An Iditarod dog died at a checkpoint on Friday morning after it was smothered by windblown snow. The dog, five-year-old Dorado, belonged on the team of musher Paige Drobny.
He was found dead on Friday after he and a group of dogs were left outside at Unalakleet. The group was set to be flown back to Anchorage where they would reunite with their owners.
Dorado was left at Unalakleet because he had sore muscles. Iditarod mushers are allowed to start the race with up to 16 dogs. They often leave some at checkpoints as the animals tire. Most mushers end the 1,049 miles later with 10 dogs.
Race marshal Mark Nordman announced the first Iditarod dog death since 2009, adding that drifting snow had covered several of the recuperating dogs when they were checked early Friday morning. Dorado was the only one found deceased.
The death of Dorado will likely hamper efforts by Iditarod officials and mushers who assert the race’s dog-care record is positive. Mushers and officials have defended the record, saying that there is an army of volunteer veterinarians at every check point. Dogs also go through an extensive health screening before each race.
Despite the assurances, animal rights groups like PETA do not support the race. Ashley Byrne, a campaign specialist for PETA, stated, “Our stance on the Iditarod has always been that people who care about dogs should not support the race. It’s a cruel spectacle.”
Mark Nordman added of Dorado’s death, “The entire Iditarod family is mourning this loss. We ask that you support Paige and her family during this difficult time.” The dead Iditarod dog was described as a “shy but happy dog.” He competed last year in the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.
A necropsy was performed on Dorado and determined that the dog’s cause of death was asphyxiation from being buried in the snow. The Iditarod dog’s death follows the announcement that another competitor’s dog who was lost for six days made her way back to the start line alive and healthy.