . Very simple very clear . Sure if I’m not allowed to Finnish that would suck but I try to play by the rules .

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      • “Within 10 years if this rule isn’t enacted this race could probably go extinct as we know it . With it a way of life and many noble sled dogs will no longer have job .”
        You said it Rayme and I don’t buy it, that’s all. I’m not making this personal at all and have no problem at all with “bs blame game” (your words).
        I do believe its time for dog deaths to be dealt with and I also believe the proper way to do it is just the way the Quest did things this year. I have no reason to believe that what they did was inappropriate in any way. Are you suggesting that an innocent musher has been tarnished, here?
        It just seems like you are objecting to something that doesn’t warrant it. You are going to have to give be a better reason for not supporting what Quest has done in this instance. Again, just my opinion.

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      • Bill,
        You are missing a big part.
        Neff was sanctioned because the Quest has rule 44….
        I dit a rod does not.
        So, much of your rambling is a mute point.

        Good work Ramey.
        You might not save the race as you know it, but I am all for a similar rule 44 for Irod dogs.

        Make yours more simple as you say. (Any reason, mandatory DQ)
        Good luck.

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      • Steve, as you’ve mentioned numerous times, your mission is to end these races.
        To that end I don’t trust a single thing you say about what is needed here.

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      • Bill you need to quit trying to guess what people are thinking or their motivations. You are not good at it . I support the quests ruling 100% . I am against the method they used of poor transparency and using opinion versus mathematical fact to release info to the public. Bad idea . It made everyone involved look bad in some form or another . Also doesn’t solve the dog death problem long term . Do I need to repeat this several times so you can understand it ? Quest made good ruling . Quest made Pr mess and didn’t present defendable facts . Bum for all . If you don’t like my rule concept do some research and come up with one that will improve dogs situation and protect everyone involved. Thx bill

        Liked by 1 person

      • Bill,
        I am not an astronaut or soldier “on a mission”.
        I am just a homesteader with bad luck that wound up in the middle of “unattended kennels” years ago.
        Yes, I have said corporate sponsored endurance dog races should end.
        That does not mean I am not supporting healthy changes and new rules while they exist.
        If Walker and the dog gang really wants to save Irod culture, the time is now.
        Even Mitch Seavey is redesigning his dog yard.
        This is how the political process works.
        Through debate, not just playing devil’s advocate to argue your point.
        Ramey gets this.
        We all need to find common ground as we move forward.
        Neighbors and community do not need to agree or do the exact same thing, but we must all live in a civilized fashion and conflicts do not foster progress…
        Solutions are needed in many areas in Alaska.
        A no fault dead dog rule would help many aspects of the sled dog racing situation as we know it.
        I am all for it!

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      • Rayme, I will commend you for trying something but I don’t agree with it, that’s all. The “no exceptions” will defeat it before it gets out of chute IMO. I am behind the no fault doping laws being done but not this.
        We’ve beat this dead dog long enough IMO.

        Liked by 1 person

      • No fault, no exceptions is best. If you make exceptions, then you are just encouraging the hypothetical least scrupulous to make sure their failure is due to one of the “exceptions”.

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      • How would one go about that, Doug? You think one can just manipulate (after the fact) the results of findings in a dog death?
        While this might be best for the race, my feelings are for the musher who is DQ’d for reasons he had no control over (particularly if a dog dies after a dog drop). No-fault is unnecessary here IMO. The race should be able to come up with a reasonable solution for dog deaths, also IMO.

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      • > How would one go about that, Doug?

        I can think of plenty of ways. Depends what exceptions you’re going to allow. I could probably think of more if I knew anything about dogs or mushing (notice my original comment mentioned neither).

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    • R. It is easier for folks to knock reasonable solutions, than to actually provide their own. I think what you suggest with or without modifications is a reasonable rule change and one I think the vet volunteers would support. That said, it appears that Hugh was not banned because he had a dog die, but more because of the overall condition of the dog that was only discovered because the dog died. And I agree the volunteer Vets should be commended.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jeffrey, the condition of the dog was determined at the previous checkpoint by a Vet and placed in Neff’s vetbook. Had the dog not died, no doubt, nothing would have come of it but it was not the case that “was only discovered because the dog died.”
        An issue here is at what point do these vets assert themselves and pull a dog from a team that is unprepared (in their opinion) to go on. Because this particular dog died, there seems to be some blame to go around (other than just Neff).

