Sled dog Dorado was found dead at an Iditarod checkpoint on March 15 four days after he had been removed from the "Last Great Race on Earth" because he was suffering from sore muscles and not able to keep up with the team. The death was the first Iditarod dog death since 2009, when six dogs died. The cause of death was asphyxiation after being buried in snow by extreme winds, organizers of the 1,000-mile race said.
Dorado, a five-year-old Husky, belonged to the team of Iditarod rookie Paige Drobny of Fairbanks, 38, who continued in the race with the rest of her team, finishing in 34th place. Drobny noticed that Dorado was struggling and pulled him from the competition, leaving him at the Unalakleet checkpoint to wait that night for transportation home.
"[Iditarod Trail Corporation (ITC)] does not believe it or any others acted negligently in any way relating to the death of Dorado or that Dorado's death was foreseeable," a statement from the race organizers, ITC, says.
Race officials said the severe weather prevented planes from landing, so more than 130 dropped dogs accumulated at the village. According to several reports, more than two dozen race volunteers moved as many dogs as possible, druing the night placing slightly more than 100 inside an available hangar, according to organizers. The rest of the dogs, including Dorado, were moved to a more protected area considered the safest place to minimize accumulation of blowing snow. But Dorado was found dead after the next check at 8:30 a.m. Race organizers said seven other dogs also were covered with snow, and all except Dorado were in good condition.
While not optimal, organizers said, it isn't typically a condition that would cause alarm. "Sled dogs generally curl up in weather conditions such as this and are insulated by the snow," they said.
Drobny's husband, Cody Strathe, stated that the couple asked the ITC to develop new protocols for the care of dogs that have been dropped from the race to Nome on Alaska's wind-battered coast.
The ITC said planned changes include construction of dog shelters at two major checkpoints, and more frequent checks on the animals.
"This type of self-examination is an important part of ITC's historical commitment to the improvement of the welfare of the canine athletes that annually participate in the Race," officials said in a statement.
Unalakleet, 260 miles from Nome, is one of the two communities where the so-called dog boxes will be built for shelter. The village is a major hub for dogs removed from the race for various reasons, including injury, sickness or tiredness.
Another planned change is more frequent flights to transport dropped dogs more quickly from checkpoints that are not on Alaska's limited road system.
Animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is pushing for charges to be filed against Drobny and race volunteers who handled Dorado prior to his death. PETA is also urging sponsors to pull out of the race.