Fair or unfair?



Hugh and Olivia Shank Neff with Leroy, a dog named for her grandfather – one of the founders of the Yukon Quest/Craig Medred photo

WASILLA – Publicly vilified Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race champion Hugh Neff said Wednesday in an exclusive interview with that he doesn’t know what more he could have done to save the dog that died in this year’s race.


And a veterinarian who has known the 50-year-old musher almost since Neff’s arrival in Alaska is questioning the Quest’s report on the cause of the dog’s death and the way in which the results of a necropsy were used to paint a picture of Neff as a dog killer.

In a move unprecedented in Alaska sled-dog racing,  Neff was in late April suspended for two years from the 1,000-mile race from Fairbanks to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada. At the time, the Quest issued a press release suggesting it was taking the action because Neff continued along the trail from the  Eagle, Alaska, checkpoint to Dawson Creek, Yukon Territory, with a dog in his team unfit to travel.

The dog – Boppy – died in a cabin at Clinton Creek, an old mining community about 50 miles from Dawson, as Neff and others tried to save his life. Over breakfast Wednesday in Sarah Palin’s hometown along the George Parks Highway, Neff recounted how he called the Quest to report Boppy was in serious trouble and ask for help, but none was forthcoming.

Clinton Creek is about two hours from Dawson by snowmachine. Neff said Boppy was in “Sandra and Earl’s” warm cabin there for somewhere between five and eight hours while he and others tried to figure out how to save the dog, Neff said.

Boppy’s problems began, Neff said, with signs of a seizure, but the dog seemed to get better and looked for a time like he might recover.

“He was wagging his tail,” Neff said, emotion in his voice and a tear forming in the corner of his eye. But then Boppy coughed up some stomach contents, and after that the dog’s condition went quickly downhill.

Neff said Quest Chief Veterinarian Nina Hansen later told him that was when she believes Boppy inhaled gastric fluids that quickly infected his lungs and caused his death by aspiration pneumonia, a sadly too common cause of death in long-distance sled dog races.

A veterinarian at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Hansen has largely refused to talk publicly about what exactly she believes happened. After this reporter showed up at her office, identified himself and asked a few questions to which she provided non-answers, she called the University of Alaska Fairbanks Police Department to report, according to the department’s log, that she was “being stalked by a blogger.”

A UAF police officer later called and said Hansen could not be interviewed on the UAF campus unless approval was first received from the Yukon Quest. University officials have not commented on when they decided to allow organizations outside the university to dictate what is and isn’t allowed on university campuses in the 49th state.

Law and Order

Questions were posed to Hansen after the Quest issued a press release that read a little like the plot line for an episode in the old and immensely popular TV series “Law and Order.”

The document ruled the dog’s death the cause of “aspiration pneumonia,” but went on to suggest that the ailment was due to Neff allowing a seriously unhealthy dog to run in his team during the Quest.

If the incident had actually been a Law and Order episode, Neff would have been the man accused of negligent homicide for neglecting the health of a child later killed by a common medical ailment.

Of such an accusation, veterinarian Eric Jayne thinks Neff not guilty.

“I don’t know why they’re picking on him,” Jayne said after reviewing the necropsy report on Boppy provided Neff.

“What confused me,” he added, was the cursory examination of Boppy’s brain given that Neff told race officials the dogs problems began with a seizure.

“I’ve read a lot of necropsy reports,” Jayne said in a Wednesday telephone interview from Arkansas. “There are a few details that didn’t make sense to me.

“A normal post-mortem would look in the brain. If a dog is having a seizure, it can aspirate.”

Jayne, who once provided veterinary care to pets in Eagle, is suspicious Boppy’s death might be linked to a “clostridium perfringens type A alpha toxin,” a product produced by the clostridium bacteria.

“Here is an example,” he messaged. “The last two years after the Yukon Quest went through the town of Eagle, dogs developed diarrhea. Last year, one dog died. Both years many dogs have had chronic diarrhea and seizures.

“I have last year’s lab results on that diarrhea as well as a sample from this year that’s going to the lab later today. The samples last year as usual were clostridium perfringens type A alpha toxin.”

A paper published in the Canadian Veterinary Journal in 2012 describes a death linked to the pathogen:

“A 2-year-old female Pomeranian dog was found dead in a pool of bloody feces the morning after it had been at a dog show. The previous day the dog was bright, alert, responsive, eating, and drinking. It had been fed a commercial diet. The dog was in good health; it had no history of vomiting or diarrhea. The dog had not been treated recently and was up-to-date on vaccinations. The owners were concerned about the possibility of poisoning so they submitted the body for necropsy to the Animal Health Laboratory in Guelph, Ontario.”

The dead dog was found to have “watery-red intestinal contents” and “marked pulmonary congestion.”  The latter is usually associated with aspiration pneumonia. 

Jayne suspects Boppy’s death could have been precipitated by a clostridium infection because of events as described by Neff.

Brutally cold

Weather conditions as the Quest moved out of Alaska toward the Canadian border this year were nothing short of dangerous. When Neff left the tiny, Yukon River community of Eagle on the morning of Feb. 2, it was 40 degrees below zero. In the river valleys to the south, as the trail wound through the mountains to join the Fortymile River and follow it back to the Yukon, the thermometer would slide toward 50- to 60-degrees below zero.

These are harsh conditions for both humans and animals. The former must pull on bulky layers of clothes to survive. The dogs, too, get jackets but mainly they turn up their internal thermostats to produce more body heat to push back the cold.

Thermoregulation, however, requires a lot of calories, as does trotting along the trail.

Some dogs just simply can’t eat enough to keep up with the metabolic demands. Neff’s short-haired, houndy dogs – pretty much the norm in Alaska long-distance sled dog racing these days – were at a particular disadvantage.

They were on what some have called the “Iditarod diet,” a radical-weight loss plan driven by a program wherein the caloric demands of exercise makes it impossible to eat enough to avoid losing weight.

There is a reason almost all Iditarod dogs wear coats to the finish line in Nome these days, one musher said; the coats are to hide how skinny the dogs are as ever-faster Iditarod races leave them less time for rest, recovery and caloric consumption.