        Liked by 1 person

      • extent was only determined after death-ie no fat around the heart, worm concerns,etc.

        my point remains: Neff was not banned because his dog died.

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      • Well I agree that nobody’s going to get behind a necropsy for a dog that just appears to be in trouble. We can all suspect a dog has little body fat (without a vet’s opinion) but not all will agree about this so said vet’s opinion needs to be adhered to IMO.
        That said, a vet early in his/her career may not have the cojones to pull a dog that a musher might insist be left in team but as happened here, the dog gets reported in the musher vetbook and there is a paper trail of this “conditions report on the dog.”
        No further problems, everything is OK but as in this situation Neff has little to back up his appeal IMO. Had the dog not died, nothing would have been done IMO, yet that was not the reason he was banned I agree.

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  4. So we should take the “reporters” version as to what happened on the UAF campus as the whole truth? Isn’t that counter to the point about thorough investigative “reporting” the blogger is asserting?

    When the author makes the story about himself is he a “reporter”?

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    • here’s an idea, Scot; why don’t you go read the website and decide. there’s more than enough there for you to be able to inform an intelligent opinion. it could all be fake news; it could also be real.

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  5. So what is the name of the vet that was in Eagle that saw Boppy in bad shape, yet allowed him to continue? And will this vet be banned from future Quests? And who hired and trained this vet on how to assess Quest dogs? Was it Hansen?

    And if the apparent new punishment by major sled dog races for professional dog mushers for having a dog die of aspiration asphyxiation is banishment for a year … then when will the Iditarod be announcing that Katherine Keith is banned for the 2019 Iditarod? And when will all currently racing mushers that have had dog deaths by aspiration asphyxiation in the past Iditarods and Quests receive similar bans from racing?

    If there is not consistency regarding punishment for death by aspiration asphyxiation, then Hugh is getting unfairly punished.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So you are saying people that run, bike, row, ski, skate, swim, sail and surf are stupid? I’m guessing you must weigh over 250 lbs and are one Krispi Kreme away from kicking the bucket. Born stupid, die stupid.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You have to be some kind of a retard to relate dog mushing 2 Human Sports. Dog mushing has nothing to do with human Health and Welfare and everything to do with an outdated form of transport. Dogs bred to be chained to a short chain 23 hours a day. There is nothing good or wholesome in the so-called sport of dog mushing the dogs are treated worse than Greyhounds are in dog racing.

        Liked by 2 people

      • actually, Paul, there is much good and wholesome about people living with dogs. but as in life in all ways, people are not not always good to each other or to animals sometimes intentionally and sometimes accidentally and sometimes because they just don’t know better.

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      • Good Morning Bill!
        I was just going to ask you what your story of a snowmachine through the ice has anything to do with Nina, Hugh and the “aspiration pneumonia” debate?
        We both know most of these solo snowmachine accidents that occur in the dark of winter have one factor in common…Alcohol.
        A dog team can fall through the ice or overflow just like a ski doo or snowcat might…not much relevance to our debate right now.
        I am not against mushing…I love dogs, but I do think the romance of the corporate sponsored dog race is waning in da North.
        Not many folks “mush” to their remote cabins like you once did.
        Why do you think “recreational” mushing is not popular and everyone wants to run Irod or Quest?
        3/4 of the year for a “race” musher is spent planning, training, in the dog lot, vet visits and driving the dog truck around…1/4 is mushing and the two week race window…an event many dogs and mushers never fully complete.
        A “Frozen Paradigm”…
        The movie “Dog Power” by Kale Casey shows the present and future of the sport….small dog teams with mostly ski jor, bike jor and canicross events throughout Europe and lower 48.
        I think of Egil Ellis and his “sprint mushing” shorter distances…even he left Alaska to go back to Europe.
        Why is Alaska so stuck in its old ways?

