In an earlier post, I mentioned the unfortunate death of rookie musher Paige Drobny’s dog Dorado. Drobny dropped Dorado at the Unalakleet checkpoint on March 11. The checkpoint, which normally houses dropped dogs in two airport storage facilities before flying them to Anchorage, was overwhelmed with 135 dogs Thursday night after a plane that was supposed to pick some of them up was unable to land due to bad weather. There was only space enough to keep 105 dogs in the storage facilities. Thirty dogs, including Dorado, were placed outside directly behind the buildings to protect them from the wind. The dogs were last checked at 3:00am Friday morning, but after sunup it was discovered a snowdrift had passed through and buried eight of the dogs. Dorado was one of them. He died of asphyxiation. The other buried dogs were fine.
It’s not unusual for huskies to survive being buried beneath the snow. The dogs’ double coats allow them to withstand temperatures as cold as -80F, and there are many stories of huskies on and off the trail curling up to sleep during snowdrifts and emerging hours later unharmed.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) got wind of the Dorado incident and, according to the Associated Press, is now pressuring the Nome District Attorney’s Office to file charges against those it feels are responsible for the death, including Drobny.
This move is perhaps not surprising. PETA has been trying to put an end to the Last Great Race for years.
Now, according to AP, Paige Drobny’s lawyer has sent a letter threatening to sue PETA unless it retracts “unfounded allegations that (Drobny) left her dog unattended, that she is to blame for the death of the dog, and that she should be criminally prosecuted.” PETA has not yet received the letter and will not comment on the possible suit.
Meanwhile, the Iditarod Trail Committee, which refuses to comment on the PETA charges, yesterday put out a press release on its investigation into Dorado’s death and possible measures going forward to prevent similar deaths. Here’s an excerpt:
Members of the ITC Board and Race officials have begun discussions relating to possible measures which might have mitigated the outcome in this incident. It plans to meet with various stakeholders, including Dorado’s owners, and members of the Iditarod Official Finishers Club to discuss and determine ways in which to further enhance its dropped dog policies and procedures. As of this date, decisions have been made to construct dog boxes to be located at the hub communities of McGrath and Unalakleet, to arrange for more frequent flights which will have the effect of shortening the time that a dropped dog remains in a checkpoint, and to conduct even more frequent patrols of the dropped dog lots.
One would think PETA would be happy with the ITC’s willingness to take immediate steps to obviate future dog deaths at checkpoints. After all, this is the first time in the race’s 40-year history that a dog has died as a result of being cared for at a checkpoint. And thanks to improvements in dog care over the years, it’s the first dog death the race has experienced overall since 2009.
But PETA isn’t really concerned about improvements in dog care. It sees the very idea of the Iditarod as abusive to dogs and wants it to end. Period. Demanding criminal charges be brought against volunteers, vets, and mushers is simply a way to embarrass the Iditarod and drum up the support of PETA members.