Boppy, an Iditarod veteran, wasn’t being asked to run at Iditarod speed in the Quest, but the cold was making up for that. He was burning a lot of calories to stay warm and as a result losing weight.

On this, both the Quest and Neff agree.

After Boppy’s death, the Quest would decide he was “too skinny” when he left Eagle. If only a vet had offered a serious warning about weight loss at the time, Neff said he would have left Boppy behind. He certainly didn’t want a dog to die, he said.

Taking along a dog the vets thought would die would be just stupid, added his wife, Olivia Shank Neff, the grand-daughter of Leroy Shank, one of the Quest founders. And besides, Olivia added, Hugh wouldn’t risk hurting a family house pet.

“When I met Hugh,” she said, “I told a friend I’d finally found a guy who loves dogs as much as I do.”

On the trail from Eagle to Clinton Creek, there were no signs of trouble, either. With the sled runners dragging like sandpaper on the extremely cold snow, a satellite tracker on Hugh’s sled showed him steadily plodding along at 3 to 6 mph for 100 miles to the cabin at the abandoned mining community.

The dogs were tired when they arrived there, Hugh said, but otherwise looking fine. He got them bedded down and fed them. Everyone ate well. The February sun low to the south was just rising.

Hugh believes the temperature was near 50 degrees below zero, but it might have been colder. Whatever the temp, it was damn cold, and he wasn’t having much fun nor were the dogs. So he called race marshal Doug Harris in Dawson and told him of a plan to take a long, long rest at Clinton and then drop out of the race at halfway at Dawson.

Not long after that, with other mushers leaving the so-called “hospitality stop,” Hugh said, he left the warm cabin to move his team to where another had been parked. Hugh wanted the dogs to be where they could gather what pitiful little warmth was coming from the sun rising on the southern horizon.

After the move, he said, the dogs started nosing around in the straw on which the previous team had been bedded and found some kibble to eat. Hugh took that as a sign they were hungry again, and he went back in the cabin to cook food for the team. It took maybe 20 minutes, he said.

He came out of the cabin, started to feed the dogs, looked to the front of the team and saw “Boppy on his side sort of running in place,” Hugh said.

Immediately recognizing the signs of a seizure, Hugh ran to Boppy, unhooked him from the gangline of the sled, scooped him up and carried him into the warm cabin.

Bad to worse

Inside, Hugh said, others helped him warm Boppy.  There was a nurse from Whitehorse there, he said, but no veterinarian. Hugh tried his best to calm Boppy down. The seizures stopped, and Hugh grew hopeful the dog would live.

But then Boppy vomited or coughed up some food, and things started to go downhill from then on. Five to eight hours after bringing Boppy into the cabin, Hugh said, he was dead.

Another call was made to Dawson to report what had happened and to arrange for Canadian rangers to come out on snowmachines to retrieve Boppy’s body. When they showed up, Hugh decided to send two other dogs back with them.

“Those dogs would have made it fine,” he said, “but what’s the point?”

They weren’t incapable. They were simply unenthusiastic. So they got a ride home.

More than 25 hours after arriving in Clinton, Hugh and the rest of the team finally pulled out on the trail to Dawson. Along the way, Hugh said, they met another dog team stalled on the trail and helped that musher get going.

On the better travelled path on the frozen Yukon, the team  trotted out the last 50 miles at a slightly better pace than they’d slogged through the first 100 through the mountains to Clinton Creek.

Race officials in Dawson told Hugh when he arrived that a necropsy was already underway. They asked him to sign some papers. Hugh doesn’t remember all what happened.

“I don’t even know what I signed,” he said.

He believes they asked him what he wanted done with Boppy’s body, and he must have decided on cremation because Boppy was cremated.

Hugh’s recollection is noticeably foggy here. He remembered at first thinking Boppy’s body had been flown to Colorado for a final necropsy, but then decided that couldn’t be the case because Boppy was cremated in Whitehorse. It must have been a Colorado veterinarian who did the necropsy there, he said.

On February 9 with the Neffs still in Dawson, the Quest announced a preliminary necropsy had concluded 5-year-old Boppy died from “aspiration…consistent with the clinical history provided by the musher.”

More than two months would pass before the Neffs would hear more from the Quest, and then the race wouldn’t be very forthcoming.

In the interim, the couple left Dawson for their home in the community of Tok along the Alaska Highway sad about Boppy but unaware there was any concern Hugh might have caused the dog’s death, the second unfortunate fatality for him in the Quest.

Back home, he started getting ready for the Iditarod and was in a matter of weeks on the trail. He followed a team of 16 dogs out of Willow on the 1,000-mile run to Nome on March 4. A little more than 10 and a half days later he followed nine of those dogs down Front Street to finish 21st in the race.

It was an uneventful run in an Iditarod that came to focus on a couple of men about a day behind Neff. Seventy-year-old Jim Lanier from Chugiak and his team bogged down in a blizzard on the last leg of the trail along the Bering Sea Coast from White Mountain to the finish in Nome.

Fellow musher Scott Janssen tried to help Lanier only to end up in trouble himself. Suddenly an Iditarod problem focused on one stalled musher became an Iditarod crisis requiring the rescue of two men and 24 dogs.

Fortunately, that story ended happily. The mushers and their teams were safely rescued and Janssen was declared a hero for cuddling with Lanier to keep him warm while the two awaited help.

Whitehorse call

After Iditarod, the Neffs headed to Northwest Alaska for the Kobuk 440.

“When this (Quest censure)  was going on, we were doing the 440 with the same dogs,” Olivia said.

The next thing Hugh remembers is getting back home to Tok to find that someone had called from Whitehorse. He thought it might be old girlfriend Tamra Reynolds with information about the bill for Boppy’s cremation.

It wasn’t.

It was Quest officials calling to tell him he was being suspended from the 1,000-mile race for two years because of Boppy’s death. There was no hearing, he said; no chance for discussion about what might have happened.

A Quest press release followed not long after mislabeled as “Final Necropsy Report on Boppy.” There was no necropsy report. There was an announcement of the presumed cause of death: “Boppy died of aspiration pneumonia caused by inhaling vomited stomach contents.”