        Like

      • Steve, my post was a response to Paul’s asinine comment about dogsleds being an outmoded means of travel. And there was no alcohol in story I linked, either.
        While you might feel recreational mushing is not popular, I don’t buy it. There are large numbers of small teams that often get larger as these “dreamers” try their hand at racing and eventually get aboard the train to either Quest or Iditarod. Further, those races require some preparation that involve mid-distance racing to qualify. It’s all just a process that starts from recreational mushing.
        Alaska is stuck in this way because Alaskans love it. I completely understand it, because I’ve lived it, but also understand its not for everyone. Certainly not for the Pauls, but I suspect there is nothing Alaskan about Paul, either.

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  6. A number of people seem to be taking a very strange and unhelpful approach to this situation. Perhaps folks here don’t volunteer in their communities, and perhaps they don’t work full time, and probably they do not do both.
    If you work full time, and volunteer in your non-working hours — to contribute to your community — then you would probably not be very comfortable having media show up at your workplace, asking questions about the things you volunteer for (and vice versa). And, if you actually focus on your work, it might be a bit disorienting to suddenly be fielding questions about that other endeavor.
    It sounds as if the encounter was not well handled by either party, but that does not give anyone the right to impugn the reputation of either party. Attacking people (on both sides) avoids the real issue — an individual failed to properly care for his dogs and was penalized for that failure.
    Based on what has been published so far, the Quest has not tried to avoid answering questions; they have, however, tried to follow a reasonable and efficient process, by having the Chair of the Rules Committee respond to media. The Head Vet is not on the Rules Committee, and was not directly involved in the decisions made. It makes sense to pose questions to the Chair, because the chair is the one who has access to all the information considered by the committee.

    Liked by 1 person

      • I say we all should thank vet Hansen for putting so much of her time and effort into making sled dogs lives better . Thank you vet Hansen ! Your efforts in the freezing cold of northern Alaska are commendable ! Thank you! Perhaps you should get the board to publish more precise facts to help clean up this mess . Thanks again from dogs and mushers !

        Liked by 2 people

    • Ahh . Anne , I know your heart is in the right place . Protect friends. You misunderstand the complete issue. Part of it about transparency and possibly unduly coloring an individual. A reporter was searching for the truth to help inform the public. Clean up an information mess . A face to face discussion is still legal . The only one who handled it wrong was possibly the vet maybe the police . Intimidating the reporter is questionable. To my knowledge he was not trespassing on private locked property. Correct me if I’m wrong. In this case the vet did not make herself look transparent or trustable . Now both sides have more ammunition. As well as suspicion of the release . Both the anti mushers and Hugh supporters. She should have just said I will get back to you with an exact list of the facts after I ok it with the rules and the board. Have a good day . Clear and transparent. Now she just muddied the waters and tried to intimidate a journalist. Thx . Real great . How about stirring up stories about the greatness of sled dogs and human feats . Find some positive stories. Like used to be written about .

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ramey,
        Most sled dog advocates are not “anti mushers” like you say…
        They are more for “humane mushing” and aspiration pneumonia occurring during 1,000 mile races does not seem humane to us.
        Neither is chaining.
        Neither are worms, ulcers, and so skinny there is no body fat found during necropsy.
        That is what this is all about.

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      • Steve: i’m sure there are way too many wormy dogs out your way. a lot of people don’t regularly deworm. and, in general, i’d say the much bigger health problem for most dogs is too damn fat, not too skinny. and as for chaining, well, one can go round and round for hours on that, and in the end it pretty much comes back to how much time the dog spends on the chain and how much social contact it has with people.

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      • Craig,
        Does it make it right that you suspect many of the Irod dogs around me are “wormy”?
        This is what I consider abuse.
        As for the chaining issue.
        Why does USDA outlaw it for all livestock?
        Many studies have been peer reviewed and show constant tether leads to aggression.
        There is also the problem of a small child walking in like happened in Berkowitz’s lot in Big Lake.
        Kids have been killed in dog lots in AK.
        Several.
        No, you cannot get me to think chaining does anything positive for man or animal.
        History has been written on this subject.
        Many boroughs across America have outlawed chaining…

