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PETA seeks probe of Iditarod dog deaths

PETA has asked Alaskan law enforcement officials to launch a criminal investigation into the deaths of five dogs who ran in this year’s Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race to determine if four mushers should be charged under the state’s cruelty-to-animals law.

The PETA letter cites Alaska State Statute 11.61.140, which prohibits a person from knowingly inflicting “prolonged suffering on an animal.”

According to news reports, Grasshopper and Dizzy, both belonging to musher Lou Packer of Wasilla, apparently froze to death in high winds and sub-zero temperatures. Two other dogs, Omen and Maynard, who were under the care of mushers Rick Larson and Warren Palfrey, died of pulmonary edema, or excess fluid in the lungs. Race veterinarians have been unable to determine what caused the death of Victor, the first dog to die in this year’s Iditarod.

A study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine found that after a 1,100-mile race, 81 percent of dogs had “abnormal accumulations” of debris in their lower airways. PETA also cites a Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine article about the Iditarod that revealed 61 percent of dogs who were studied exhibited an increased frequency of gastric erosions or ulcers after completing the race.

“The Iditarod is more than a thousand miles of torment for these dogs,” says PETA Director Debbie Leahy. “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.”

PETA’s letter was sent to the director of Alaska’s State Troopers. A spokeswoman for the troopers  said  the state law PETA cites in asking for the investigation does not generally apply to accepted dog mushing contests.