Iditarod ends, critics seek inquiry into dog deaths
Tue Mar 24, 2009 8:21pm EDT
By Yereth Rosen ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) -
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - Timothy Hunt of Michigan was the final musher to cross the finish line of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday morning, bringing to a close the 1,100-mile (1,800-km) event, which came under fire for an unusually high number of dog deaths.
Hunt of Marquette, Michigan, was the 52nd musher to complete Alaska's most popular sporting event, finishing in 15 days, 14 hours, 6 minutes and 22 seconds, nearly six full days after Lance Mackey claimed his third victory in the Anchorage to Nome race.
Since he was the last musher to finish, Hunt received the "Red Lantern" award -- a reference to the red light at the back of a long train -- meant to signify perseverance.
Amid the Iditarod celebrations and honors, some animal rights activists raised questions about the number of dog deaths.
Iditarod spokesman Chas St. George said, "We've had five deaths associated with the race this year, and that's five too many. The goal is zero fatalities."
Preliminary investigations show that two of the dogs died from pulmonary edemas, or fluid in the lungs, associated with heart abnormalities, St. George said. The cause of death for the three other cases is unknown, he said.
Typically, one or two dogs die during the running of the Iditarod. A sixth Iditarod dog died in a post-competition aircraft incident.
The race has stringent dog-care protocols, which were improved for this year's race with the use of tracking devices that allowed mushers to summon aid if needed, St. George said.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a longtime critic of the race, said the Iditarod's investigations were not good enough and asked the Alaska State Troopers to launch a criminal inquiry.
"The Iditarod is more than a thousand miles of torment for these dogs," PETA Director Debbie Leahy said in a statement.
"Every year, dogs suffer serious injuries and death. The five dogs who paid for this race with their lives deserve justice. And that means holding these mushers accountable under Alaska's very clear cruelty-to-animals law."
The state's police agency said no investigation is planned, unless the race's organizer requests it.
"Unless the Iditarod Trail Committee indicates some concern over the treatment or cause of death of these animals, we do not generally investigate those particular events," it said in a statement. "If someone within the Iditarod Trail Committee or from the public has evidence of behavior that is beyond normal practices of mushing activities, we will gladly look into these acts."
(Editing by Bill Rigby)
1974 Iditarod Red Lantern Award Recipient,
and Burled Arch Finish Line Monument Creator.