And there was a suggestion of further problems: “Other findings include mild stomach ulcers, moderate intestinal inflammation, mild whipworm infestation, skeletal muscle necrosis, and severe weight loss and muscle wasting.”

Then came the kicker: “Due to the organization’s commitment to sled dog care during the race, and based on the Code of the Trail and Yukon Quest rules 35, 43 and 44 pertaining to sled dog care, the decision has been made by Yukon Quest International to apply the following censure based on the additional findings.”

The suggestion was clear: Hugh’s poor care led to Boppy’s death.

There were later suggestions made that Hugh hadn’t wormed his dogs. He did, he said; about a week before the race. And former Quest champ John Schandelmeier, no friend of Hugh’s, has said that from his reading of the necropsy – a copy of which he saw – the claim of a whipworm “infestation” is an overstatement.

But then that’s what the three words “mild whipworm infestation” would on their face indicate.  The dictionary defines infestation as “the presence of an unusually large number of insects” or other parasites. An animal is either infested or not. There is no mild or extreme infestation.

Hugh has also been criticized for not giving drugs to his dogs designed to stop stomach ulcers, but Boppy is described as having mild stomach ulcers, not severe ones. Exercise‐induced gastritis and gastric ulcers are common in humans, horses and sled dogs. Prophylactic treatment has been recommended to prevent severe ulceration in high-stress racing conditions, but there is room for debate as to whether treatment is good or not in less stressful situations.

As to skeletal muscle necrosis, it  is common in all endurance athletes, and so to some extent muscle wasting. All of which leaves the issue of weight. Quest officials said the dog was too skinny. Neff said Boppy normally weighed 42 pounds. He weighed 35 pounds at necropsy.

That’s about a 16 percent loss of body weight, but Hugh said he thought the dog looked OK.

Jayne questions why the veterinarian in Eagle didn’t ask Hugh to pull the dog if it was too skinny. That’s why the veterinarians are on the trail, he said.

“It’s a veterinarian screw up,” he said. “Not a Hugh Neff screw up. A veterinarian made a mistake. The veterinarians are supposed to be there to protect the dogs.”

Jayne and the sled-dog-race vets have a long, interesting and complicated history. Alaska veterinarians once tried to get Jayne’s Alaska veterinary license taken away because he was doing cheap and sometimes free work for villagers. And they really didn’t like him expressing the opinion that the Iditarod annually spreads canine diseases from Willow north to Nome to the detriment of village dogs.

The fight got so acrimonious Jayne finally just gave up his Alaska license and told the state licensing board to just leave him alone. 

And in one foray out of Alaska, Jayne took a job working for humane organizations in Hawaii – the kind of organizations that often the criticize the Iditarod and Quest.

But Jayne is not opposed to working sled dogs.  Just the opposite. He is a musher himself and for years held the concession permit to hauling supplies around Denali National Park and Preserve by dog sled in winter. Not to mention that his son is a veteran of the Iditarod.

On top of that, Jayne’s observation as to a veterinary screw up isn’t out of line with the view expressed by Hansen. She said the vet in Eagle screwed up. Hansen then added that though she wasn’t there; she would take the blame as the person in charge.

She may have taken the blame, but there have been no consequences for her or for the Eagle vet. All of the consequences have fallen on the Neffs, whose small business is tied to running and promoting sled dogs.

“Who was the vet in Eagle anyway?” Olivia asked Wednesday morning.

The question hung in the air.

Hugh broke the silence. He said he’s just trying to avoid the internet, where he’s largely taken a beating, and focus on the bright side.

“I’ve never been closer to my wife,” he said, and he added that he enjoyed the support of her grandfather.

“You know what he said?” Hugh asked: “Welcome to the club. They threw me out too.”

CORRECTION: The original version of this story misidentified the Hugh Neff girlfriend who called him from Whitehorse.











73 replies »

  1. Lots going on with these comments. I think everyone is off track. The exception being Rayme with his income statements. I don’t have a sponsor for our 60 dog kennel of misfits. We fund it ourselves. Some $75 rides now and then. I earn more taking Chinese tourists ice fishing…. I remember back in the 90’s I had a year where I showed a profit with the dogs. Made about a nickel an hour….
    Anyway, I’m digressing. All of this discussion about Boppy. One dog. Yes he is very important and his death should not have happened or be overlooked. But…… all of the time spent on Boppy …..
    might some of the time be better spent trying to educate pet owners on the conditions they keep house dog pets in? I can tell you how many “pets” are put down on purpose by their owners every year, but the statistics would stagger you. And the reasons given. Look it up for yourself. You will be astounded, saddened and disgusted.
    Boppy had a pretty good life while he was alive. He was handled by people who cared for him. He got to run with his buddies. Yeah, he ran hard sometimes, he was cold and tired. Me too sometimes. That doesn’t mean I hate being cold and tired, though. I would rather freeze my ass to death out in the woods than have some well-meaning soul make me sit in a nice warm safe office where I would die of a boredom attack. Animals are like that too.
    You don’t think so? Take a look at the wolverine that used to live at the Alaska Zoo. That was the saddest thing I’ve ever seen. I have a German Shepard from the Shepard rescue who spent the first 8 months of his life in a dog crate— getting out for. 10 minute walk once a day. His owners said he was “too active” so they dumped him.
    Boppy is one dog…. he had it pretty good for awhile…nobody killed him on purpose. There are several MILLON animals who get sent to the shelter to be euthanized every year because they dig holes in the yard.


      • Sure Bill. I am not suggesting that mushing doesn’t have a problem. I have spent the last 30 years banging my head against that wall trying to fix it. My point was this; the way mushers deal with their kennels is just a small part of a huge problem. Personally, I feel I can’t have much impact on the larger problem, so I pick my battles: dog care in our mushing kennels. However, Everyone needs to be very aware of the roots of our issues if we are going to ever have the balls to step forward and fix anything.
        I don’t know if Hugh’s suspension is warranted or not. I wasn’t there. Warranted or not— it is good that a race organization besides the Gin Gin 200 or the Taiga 300 took a stand. Our tiny organization has no visibility, so when we disqualified a 3rd place finisher for inadequate dog care, no one noticed. Nor did anyone take note when Nina Hansen removed a couple of teams from the 300 on another year for the same reason.
        Look at the big picture and maybe we can fix our little portion of it?

