First it was Canadians and Danes angry at Alaska’s “Last Great Race;” now it’s the French.
Musher Sebastien Dos Santos Borges from Chazey-Bons, France and his supporters don’t think the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race did nearly enough to try to rescue a dog of his named Leon left in the care of race officials in the village of Ruby on the Yukon River during this year’s competition.
Borges’ accusation comes on the heels of the race penalizing two women mushers for taking their dogs into a deserted shelter cabin along the Bering Sea coast to make them more comfortable as a storm raged.
More than two weeks have passed since Leon escaped race handlers and the odds that he is still alive grow slimmer by the day.
Leon had enough energy left to bolt from the dropped dog holding area the next day, run around the village with villagers unable to catch him, and then disappear into the wilderness. The Iditarod subsequently put out a statement saying it was “heartbroken” over his disappearance.
Leon “escaped on Sunday, March 13, around noon by slipping out of his coat and then slipping out of his collar. At that point, notifications were made and Iditarod Air Force pilots were directed to look for Leon,” the statement said.
“The alert activated two separate snowmachine searches that afternoon; one headed north in the direction from Cripple to Ruby, which had spotted Leon not far south of Ruby, but that effort was unsuccessful. Later that day, another snowmachine was deployed from Ruby south on the trail towards Cripple and Leon was spotted. That effort was also unsuccessful as Leon diverted into a wooded stream valley with deep, soft snow, making pursuit on foot or snowmachine almost impossible.”
The statement went on to detail the efforts Iditarod put into trying to find the dog in the days that followed:
- Arrangements were made to fly Leon’s dog handler from Anchorage to Ruby.
- The Iditarod provided the dog handler with accommodations at a local bed and breakfast (B&B) and an Iditarod phone to use to ensure efficient communication.
- After Borges and his team, which had continued along the trail after dropping Leon, was rescued from a storm as the race was coming to an in Nome, the race flew Borges to Ruby and provided him a room at the local B&B and an Iditarod phone.
- A flier was produced and distributed in Yukon River villages with a photo of Leon, descriptions of his timidness, an advisement (sic) to not engage in a chase and the announcement of a $1,000 reward for efforts leading to Leon’s safe return.
- And assisted “others in a plan with musher Nic Petit, who flew via helicopter to Nikolai to follow the trail south to McGrath, then north to Ruby/Galena.”
It was the latter statement that seems to have angered Borges and his supporters.
“Under no circumstances did the Iditarod participate in this search by helicopter!” he posted on Facebook over the weekend. “They didn’t even answer our funding calls. If today they want to finance, let them say it clearly, let them indicate that they are financing the helicopter but they are not lying!!! They didn’t do a helicopter search!
“That being (said) their funding will be welcome!!!”
He later added a request to “please share this message on Facebook of Iditarod sponsors or send them a message. You can find the list of sponsors on their Facebook page.”
About the last thing the Iditarod needs are people sharing a musher’s complaint that an organization that bills itself as “all about the dogs” has a cavalier toward caring for dogs. The Iditarod has been under attack by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) for several years now with the animal rights group claiming responsibility for a variety of sponsors abandoning the event.
Given the ongoing fund-raising difficulties, Iditarod this year launched a scheme to try to finance Iditarod operations with a cryptocurrency and non-fungible tokens (NFTs). The latter fund-raising idea is shared with some other sports; the globally popular Liverpool soccer team is thinking it could earn up to $11 million off NFT sales this year, The Athletic reports.
The Mirror, an English newspaper, ranks Liverpool the seventh most popular soccer club in the world with 103.1 million social media followers. Iditarod appears to have about a quarter-million serious fans which makes sponsors still vitally important to fund the logistically complicated and costly task of supplying 40 to 70 mushers and sometimes nearly 1,000 dogs on a 1,000-mile-run across roadless Alaska wilderness.
Cute and cuddly
As part of its fund-raising efforts, the organization has been trying to broaden its appeal to the wider community of dog owners by pitching both the idea that the “race is all about the dogs” and promising to use some of the crypto/NFT earnings to support unspecified canine welfare programs.
Events this year did not help in selling either message.
After mushers Mille Porsild from Willow by way of Denmark and Michelle Phillips from Tagish, Yukon Territory, Canada were punished for taking their dogs into the shelter cabin, PETA told a British newspaper that mushers who didn’t take their dogs into shelters should be charged with cruelty to animals.
And the animal rights group had a field day with a video shot by race winner Brent Sass from Eureka that showed the eyes of his dogs icing shut in a ground blizzard.
“Iditarod ‘winner’ Brent Sass…shared a disturbing video during the race of dogs covered in snow and ice in the blistering wind with, as he described, their faces ‘totally entrenched in snow’ and their eyes ‘all frozen shut,'” a PETA media release after this year’s race said. “In a previous race, he pushed dogs so far beyond their breaking point that he had to call for a rescue.”
And now there’s the continuing plight of Leon.
Borges is still holding out hope and trying to organize further searches. Meanwhile, the Iditarod said it is revising its procedures for handling dropped dogs.
“While in almost all cases, appropriate dog gear and collars are used to ensure safe and secure connections, a single collective mistake is one too many,” the organization said. “Accordingly, we are actively working on updating the standard operating procedures to prevent this from happening in the future and instilling a stronger sense of shared responsibility.”