The Herald Bulletin

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March 20, 2013

Iditarod plans changes after sled dog death

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Changes are planned for Alaska's Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race following the asphyxiation death of a dog that was buried in snow by extreme winds, organizers of the 1,000-mile race said Wednesday.

Race officials said they also plan to meet with the owners of 5-year-old Dorado. The dog was found dead at a checkpoint Friday, four days after he was removed from the race because he was moving stiffly. He was kept in Unalakleet to await transportation home.

Dorado belonged to the team of Iditarod rookie Paige Drobny of Fairbanks, 38, who continued in the race with the rest of her team, finishing Thursday in 34th place.

Drobny's husband, Cody Strathe, said this week that the couple asked the Iditarod Trail Committee 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 Iditarod Trail Committee 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.

Race officials declined to assign blame to anyone, including a volunteer veterinarian who last checked on dogs that were tethered outside at the Unalakleet checkpoint around 3 a.m. Friday.

"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," the statement says.

Race officials said the severe weather prevented planes from landing, so more than 130 dropped dogs accumulated at the village.

More than two dozen race volunteers moved as many dogs as possible, 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.

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