      • John: I largely agree. Boppy, sad thou his death, is something of a distraction here. There are bigger issues, much bigger issues, and they include the one you mentioned in your original note: finances.

        There are mushers who cut corners because they have to, because they can’t afford to do otherwise. And now we’re in a situation where most who think they’re going to “compete” in Irod or the Quest believe they have a big dog lot which ratchets up costs for food, vaccinations, stool sample testing (does anyone do that), treatment of injuries and on and on.

        Your idea to limit the kennel size of competitive mushers might be a very good one. There are some people who would pitch a fit at forcing any sort of separation between sled-dog tour businesses and competitive mushing, but separating the two – so the people who aren’t heavily engaged in the former aren’t raising 100 or more dogs to try to compete in the latter – might be a good idea.

        Likewise for vets getting more proactive during races. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize a team that has been run ragged.

      • OK Craig-it seems like John didn’t like where this post was going (commenters were off-track and he and Rayme are on) and now you are wanting to walk this thing back, too.
        Obvious you both didn’t like where it was going.
        So, just write a new post but I think you both are blundering here in trying to distance yourselves from the comments that showed up. Just my opinion.

      • John was correct . Others were making up lies and mistruthes . For their own ego and gain . There was no cheap shot , just fact mixed with how some folks see it . Myself included. I know how careful you are with your reading. Not talking about you . As everyone is entitled to opinion. Certain people were lying and making stuff up . Trying to dishonesty color people that follow the law . We all live in some form of a glass house . Including the people twisting the truth to make a trap for fools . Per the poem If .

    • John,
      I understand you want to portray yourself as some type of leader in the animal care issue, but the facts speak for itself.
      You and Zoya run an Iditarod dog lot with 60 dogs tethered on chains.
      If you feel 20 is a target for a sustainable kennel, why are you at 60?
      Why did you and Zoya allow an injured dog to leave the starting line of this year’s Irod race?
      Ashley Keith pointed out your dog’s paw was injured and should not race, but your response was “we need this dog”.
      I think that dog team in question only made it to the Skwentna checkpoint before scratching…
      You say you are for DQ a musher with a dead dog on the race trail, yet you jump to Neff’s side in self defense?
      What about K. Keith’s dead Irod dog this year?
      I do not hear you saying she should sit a race or two out.
      You and Ramey do not want change….you prefer “lip service” to any real reform.
      PETA and the activists are too smart for your old tactics, like pumping out ADN “wag the dog” propaganda and forgeting the issue.
      The truth is Neff’s dog was in bad shape….abused.
      Boppy had an ulcer, under weight, worms, muscle wasting and no fat around its heart….as well as inflammation of intestines, and died choking on its own vomit.
      Still you cannot admit a sanction is warranted?
      This is your “best care” B.S. you laud about in your comments?
      Maybe Hugh’s dog is only one dog….but add Keith’s and you have 2 this year DEAD of aspiration pneumonia on the trail.
      How many more finished with ulcers, worms and muscle wasting?
      I think you honestly are struggling because like you said “you have been beating your head against the wall” and no one wants change.
      Well, when no one shows up for your 75 dollar dog rides on your “misfit” kennel, then maybe you can get down to 20 or less dogs?
      I think Ramey has around 50.
      I have 3.

      • Keep lying and making things up Steve ,it becomes you while you sit in your glass house .

      • Rayme, we happen to live in a wooden house, with glass windows overlooking 100 dogs on chains. I’m not too sure where ego comes into play, but we have nothing to gain in this fight except better care for the dogs.

        So make up another handle and throw as many stones as you like, nothing new there. But that doesn’t mean you speak the truth. The truth is this “sport” has some very serious issues with dog abuse and no leadership committed to resolving them.

      • I agree with Steve’s content, and John, I believe the dog’s name is Honey, what about that?

  2. Why all this print wasted on dog mushing? Minor league Peruvian baseball is 10x more interesting.

  3. There is a real disconnect between the way mushers view themselves, the image they portray to their “fans,” and the reality of what’s going on at their races and kennels. Neff isn’t going to admit there was anything he could have done to prevent Boppy’s death. I cannot recall a single case where a musher admitted wrongdoing in the case of a dog death. They either say nothing, or make something up to offer a plausable explanation…like blame it on genetics.

    Both Neff and the race staff are at fault here. Nina Hansen might “accept responsibility” but she won’t be facing any consequences herself. She was swift to call the police on a well respected reporter, yet she never reported Neff’s case of dog abuse to the authorities. In many states it is illegal to “overwork” an animal, whereas the circumstances surrounding Boppy’s death could result in criminal charges, not merely a sanction from a charitable organization.

    Over and over the mushers have advocated for the exclusion of sled dogs from animal welfare laws, yet self regulation has been a complete failure. The musher mantra is “we treat our dogs like family,” when in reality these dogs are chained to boxes and barrels by the dozen, even by the hundreds, spinning around in circles that are clearly visible from satellite images on Google Earth. Many of these dogs are chained up for days, weeks, sometimes months of end. Then they are driven to the brink of exhaustion. Who treats family like that? Its all a big fat lie, protected by a big stonewall and a bunch of hypocritical bullies.

  4. It’s pretty common for athletes stressed to the maximum- nutritionally, due to extreme temps (heat or cold), or otherwise to suffer disorientation, blackouts and seizures.

    My friend Ari almost died running the Boston Marathon when he overheated, collapsed before the finish line, got carried over the line by other runners – thrown in ice bath, cooled too fast, thrown in warming blanket, rushed to ICU. He is lucky he made it! Alberto Salazar, the marathoner, had his last rights read to him at least once at the finish line. Both Ari and Alberto blacked out from over heating along with over exertion.

    I doubt Boppy’s seizure was the primary cause of illness and death- but rather a symptom of emaciation, and stress due to exercise and extreme cold. I doubt a detailed necropsy of the brain would show anything- if there was a tumor that would show up but I don’t think other issues would be visible.

