Iditarod sledders punished for sheltering dogs during winter storm

A fierce winter storm in the last stretch of this year’s Iditarod Trail Sled Dog, which ultimately forced six mushers to quit the same day, now has seen three mushers punished for sheltering their dogs instead of leaving them outside in the harsh conditions.

Mille Porsild of Denmark, Michelle Phillips of Canada and Riley Dyche of Fairbanks were penalized for taking dogs inside shelter cabins to ride out the storm with winds so strong, they whipped up white-out conditions, the Anchorage Daily News reported Friday.

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

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

Porsild was dropped from 14th to 17th position, while Phillips dropped one notch to 18th. Dyche was not demoted in the standings, but he was fined $1,000 after officials determined there were no other mushers close to him that would have been affected by the dogs resting inside.

The demotion of the three mushers, which was not widely publicized by the Iditarod, immediately drew a harsh retort from the race’s biggest critic, Peta.

“Nothing makes it clearer that this death race must end than the fact that the Iditarod slapped mushers with a fine as punishment for acting to prevent dogs’ deaths,” Peta executive vice-president Tracy Reiman said.

She called for cruelty charges to be filed against mushers who did leave their dogs outside while they went inside shelter cabins. “Cruelty is baked into this deadly race, and it’s time for it to stop.”

Porsild defended her decision bring the dogs inside.

“Stopping and having the dogs in the shelter cabin gave Michelle and I no competition edge. On the contrary: we both lost the edge we had – especially me and my team,” she wrote to the Daily News from Denmark.

Iditarod rules say dogs cannot be taken inside shelters except for race veterinarians’ medical examination or treatment.

Egter, the entry immediately after that one in the Iditarod rule book says: “There will be no cruel or inhumane treatment of dogs. Cruel or inhumane treatment involves any action or inaction, which causes preventable pain or suffering to a dog.”

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

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

The nearly 1,000-mile (1,609km) race across Alaska was won March 15 by Brent Sass.

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