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    • except for one thing, Anne, your observation that “an individual failed to properly care for his dogs.” that’s a conclusion that should be based on evidence and a professional in the business of dog care is the one best able to interpret the evidence.
      i haven’t seen the evidence. the Quest hasn’t released the necropsy. i was hoping to hear the of views of an individual in the best position to interpret the evidence. that didn’t happen.
      was the dog “infested” with whipworms or did it have some whipworms? how serious was the ulceration? muscle necrosis? well, i’m personally too familiar with that and just my anecdotal observations would tell me that running myself like Hugh has a tendency to run dogs – go out with the pedal to the metal, crash and stagger to the finish – makes that worse. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6854349
      but if we’re going to suspend for two years every musher who crashes a team and/or has a dog die, we’re in a new world in Alaska sled-dog racing.
      i commend the Quest for acting here. it’s about time some race stood up and said, “yes, it’s about the dogs.”
      but in doing so, the Quest set a established a new standard its race and a standard by which other races (can you say Iditarod?) can now be expected to be viewed, and don’t you think everyone deserves to know exactly how that new standard is defined?
      is it defined by a dead dog; a dead dog with whipworms; a dead dog with whipworms and no fat or low fat or what fat level? does past history enter the equation? does it depend on how the dog was run before it died? does it depend on the condition of other dogs in the team?
      if someone run a Hugh Neff, rabbit-style race in the 2019 Iditarod and a dog dies in Shaktoolik, are we all going to be listening to animal right’s activists demanding the musher be sanction “like Hugh Neff was in the Quest. Musher X just did the same thing.”
      so how do we define “the same thing.”
      frankly, the more i think about this, the more it argues for something along the lines of Ramey Smyth’s no-fault removal for a dog death, ie. – all your dogs have to survive for you to be judged an official finisher. if a dog dies on the trail and you want to continue on to the finish line because you think that’s in the best interest of the rest of the team, fine; you can do that. but you will be recorded in the official record as a DNF, and there will be no prize money.

      Like

  7. Blah…blah…blah.

    How about the real story of Hugh not taking care of his dogs, Steve? And a veterinarian just doing her job.

    It’s Monday. You at work now typing away on a company computer with your response? Wonder what else your browsing history will show.

    Like

    • Well Aidan,
      You pose a very interesting question.
      Are the Vets “doing their job” at these long distance dog races?
      Are they too lenient in allowing mushers to skirt these rules?
      Could a dog like Neff’s be saved by “body fat index” requirements?
      In H.S. wrestling this was monitored by our coaches to keep athletes safe.
      It seems many questions are unanswered and this is why Craig was actually doing investigative journalism…
      Why did Nina find this offensive.
      As for me…
      I am a stay at home dad who stays in the discussion between chores and responsibilities.
      As for my browsing history, it is mostly international news stories on my smart phone…
      Much different from a state employee who is paid and signs off on an employee handbook.
      Does UAF state professors cannot answer questions from reporters without a press release?
      I doubt it.

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  8. “As Craig discovered this race culture feels threatened by any questions or opposition to their cycle of animal abuse.”
    Here you go again with the “bullchit” Steve.
    Trump administration is looking for just your type of employee-one who can lie like Don and still sleep nights. Might be your wellwater, have it tested.
    You have missed your calling-get yourself to DC.

    Like

  9. So…
    The officer is stating you need clearance from a Canadian race organization to speak with a UAF Employee on a UAF campus in Alaska?

    If Nina did not wish to answer your questions she could have said that, but not being allowed to visit staff or faculty at a State run government building sounds bogus….especially given your history as a reporter in this state…

    What Nina meant to say is she only recites P.R. statements released by Quest “Officials”…and she had not been given one since the Neff story came out.

    This world of social media and prearranged press releases is degrading journalism and the dialogue process throughout America.

    We have reporters citing social media posts as they are “gospel” and never digging deeper into the issues.

    Good work Craig…

    Sorry she tried to turn it against you, as I am all too familar with these type of situations.

    It causes folks to retract and not engage as much with community members since none of us need to fight false allegations with L.E.

    I just can’t help thinking as a paid UAF PHD, that Nina is doing some of her work for the Quest while she is on our state’s payroll or at least using a state computer in her state funded office.

    Administration should be critical of this…we do not need to subsidize sled dog races with state employees in anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Craig, it is appalling that Hansen called the police about you. She should have simply said, “I don’t want to answer questions” and walked away. She could have even walked into the womens’ washroom.

    Yes, the Iditarod is more transparent than the Quest. Nevertheless, the Iditarod bans the press from dropped dog areas. Mushers are banned from saying anything bad about the Iditarod.