    The role of a the sled dog race veterinarians is a bit obscure to me. Seems like the mushers are generally free to proceed if they wish, in which case the vets are just a feel-good measure. Do vets ever actually pull a dog from the race against the will of the musher?

    Unless a musher has a full-time job outside of dogs that pays the bills, and mushing is just a very expensive hobby, they are financially reliant on their dog team. They are living a remote lifestyle, usually in locations without very many “real” and high-paying jobs by profiting from mushing, in some form or another (race winnings, sponsors, kennel tours, speaking fees, books, puppy/dog sales). It’s not an easy lifestyle, but one could argue it’s easier than the 9 to 5 grind, if you want to be your own boss and love living out in remote Alaska.

    • Kiersten: i tended to agree with you more until i got this from a very experienced Interior vet and former chief veterinarian, who is a stickler for dog care and no Hugh Neff fan:
      “I don’t know why dogs aspirate and often die of the resulting pneumonia, but it happens even to sled dogs at home in their dog houses. I wonder if there is some underlying endocrine issue in these dogs, such as hypothyroidism. Don’t see this in other breeds.”
      if the aspiration had happened while Boppy was running, i would have been more inclined to suggest stress as one who personally done a couple Bob Kempanien’s at the end of marathons. but Boppy had arrived Clinton Creek, eaten and rested for sometime before having a seizure; then being brought inside; and then regurgitating.
      would it have been better if Boppy had been left in Eagle? for Hugh, certainly. but there’s no way to know that the dog WOULDN’T have aspirated there and died on the dropped dog chain.
      i would guess Boppy and Salazar did have one thing in common: extremely low body fat. Salazar told Runner’s World after his heart attack he was at 158 pounds with 4.9 percent body fat. his race weight was 144.
      i’d guess if he’d died during his competitive racing days and they’d done an autopsy, they’d have found him with little or no fat around his organs, too.
      but then again, he wasn’t doing any running at 50 degrees below zero, and stressing his body to produce heat as well as energy to stay alive in those conditions. i do believe what happened in the Quest does underline the fact something should be done about skinny, skinny dogs.

      • Craig there is a reason why sled dogs suffer “aspiration pneumonia” more than other breeds.
        #1 reason is Stress.
        #2 reason is NSAIDs (fed from a very young age)
        #3 ulcers developing from the above 2 causes.
        Dr. Davis has this well documented with peer review from colleagues such as Dr. Hansen.

      • Do dogs ever die from aspiration pneumonia in races shorter than 1000 miles? Dogs in their houses: July? Mid-winter? Post race?

  5. Steve, Are you trying to sound like the biggest fruitcake ever? Doing a fair job of it if you are.

  6. Slight, off-the-main-subject correction: Referring to Leroy as “one of” the Quest founders is like giving Joe Sr. credit for being “one of” Iditrod’s founders. In a strict language-use sense, both are true because they had a lot of helpers. As Dick Mackey puts it, Joe was the general, but was aided by a lot of lieutenants he inspired and recruited. Let’s not put anyone else on their level. Truly, they were “Fathers” of their respective races.

  7. Steve Stine,Hugh and I have never done this for money. We do it because we love Alaska and our dogs. Its been in my family for generations. Its called Alaska’s number 1 sport. We both have full time jobs! Obviously you don’t know anything about dog mushing. Has anyone ever met a musher that said he wanted to run dogs so he can make a lot of money??? Maybe Steve you should look up sled dog glacier tourism because that’s the only way I’ve seen a way to survive off of dogs.

      • Steve if you saw my last 20 years taxes you would stop with the money angle . I probably have one of the best spend to earn ratios in mushing and I don’t even come close to making any money. I try but it’s just not mathematically possible unless you are in hard core tourism buisness. I hate to tell you but my taxes show I spent 100 k on dog related care last year . That’s 4/5 of whole quest purse . So you need to stop . You are barking up wrong tree . Granted last year was worse than usual due to rising costs of everything. Decent dog food is 6-8 Times what it was when I was a kid . Now almost 70$ per 40 # . For dry food . Kind I feed . My normal kennel expenses are in the 40+ k range . Crazy but true . Doesn’t even count time off work to race . So please abandon the nutcase angle of mushers race for profit .

      • Ramey,
        Even a “nutcase” knows cash and income come in various ways to the dog lot…
        Like your Alaska Communications Sponsor.
        Mushers sell dogs (like the one you said you bought from Dallas)
        I think Hugh sells them as well.
        Then there is the “fruitcakes” from America that give mushers cash.
        Why I have no idea.
        The purse at the end of race can be 50K for the winner.
        Maybe cash along race trail…like first into McGrath?
        Maybe some cash speaking at an event or co-authoring a book about mushing in AK.
        Then the puppy tours.
        Everyone likes to pet the puppy.
        I never said PROFIT.
        I have always said “racing dogs for money or income”.
        That is true.
        Your insults only further show your ignorant approach to reform.
        Just the other day you said if things don’t change this sport may not be around in 10 years.
        That was one of the most perceptive comments I have read from you.
        PETA is protesting Irod sponsors in America all summer.
        At some point, they will be over the folks chained to blue barrels outside their office.

      • Steve you are struggling with basic English concepts. . Doing something for money as in a wage earner or buisness man . Or the other concept doing something with money- such as mountain climbers, dog mushers ect . Good luck !

      • Ramey,
        Bob Dylan said it best…
        “You gotta serve somebody”
        You can twist the Vernacular all you wish.
        The concept remains.
        Cash comes in.
        Advertising, Marketing and Promotions go out to Sponsors.
        You are doing things “for” Alaska Communications as well….they like seeing their logo on your truck, coat, etc.
        Just like Canadian Down was benifiting from Lance Mackey wearing their stuff.
        I suspect if all the corporate sponsors got out of the “business” there would not be so many mushers looking to run these events.
        I saw that K &L Distributors and Jack Daniels were sponsors of the Quest…great marketing for our youth in da North!

