On March 15, volunteers with the Iditarod Trail Committee discovered a five-year-old husky had been buried and asphyxiated by drifting snow in Unalakleet. Wednesday, ITC released the results of an investigation into the death.
The dog, named Dorado, had been dropped at the Unalakleet checkpoint on March 11 by rookie musher Paige Drobny of Fairbanks. But high winds and poor weather on March 14 grounded commercial airplanes and race personnel were unable to fly dropped dogs back to Anchorage. More than 130 Iditarod race dogs were being cared for in Unalakleet, a regional hub along the Iditarod trail.
As the storm became more severe, volunteers moved just over 100 dogs inside. Due to lack of space, they relocated roughly 30 to what they call “a more protected outdoor area.” According to a press release, an Iditarod Trail Committee Volunteer Veterinarian checked on the dogs around 3:00 a.m. At 8:30 a.m. another round of checks took place. Eight dogs were found buried by drifted snow, including Drobny’s dog Dorado, who was found deceased.
Preliminary necropsy results indicate the dog died of asphyxiation. Further results will be available within the next 30 days.
Mushers often drop dogs during the race to prevent injury, illness and sometimes even as part of their race strategy. Dropped dogs are left in the care of volunteer race veterinarians at checkpoints.
Over the last week, Race Marshall Mark Nordman, head Veterinarian Stewart Nelson, as well as Paige Drobny and husband and fellow musher Cody Strathe and other Iditarod personnel have met for a series of discussions on how to improve care of and handling of dropped dogs.
In its press release, the ITC lists a number of mitigation measures to ensure better dog care in the future. The race will build dog boxes to house dogs in both the McGrath and Unalakleet checkpoints. The organization will also arrange for more frequent flights out of checkpoints. Veterinarians will also patrol dog lots where dropped dogs are staying more frequently in the future.
Race officials will continue to work with mushers and volunteers involved on dog care issues. In a post on her kennel’s website, musher Paige Drobny called the ITC’s announcement “positive change.”