    Legitimate reporters need to be treated with respect. This is basic to our democracy. Shame on Hansen.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lisbeth,
      I would disagree that the Irod crew is any more “transparent”…
      Where is Keith’s Necropsy report from her dead dog this year?
      Why did Mackey’s dogs die?
      Why can’t press visit drop dog locations?
      My only year on the trail during Iditarod I saw and heard whimpering dogs at the Skwentna checkpoint.
      The vets were already “keyed in” that an injured dog was approaching as I overheard conversation at a table next to me.
      Since then, I have always stayed away from Irod starts and keep off of the trail while dogteams move west out of Willow…
      As Craig discovered this race culture feels threatened by any questions or opposition to their cycle of animal abuse.
      Clapping and applause are all that is allowed.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Since when did the Quest become a “Canadian Race Organisation”? On the other hand since the Canadian tax payer is by far the largest sponsor maybe we should start thinking that way. In actual fact it is a contractor for an International Race Organisation who has made a request to follow an established protocol – however much you disagree with said protocol misrepresenting the situation doesn’t strengthen you’re point of view.

      Like

      • Sorry Pete…
        I just found out the Quest has a “non profit” business office in Whitehorse and a “non profit” business office in Fairbanks as well…truely Alaskan as well as Canadian…I wonder why Fern Levitt did not film more at Quest?
        I wonder if her backer CBC did not want to show this?

        Like

      • Steve, no worries – I think Fern was after the brand recognition of the Iditarod. Technically I don’t believe CBC funded the production of Fern’s film – they do have it on their documentary channel. It was backed by the Canadian Media Fund which is part private, part government funded.

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      • “This world of social media and prearranged press releases is degrading journalism and the dialogue process throughout America.”

        Well said Steve. A hundred years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, and cut and paste in a news story literally meant cut and paste, I worked for newspapers and occasionally successfully pitched a story to a magazine. It was real, dogged, face-to-face journalism. It was a time of editors screaming profanities at reporters who thought a one-source story was ok. It was the time of copy editors chucking the “Elements of Style” book at lazy writers. It meant phoning people, knocking on doors, meeting people face to face, taking photos and digging, digging, digging. And stories were followed up on. Editors demanded that a reporter keep track of the news and write follow-ups.
        My very first story, as a young journalist, was covering the gruesome murder of a young mother, by her boyfriend. It was the first hour, of my first day. And when the story, I had worked so hard on was published, my journalism prof called me up and went up one side of me and down the other. Who. What. When. Where. Why. I can still hear him yelling at me.
        Over the years, I covered a lot of murder and eventually became very interested in following the leads on cold cases. I’m happy to say my perseverance resulted in the opening on two cases and closure for families. It made me feel good to help people.
        I had plenty of people say “no comment”, or “piss off”, or other colorful things. I can’t recall anyone ever calling the police. Dr. Hansen made a pretty big error and could simply have asked Craig to leave and closed her office door. Or she could have said, “I need to confer with the board”. Calling the police has suddenly made the Quest very unfriendly.
        I don’t always agree with Craig, but I give him major props for old school journalism. Keep writing Craig.

        Liked by 2 people

      • i only mentioned Canadian run in the sense that the official spokesperson is in Canada, and one has to work across the border with a country an ATT smartphone doesn’t even recognize. (i guess the phone isn’t that smart.) remember when the U.S. and Canada were best friends? it’s now easier to go between France and Germany (and communicate between the two if you are on the continent) than to go between the U.S. and Canada.

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  11. The intellect types of our world are all a bunch of soft weanies…It’s ok when they are the ones accusing and bullying but when they are put under scrutinization they run for the nearest protective skirt…Disgusting and deplorable…Grow up and toughen up Weanies!
    None of you could pack Hugh Neffs lunch if he was eating pilot bread!

    Like

    • Well Coke, I don’t think the issue here is who can pack Neff’s lunch but rather why do his dogs need packing to the next checkpoint after dying or becoming exhausted from poor care?
      It’s pretty clear that Craig’s wide-stance made Hansen “uncomfortable” and it does appear that she did “run for the nearest protective skirt.” What’s not clear is why.

      Liked by 1 person

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