      • Steve . You have shown your true colors . You have no interest in learning or understanding other people .Your mind is like a wall . Basic English escapes you . My grandfather said it best . Talking to some people is like talking to a post . Good luck !

  8. “he doesn’t know what more he could have done to save the dog that died in this year’s race.”

    Well bro,
    I know the level of intelligence in AK seems pretty low these days, but YOU can start by not viewing dogs as a source of income and viewing them as “Sentient Beings”…
    That means they know that they exist and (are stuck on a chain) feel pain, stress, fear…
    Treat them like you would your partner and not an object of ownership.
    If you started this race weighing 150lbs and finished a little over 120, you would not feel too good or think that was OK, yet you are claiming 45 lbs down to 32 lbs is OK?
    Dude, my 8 month old Huskys just weighed 53 lbs at the vet (and I ski jor and exercise them daily).
    You are way off base to me.
    What about your dog’s ulcer?
    What about the worms?
    What about the inflamed intestine?
    What about forcing them to endure 50 below temps for your personal gain?
    The truth is your “sport” is not humane in anyway…
    This is not against mushing, but your sponsered dog racing culture.
    Obviously, you will not help to make any changes or reforms in the abuse cycle.
    Continue to put your head in the sand, but don’t worry, PETA is on da Case and this running of dogs to their death will not continue much longer, that I am certain of.

      • Also this was weight at necropsy at least a day or more after the dog expired. A lot of weight loss due to dehydrating post mortem occurs when any living thing dies. I dont know the timeline exactly, but at those temps the remains may have even frozen and required thawing prior to necropsy. All that said, the necropsy weight may be a little misleading.

      • Bill,
        Thanks for catching my “typo”…150lbs minus 16 percent of body weight would be 126lbs.
        Quite the skinny musher…

      • Bill,
        From what I have researched many marathon runners actually put on weight during training season and then during their “race” they might loose a full pound…
        So, at 150 or 160 lbs, loosing only 1 pound is a very low percentage of their body weight (like less than 1 percent).
        So by Neff’s dog loosing 16 percent of it’s weight, it is obviously an inhumane act of animal cruelty occurring during these epic races.
        Below is a quote from…
        “If you average running 8 mph duringthe marathon and weigh 160 pounds, you burn an average of 979 calories per hour, according to HealthStatus. By the end of the race, you will burn about 3,200 calories, which results in burning nearly 1 pound of body fat.Sep 11, 2017”

      • Steve: i ran a lot of marathons. in some of them, i lost as much as 10 pounds. i was at that time racing at (or trying to race at) 175. i don’t know about anyone putting on weight during training season. i was always trying to lose weight during training season while running 100 to 130 miles per week. it was a bitch for me to get to 175 and friends would accuse me of looking gaunt. my body fat was under 10 percent. the 10 pounds of weight lost was, of course, water and showed serious dehydration. but the degree of hydration, whatever the degree, would be a major issue with a dog in necropsy.

      • I believe your blunder here is in trying to compare these athletes to marathon runners. You might (stress might) be able to make a comparison if marathon runners did their thing every day for up to 10-12 days in a row. And of course, anything like that would probably require significantly different training regimens too. Then throw in 50 below zero!


        and i’d guess if you looked around you could find many others. not to mention my old friend Tim Hewitt:

        1,000 miles, sub 20 days; that’s a healthy 50 miles per day with no human musher to cook his meals, put out straw on which to sleep, and tend to his feet….

      • Also this was weight at necropsy at least a day or more after the dog expired. A lot of weight loss due to dehydrating post mortem occurs when any living thing dies. I dont know the timeline exactly, but at those temps the remains may have even frozen and required thawing prior to necropsy. All that said, the necropsy weight is misleading.

      • “They’re the Arctic equivalent of an Ethiopian marathon runner,” notes (Dr. Mike) Davis.

        Bill, the most renowned race veterinarians have made this comparison. But you are correct, one marathon run by a human athelete is difficult to compare to dogs expected to run FOUR MARATHONS A DAY FOR TEN DAYS IN A ROW. This pace is too much for the dogs. Throw in the -50F temps and the whole thing just becomes a huge sufferfest. If there was no prize money at the end of the trail, they wouldn’t be doing it.

      • “This pace is too much for the dogs.” Just your opinion Laura and lots of teams have proven its not too much for the dogs. That said, nothing wrong with changing things to minimize the mistakes (such as made by Neff) so that individual dogs don’t suffer.
        Some of this might just be that mushers often reach their own limits and when they do they can make strategic mistakes (can cost the race) that can cause their dogs to suffer. Not much different than pet owners make the same mistakes and how does one go about insuring nothing suffers? We don’t.

      • Bill: have you ever actually crunched the numbers? the dogs appear to be at their limit on pace. there’s no sign these last few races have been won by faster dogs. they’ve been won by cutting rest. there were some back-in-the-pack teams running as fast as the winner this year. they just rested more. so how far down does one burn the candle of less rest before it actually begins to harm dogs?

      • Craig, appearing to be at their limit on pace is not the same thing as “this pace is too much for the dogs,” which is what I objected to.

    • Remember the question is was neff treated fairly under existing rules .Steve I don’t have time to explain fallacy in your logic as it’s endemic through your statement. Couple examples my dad started first Iditarod at 230# finished Iditarod at 180# that’s about 20% weight loss . He said he felt best he ever had in life . Like he could fly . He could run across Norton sound and pedal behind the sled and make the sled leap off the ground. There are first hand reports if him letting his team run free while he would run to teams behind him clapping and encouraging other people’s dogs for the full 50 miles . A string of teams followed him that way one year . I lost 10% of my weight this training season. Bottom line , weight loss in itself is not always bad . Personally I’m against weight loss in Iditarod dogs if it goes beyond 10% -15% as that could mean dog was over weight prior or has minimal reserves . Can you imagine the boom bust cycle wolves go through? Kenyan marathoners get so skinny it’s incredible. Wish I could . The concept of mushing for financial gain is so ludicrous I don’t have time to address . I promise you that statement is so far wrong you would get an f on a college paper . I know you are pushing for improvement but you must find where accuracy can help . To some degree we have the same cause . Make it better for sled dogs .

