Iditarod mushers punished for protecting sled dogs from snowstorm

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A severe winter storm on the latter part of this year’s Iditarod Trail Sled Dog, which ultimately left six mushers scratching the same day, has now cost three more mushers to shelter their dogs at the instead of leaving them outside in the difficult conditions.

Mille Porsild from Denmark, Michelle Phillips from Canada and Riley Dyche from Fairbanks were penalized for taking dogs to shelter cabins to weather the storm with winds so strong they created whiteout conditions, reported the Anchorage Daily News on Friday.

Mille Porsild is seen in Unalakleet, Alaska during the Iditarod Trail sled dog race on March 13, 2022.

Marc Lester/Anchorage Daily News via AP

The decision to punish the mushers was made by race marshal Mark Nordman, who said indoor rest for the dogs was a competitive advantage over teams that dragged them to Nome.

“No doubt Michelle and Mille did the right thing for their dogs,” Nordman said. “But it also affected the competition for runners going forward.”

Porsild moved from 14th to 17th position, while Phillips fell one notch to 18th. Dyche was not downgraded, but was fined $1,000 after authorities determined there were no other mushers near him who were affected by the dogs. who were resting inside.

The lower end position was $3,450 less for Porsild and $1,000 less for Phillips.

The nearly 1,000 mile (1,609 kilometer) race through Alaska was won on March 15 by Brent Sass, who was also affected by the storm as he neared the finish line in Nome. He said he fell off the sled and couldn’t see anything, and thought he was going to have to hunker down with his dogs and ride out the storm.

Mille Porsild's sled dog team at the 2020 Iditarod race.
Mille Porsild’s sled dog team at the 2020 Iditarod race.

Lance King via Getty Images

The demotion of the three mushers, which was not widely publicized by the Iditarod, immediately drew a harsh retort from the race’s foremost critic, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

“Nothing sends a clearer signal that this death race must end than the fact that the Iditarod has fined mushers as punishment for acting to prevent dog deaths,” the vice-president said Friday. PETA Executive Chairperson Tracy Reiman in a statement.

She called for cruelty charges to be brought against mushers who left their dogs outside as they went inside the shelter huts, “Cruelty is built into this deadly race, and there It’s time for this to stop.”

Porsild defended his decision to bring the dogs indoors.

“Stopping and having the dogs in the shelter cabin didn’t give Michelle and I any competitive advantage; on the contrary, we both lost the advantage we had, especially me and my team,” she wrote to Denmark’s Daily News.

Iditarod rules state that dogs cannot be taken inside shelters except for medical examination or treatment by race veterinarians. However, the entry immediately after this in the Iditarod rulebook says, “There shall be no cruel or inhumane treatment of dogs.” Cruel or inhumane treatment involves any action or inaction that causes avoidable pain or suffering to a dog.

Four mushers – Matt Hall, three-time champion Mitch Seavey, Lev Shvarts and former champion Joar Leifseth Ulsom – have filed suit against Porsild and Phillips. Hall and Seavey each moved up a spot when Porsild and Phillips were demoted, and Shvarts moved up two spots.

“There was no doubt in my mind that my dogs sitting unprotected in these conditions could lead to death or death of dog(s),” Porsild wrote in an email to Nordman after the race, explaining why she did. did.

“With no natural windbreaks or materials available to shelter them, I made what I felt was the best choice for my dog’s well-being in this extreme situation,” Phillips wrote on Facebook.

Separately, Dyche also took his team to a different shelter cabin to avoid the storm and was fined for not informing race officials that he had done so.

Dyche told the newspaper he knew it was a violation to bring the dogs inside, but had no choice after failing to improvise a windbreak for them. He said as he sat in the cabin with the dogs for the next 24 hours and heard the winds pounding the cabin, he knew he had made the right decision.

Porsild, who returned to Norway after the race, was not told by race officials about the demotion. She only found out when Phillips told her a few days later.

Phillips announced on Facebook that this was his last Iditarod.

Bette C. Alvarado