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An apparent first: No dogs die in Iditarod

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With the final teams crossing the finish line Saturday night, race officials say not a single dog died in this year’s Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race — possibly a first in the event’s history, the Anchorage Daily News reports.

“To stand there and watch that last team come in, I’ll tell you, is the highlight of my veterinarian career,” chief race veterinarian Stuart Nelson said after the final musher crossed the finish line.

Last year’s race saw six dogs die — from  fluid-filled lungs, hypothermia and, in one case, a rocky airplane ride — prompting People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to demand an investigation of the deaths.

Supporters say the sheer number of dogs — more than 1,100 started the 1,000-mile race this year — make a death inevitable over the two-week competition.

This year, Iditarod organizers increased scrutiny of  rookies, calling for veterinarians and race officials to rate potential Iditarod contenders on their ability to care for themselves and their dogs. Four mushers were asked to complete additional races before competing in the main event.

On Saturday, top finishers said relatively good trail conditions, low temperatures and the lack of a major storm this year helped teams complete the race faster and healthier than in 2009, the Daily News said.

After last year’s high death count, the chief vet had appeared “on edge” at a mushers meeting before this year’s race, said musher Hugh Neff, who finished ninth. “He put out the word to all of us that the dogs were going to be checked more thoroughly and that after what happened last year, we needed to be more vigilant.”

Nelson said he can’t remember a year without any deaths since he became involved in the race in 1986. At least twice, there has only been one death: in 1994 and 1996.

The average number of deaths rose from about two a year in the 1990s to roughly three deaths a year as the field of mushers ballooned to 80 or 90 competitors around 2000, Nelson said.

“I think it’s a pretty safe assumption that this is a first,” he said of the zero deaths in 2010.

The achievement isn’t likely to end criticism of the race.

Margery Glickman of Miami, Fla., who founded the Sled Dog Action Coalition in 1999, says officials still aren’t doing enough to protect dogs.

“If it’s true that there have been no dog deaths, I hope that remains the case for however long this race is run and I hope that they make other improvements,” Glickman said Saturday. She says officials ought to require mushers to take mandatory rests at checkpoints and shorten the length of the race overall to reduce not only deaths but injuries and illness.

(Photo: from BBC’s Frozen Planet series)

Comments

Comment from Juliette Morgan
Time August 6, 2010 at 1:16 pm

That is a big improvement and a big achievement.

Comment from Phil.S
Time August 10, 2010 at 6:51 am

Great news about no deaths – and that the weather was cooler.

Comment from Dogs Toys
Time November 10, 2010 at 8:33 am

It is very good but I have read on the mushers blogs that some deaths of dogs have in the past been due to drunken drivers of snow ploughs.

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