    • Challenge to all of you who cannot understand Steve’s comments is to just watch The Earthlings and hopefully get some understanding. This is supposed to be a place for “…and Thinkers”, can you take the challenge of taking some new information, a mental challenge.

  9. The press release was unprofessional. Either a hit price or an inept release by well intentioned people,hopefully.Not fair to anyone. Neff , fans , sponsors,volunteers, vets or quest . Fix the rules a bit . My father was right there with Leroy shank getting the quest started. I’ve read accounts of the early meetings . It’s always been bit dramatic and political. Just bringing two countries together to put on a lasting race is impressive. A lot of what James and Leroy ( primary founder) said is true. Eric Jayne is probably top 5 best sled dog vet ever . A very scientific logical reasonable mind . What he said holds a lot of truth . I’m sad to say the quest handled this all wrong.

    • Sure Ramey,
      You would like to have seen it handled more like K.Keith’s dead aspiration pneumonia dog on the Irod trail this year.
      No Censure at all.
      No Necropsy report released.
      Business as usual for ITC.

      • Steve . Are you off your rocker ? K Keith dog was a disaster for all . Everyone!! From dogs to fans . You know I believe in transparency and all dogs alive no matter what . You saw my rule proposal write up . If you were trying to say something crazy to make me respond you were successful.

  10. Where was the dog reported to be underweight at the start? Made it through pre race vet checks so he must not have been too bad?

  11. Grandpa Shank is right on. The Quest “club” know they screwed up. They had a vet in their club that let a sick dog go on when it should have been pulled. Their mistake resulted in a dog death. And Neff is being thrown under the bus to pay for stupidity on the club’s part. The club’s vet hasn’t even been named, much less disciplined.

    Besides being a good ole boys/girls club, the Quest also shows it’s utter cluelessness in organizing an event. Event organization 101: Don’t change the event rules after the event is over. And always inform participants of a rule change ahead of time.

    As Craig pointed out, aspiration pneumonia has been the cause of dog deaths in the Quest and the Iditarod in the past. But never have mushers been banned for this death, because there is no proof that such a death is due to the actions of the musher.

    So where in Quest rules is the new rule for this year: “Any musher who has a dog die of aspiration pneumonia will be banned from future Yukon Quest races”? This is not stated in Quest rules. The “ruling” made is a twist of an existing law that has not been applied in the same manner in the past. In other words, this is easy pickings for a lawyer to hit the Quest hard with a lawsuit. I hope this happens. The Quest is a vulnerable financial entity, so a lawsuit may mortally wound the Quest. But whatever. A Yukon Quest without Neff is not a Yukon Quest.

    • It may just be something on the order of Groucho Marx’ statement about “not being one to join a club that would have him as a member.” I ran a bit with Leroy Shank in 82 Iditarod and he sure seemed like a reasonable dog man, to me. For him to mention “welcome to the club” to his relative sounds “reasonable enough” but I don’t know the details of his own getting kicked out so will leave it at that.
      As for the “aspiration pneumonia,” I don’t believe that Neff was penalized for that, specifically.

      • Bill, Maybe read the article again. Neff said the Quest banned him for a dog death. The Quest said Boppy died from aspiration pneumonia. Therefore Neff was banned for a dog death due to aspiration pneumonia. Simple reasoning. Quest dog deaths have occurred via this ailment in the past. Mushers in the past were not punished when this happened. Neff is being punished because rules are being changed on the fly by the Quest, without first informing the paying (entry fee) client (musher). Simple reasoning. I guess you ain’t no lawyer, eh Bill?

      • Well James, I do think its your reasoning that’s at fault here. And that’s because my reading of this incident is that Quest banned Neff for his poor dog care (particularly Boppy). I will grant you that, had the dog not died, there would not have been a necropsy to fall back on.

        Here is another poster (Jeffrey A Benowitz) from a couple of days ago on an earlier post of Craig’s (Dogged journalism) “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.”
        We know about the Eagle vet that wrote up Boppy but we don’t know what else was at Neff’s decision to keep the dog in his team. I suspect that Neff will admit to his “blunder” at not recognizing the condition of his own dog here-could be due to his needing this dog (who apparently didn’t know quit) or could have been just his own thinking at the time.

        None of us were there (Eagle) but at least one vet and Neff were and they are the two who know the situation there. Vet made a call that turned out to be “spot on” and Neff over-ruled that call. My feelings still are that not all vets have the cojones to “pull” a dog that should be pulled, especially if the musher insists on keeping the dog in harness.

      • Bill: you’re assuming facts not in evidence. we don’t know what the vet at Eagle said. nobody has talked to the vet. what we know is what the vet wrote as to the dog’s condition in the vet book: “poor.” and that the vet didn’t tell Neff NOT to take the dog.
        i wish now i’d asked Neff more about that. mistake on my part.
        for all i know, the vet could have said he thought poor old Boppy would be fine to Dawson where it would be a lot easier to drop him than at Eagle.
        and this is clearly about the dog death, not the overall condition of the dog, unless the Quest is planning to go back through all the vet books, find any other dogs listed as “poor,” and apply the Neff penalty to any musher who continued on along the trail with a dog rated “poor.”
        and i’m not even sure what “poor” means. it would be interesting to know what the rating on that Patrick Beall dog that became an issue in the move “Sled Dogs.”
        the vet at Rainy clearly wanted Beall to drop that dog. he kept it in the team, and it went all the way to Nome. it certainly couldn’t have been rated excellent or good from what the vet is saying in the film. and would a vet rate it fair while lobbying the musher to drop it?

      • I’m not assuming anything, relative to facts Craig.
        As you say, we don’t really know what took place between vet and Neff @ Eagle. And we don’t know just exactly what that vet meant by “poor” but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that said vet had concerns about Boppy and wrote his condition that, under the circumstances, turned out to be “spot on.”
        I still maintain that Neff was banned because of poor dog maintenance in this race and further, without said necropsy there would have probably not have been enough evidence to do what was done. How does the race fix this, I have no idea.

