Poor, lost dog

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.

On Facebook, Borges said, Leon was dropped in Ruby because “my buddy wasn’t hurt or really tired but he would often turn around to look at me and I could read in his eyes he had (had) enough…”

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.”

Efforts made

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.”

15 replies »

  1. No mention that they lost (then found) a second dog. Rick Diehl’s dog Jimbo was also carelessly handled and got loose for at least a day. They eventually found him and it was hush hush on that one too. The Iditarod committee didn’t tell Sebastien they lost Leon for four days, I suppose hoping they would find him before they had to admit their carelessness. Then they didn’t release a photo for those in Ruby and Galena looking for Leon. They didn’t even publicly admit anything, releasing information to the public, for 14 days. By then they had no choice because all of the major news services had already reported the story.

    Then there is the demotion of Mille and Michelle and Riley. Totally unprofessional. Mille didn’t even find out until after she had returned to Denmark and not from the committee. She heard it second hand from Michelle.

    How interesting that three of the four mushers that complained about Mille and Michelle sheltering their dogs also moved up 1-2 spots to pass them in the standings. Meaning more money.

    And what if Mille and Michelle had left their dogs outside and those dogs had died of exposure in the worst storm in years? They’d be fined for that too. The rule book has conflicting rules. They dogs can’t be sheltered but the mushers also have to take care for their dog’s welfare. All this vet exams is supposed to give a humane coating to the race. But they just penalized two women for doing just that. Putting the health and welfare of their dogs over their standing in the race. Because sheltering for as long as they did, they lost TIME.

    Do you think this had anything to do with the fact these were women and from Canada and Denmark?

    Then losing a French dog?

    Kinda sends a message that only Alaskan MEN are acceptable to run the Iditarod.

    As for the committee don’t listen to what they say, look at what they do.

    • Good question to which there might never be an answer. We could probably all dream the dog ran into the unknown dog-lover down river on the Yukon, moved in with him/her, and is living a happy, comfortable, well-fed life as this is written.

  2. There is no excuse for a dog slipping its collar. Joe Redington showed me early in my mushing career how to build one that 100% prevented a dog slipping one or, especially, ever coming unsnapped. If Iditarod wants to inquire of me how to build the Race Father’s collar, i would be glad to show them. Then either such collars could be mandated, or at least advocated. If mushers would rather use their own collars, maybe each checkpoint could be equipped with a supply of Joe’s “never ever an escape” collars the person in charge of dropped dogs could install.

    As far as catching a loose dog, every checkpoint should be supplied with a shackle of 50-fathom length gillnet and instructions on how to set up long wings in a big “V” with a skinny funnel neck at the apex, the converging net walls paralleling each other the last 20-30 feet, only 3-4 feet apart. Any doggy person with intuitive “think like a dog” smarts who has had a little time to observe the loose dog’s patterns can usually strategize a way to set such a trap and with properly educated helpers, subtly herd the dog within the wings. Hopefully, that can be done before “helpful idiots” begin trying to catch the dog by hand, making the animal wary, if not terrified.

    I advocated all of this over forty years ago after inept checkers at Rohn snapped into the wrong part of our dog’s collar, enabling it to get loose, then, while the friendly, but somewhat wary dog followed them everywhere just out of reach for about a week, and it was well-known out on the trail that there was a loose dog at Rohn, no one let me know. The pup was abandoned when they closed the checkpoint down. Iditarod flew me to Rohn to look, but by then all I could find in the new snow was nary a dog track, only the tracks of the local wolf pack which post race converges to clean up dog food leavings.

    • can ya tell us how to build such a collar? when my pup drops weight her once tight collar-not so much.

      • Jeff–you know how to build an old style simple hand-sewn mushers collar, with a web loop on one end and a D-ring on the other that slides tighter-looser within the loop? Joe’s difference is to not sew a stationary ring on the end of the loop to snap in to like most sew there. When you need to tie the dog out, with no ring on the loop, you stuff the webbing of the loop into the snap in a bit of a wad. That wad will never come out through the snap’s accidentally flicked-open gate like a ring will. Never, ever.

        As far as fit goes, sew the collar so that fully expanded, it must be worked a bit to get past the ears. Of course, Once around the neck, the “expansion loop” makes for plenty of comfort and easy breathing. It goes without saying that the neckline snaps into the ring when the dog is hooked up to run.

  3. It’s Sebastian’s fault for not tightening the dog’s collar-especially if he was a shy dog to begin with. That’s pretty basic. Now that the dog is running around without a collar and spooked he will be extremely hard to catch.

    • Seriously? Sebastien wasn’t even there. This was the Iditarod handlers who not only lost the dog but didn’t tell Sebastien for four days, then sent out lost dog notices with NO PHOTO. Totally incompetent.

  4. Sounds like a great job for PETA. Now get out there and beat some bush… show us you hypocrites do more than just kill dogs.

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