Iditarod drama: Three mushers penalized for sheltering dog teams

Nome, Alaska – Three mushers were penalized for sheltering their dogs from a storm during the 2022 Iditarod race. Two lost their finishing positions, and the third was hit with a fine.

Three mushers were penalized for sheltering their dogs during a storm (stock image).
Three mushers were penalized for sheltering their dogs during a storm (stock image).  © 123rf/romeolu

The last leg of the 2022 Iditarod was complicated by a winter storm with white-out conditions.

Even the 2022 winner Brent Sass was affected by the storm, getting knocked off his sled, ABC News reported.

Sass said he thought he was going to have to hunker down and wait out the storm before continuing, but finished and won on March 15, 2022.

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Anchorage Daily News reported that six mushers bowed out of the competition entirely when the storm blew in, and were helped down to a cabin and shelter by search and rescue snowmachiners.

Three other racers decided to hunker down and brought their dog teams inside shelters: Mille Porsild of Denmark, Michelle Phillips of Canada, and Riley Dyche of Fairbanks.

The Iditarod rule book prohibits inhumane treatment of dogs: "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."

But it also stipulates that mushers cannot bring their dogs into shelters during the race unless they are being taken care of by a vet.

Racers defend their decision

The storm also affected the winner of the 2022 Iditarod, Brent Sass.
The storm also affected the winner of the 2022 Iditarod, Brent Sass.  © IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

Porsild and Phillips subsequently lost their finishing positions, after race marshal Mark Nordman decided to demote the racers.

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

The race marshal decided that letting dogs rest inside during the storm counted as a competitive advantage and a violation of Iditarod rule number 37.

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Four other mushers, including three time champion Mitch Seavey, also filed complaints against Porsild and Pillips for their actions.

Porsild defended her decision in an email to the Nordman: "There was no doubt to me that my dogs sitting unprotected in these conditions could lead to death or deaths of dog(s)."

She also disputed that she gained a competitive advantage, when she wrote to the Daily News from Denmark: "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."

Phillips took to Facebook to explain. She wrote, that she decided to violate the rule because she was concerned for her dogs' welfare: "My dogs were my only concern. With no natural wind breaks or materials available to shelter them I made what I felt was the best choice for my dog’s welfare in that extreme situation."

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The racers who chose to shelter their dogs also saw their prize money cut as a result (stock image).
The racers who chose to shelter their dogs also saw their prize money cut as a result (stock image).  © 123rf/romeolu

Dyche told local news that he knew he was violating the rules, but that it was the right decision.

He did have mushers behind him, but not as close the ones chasing Phillips and Porsild, who were trailed by other competitors whose finishing place may have been impacted by their decisions to bring their teams inside.

Race officials decided that they had to punish the mushers' actions. Porsild dropped from 14th to 17th and Phillips from 17th to 18th.

This loss of finishing position also meant that the two female racers lost out on prize money. Porsild got $3,450 less and Phillips got $1,000 less than they would have otherwise. Dyche kept his finishing place of 33rd, but if he wants to compete again, he will need to pay a $1,000 fine.

Reacting to the news, the executive vice president of the People for the Ethical treatment of Animals (PETA) said in a statement Friday: "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."

Cover photo: 123rf/romeolu

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