      • Bill: you’re assuming a cause and effect. the dog’s condition was poor, thus it aspirated and died. Hugh is responsible.
        but it’s unknown whether the aspiration had anything to do with the dog’s condition. note this in a personal communication from a former chief vet, a stickler for dog care and certainly no friend of Hugh Neff:
        “I don’t know why dogs aspirate and often die of the resulting pneumonia, but it happens even to sled dogs at home in their dog houses. I wonder if there is some underlying endocrine issue in these dogs, such as hypothyroidism. Don’t see this in other breeds.”
        so now we have two alternative theories as to why the Bo0py aspirated – the first being Eric Jayne’s believe that Boppy picked up an infectious disease in Eagle and now this one.
        would it have been better if the dog had been dropped in Eagle? for Neff, certainly. no dead dog, no necropsy, no ban, no discussion about when a dog is too skinny or not.
        for Boppy? we don’t know. he could have died on the dropped dog chain at Eagle.
        what i’m really interested in now is how the Quest is going to apply this precedent going forward. the Quest’s chief vet is on record saying Neff’s dog should have been pulled at Eagle. is the Quest going to stick to that next year and pull every dog that scores “poor”?
        what exactly is the rating system for “poor”? and what happens if a musher disagrees with the rating?
        does the vet pull the dog anyone? does the musher opt for Quest-roulette knowing that if anything happens to the dog he/she gets Neffed?
        can the Quest allow a musher to play Quest-roulette after this year suggesting it can stop dog deaths by pulling “poor” dogs from teams?
        the Rayme Smyth suggestion of a no-fault, dog-dies-you’re-done rule is looking better and better.

      • Craig, I assumed nothing of the sort.
        The necropsy, besides showing what the dog died of, showed that the dog was poorly maintained and that was why Neff was banned. Granted, without that necropsy, it would have been difficult to show just how poorly Boppy was maintained.
        It would be speculation, on any lay person, to assume the dog’s poor condition caused that aspiration but it would not be particularly absurd either IMO.
        At any rate, I said nothing about what caused the aspiration.

      • Bill: you’re assuming a cause and effect, ie. the dog’s condition was poor and as result it aspirated and died. thus Neff’s poor dog care is to blame.
        but we really don’t know if the dog’s condition had anything to do with the aspiration or not. i’d note this observation in a personal communication with a former chief vet, one who was a stickler for dog care and would certainly not cut Hugh Neff any slack:
        “I don’t know why dogs aspirate and often die of the resulting pneumonia, but it happens even to sled dogs at home in their dog houses. I wonder if there is some underlying endocrine issue in these dogs, such as hypothyroidism. Don’t see this in other breeds.”
        so now we have to vets suggesting alternative theories for Boppy’s aspiration; vet Eric Jayne’s theory being that the dog picked up a contagious disease Eagle.
        would it have been better if Boppy had been dropped in Eagle? for Neff, certainly. if there’s no dead dog, none of the rest of this scenario develops.
        for Boppy? who knows.
        he might have aspirated while on the dropped dog cable in Eagle and died there.

      • Craig, you keep insisting that I assumed what I did not. Why??
        The only thing I’m assuming is that Neff and the vet in Eagle had some conversation about why that vet wrote up Boppy. I think that’s a reasonable assumption but whether/not we ever hear about it is immaterial IMO.
        For whatever reason the vet felt that Boppy was in poor condition (that may/may not have had to do with severe cold conditions) and Neff thought the dog looked OK and he kept Boppy in his team. The dog had issues (siezure) and Neff attempted to take care of the dog and he died. We don’t know whether/not Boppy would have aspirated had he been dropped in Eagle but we do know that he did die by not being dropped in Eagle. The Quest has banned Neff because of his poor dog care and it appears that much of that determination is due to the necropsy.
        My position here is that Eagle vet and Neff did not agree on a particular dog and Neff chose to ignore the vet’s advice. We’ll never know whether/not Boppy would have survived if being dropped in Eagle but we know how he fared by not being dropped in Eagle. I still maintain Neff made the wrong choice and he, of all people, should have known that Boppy was in trouble and he took him into what he knew was serious conditions.
        He fucked up and now has been banned for what I believe is good reason.

      • Do dogs ever die from aspiration pneumonia in races shorter than 1000 miles? “Dogs in their houses”: July? Mid-winter? Post race?” Your persistent assumption that the Quest is connecting the aspiration pneumonia is just that; your assumption. Do you have a single quote from the Quest doing so. I agree 100% with Bill on this one. Dr Hansen said the Dog *probably* should have been pulled. Neff insists the vets should have told him the dog’s condition in spite of him signing off his vet book. That seems to be two votes, one from each side, for vets pulling dogs in future.

      • Pete: it’s not an assumption. the Quest says the penalty is because Neff’s dog died and, they suggest that he, or more properly his substandard dog care, were the reason. no aspiration pneumonia = no dog death = no issue = no sanction.
        the sanction and the aspiration pneumonia are bound at the hip unless you’re suggesting that even if Boppy had lived, the Quest would have sanctioned Neff. i have a hard time buying that.
        but your first question is a good one, and i don’t know the answer. records on shorter races are not readily availabe, and i’m not sure all races keep them. i do remember one at CB300, mainly because it was quickly known widely and race officials did much fretting over what to say.
        i know of dog deaths in the Anchorage Fur Rondy over the years, but i’m not sure if those dogs were necropsied.
        and Gareth Wright’s “Jenny” became famous for almost pulling him from sixth to victory (he finished 2nd) in the ’61 Rondy and then dying. if i remember Bill Vaudrin’s book, he claimed a heart attack, but i’m pretty sure Jenny died some hours after the race. i don’t think she was necropsied.
        i did not ask the vet in question about the time of year of dogs dying in their houses, but if you are interested in talking to that vet, let me know and i’ll see if i can hook you up.

  12. Thanks for giving the race conditions at time and place of this event, Craig. It really puts into perspective what was occurring for both musher and dogs. Unless you have personally dealt with these conditions, IMO, you just cannot know of the seriousness of how things can go from bad to more bad.

  13. Boppy was reported to be underweight at the start of the Yukon Quest. Neff and veterinarians are guilty in the case of Boppy’s death.

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