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PETAPOLOGY: PETA Apologizes to Iditarod Musher Paige Drobny

Paige Drobny and her dogs

Apparently, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, has a heart for animals of the human variety as well. Either that, or it’s trying to avoid a lawsuit.

A few weeks ago, I posted about the death of Iditarod musher Paige Drobny’s dog Dorado and PETA’s subsequent letter to the Nome District Attorney asking that Drobny and race organizers be held criminally responsible. The full text of the letter was published on PETA’s website.

A few days later, Drobny’s attorney sent a letter to PETA demanding it retract the accusations against Drobny or face a possible lawsuit.

Yesterday, the Alaska Dispatch reported that PETA has issued an apology to Drobny:

PETA has learned that Ms. Drobny had no way of knowing that a sudden storm was coming to the checkpoint area and is not culpable for Dorado’s death. PETA apologizes for suggesting that she was. PETA thanks Ms. Drobny for asking the Iditarod to make changes so as to supply shelter for all dogs dropped off at collection points along the race route in the future and is pleased that the Iditarod has agreed.

The statement goes on to say that “this cruel race should end—but until then, Iditarod organizers need to enact further reforms, including time limits on dogs’ participation and better supervision to prevent abusive training methods.”

Drobny is not impressed. In an email to the press, she takes issue with the way PETA places the apology within a general condemnation of the Iditarod. “We are bothered by the obvious attempt to bury this release in a larger piece of PETA propaganda, released on the weekend,” Drobny’s email states.

It is not clear if Drobny and her attorney are planning to move forward with a suit against PETA. “We are considering our options in light of this weak effort,” Drobny says.

Interestingly enough, PETA has still not removed from its website the original letter condemning Drobny.

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PETA, the Iditarod, and the Death of Dorado

Paige Drobny

Paige Drobny at the 2012 Yukon Quest

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.

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Plane Crash Near Rainy Pass Summit

On some of the Iditarod forums yesterday, there was word that a Cessna 182 had not reached its destination in Takotna and that the Air National Guard had been sent out to find it. Sadly, there’s news this morning that wreckage of the plane was found near the summit of Rainy Pass. All three passengers aboard, including the pilot, were killed. There is no word about what caused the crash. An investigation is underway.

According to Alaska State Troopers, all three passengers were from Eagle River: pilot Ted Smith, 59, a retired Anchorage police officer, and passengers Carolyn Sorvoja, 48, and her daughter, Rosemarie Sorvoja, 10.

The passengers were apparently race spectators. The plane was not part of the Iditarod Air Force that shuttles people, dogs, and supplies to and from checkpoints.

Our hearts go out to the victims’ families.

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Noah Pereira Wins Jr. Iditarod

Jr. Iditarod

Congratulations to 16-year-old Noah Pereira for becoming the first non-Alaskan to win the Jr. Iditarod Sled Dog Race. The Clarkson, New York, resident won the 150-mile race this weekend, beating last year’s winner, Conway Seavey, by only four minutes. Conway is the younger brother of Dallas Seavey, last year’s 1,000-mile Iditarod champion.

This year’s Jr. Iditarod ran from Knik to Yentna and on to the finish line in Willow.

It was a surprisingly steady race given that Pereira reached the halfway point in Yentna ahead of Seavey—by four minutes! However, Pereira did say that in the last 50 miles, Seavey had closed the gap to one minute. Pereira made a push in the last 10 miles to extend his lead and cross the finish line first.

This was Pereira’s first outing in the Jr. Iditarod. He becomes the sixth rookie musher to win it.

Coming in third was 17-year-old Jenny Greger of Bozeman, Montana, 33-minutes behind Seavey.

Here’s a link to the final standings:

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Hugh Neff Slams “Egoist” Iditarod Champs

Hugh Neff

Yesterday on his blog, Hugh Neff, the 2012 Yukon Quest champion, Iditarod veteran, and Cat-in-the-Hat enthusiast, slammed certain “egoist mushers from the 80s” who have raced in the Iditarod for decades but have thus far avoided the less famous Quest.

The Yukon Quest is another 1,000-mile-plus sled-dog race that takes place every February and runs between Whitehorse, in the Canadian Yukon, and Fairbanks, Alaska. Established in 1984 by mushers who wanted a long-distance sled-dog race with fewer checkpoints than the Iditarod, the Quest follows the more interior mail and transportation routes used during the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 1800s. It’s a race many mushers consider more physically demanding than the Iditarod, one that one of its founders, LeRoy Shank, hoped would “put a little woodsmanship in it.”

The Chicago-born Neff is a big supporter of the Quest and has completed it ten times. He placed 2nd in this year’s race behind another Quest and Iditarod veteran, Allen Moore, who, interestingly enough, lost last year’s Quest race to Neff by a mere 26 seconds.

However, according to Neff, there are other, unnamed mushers who look down their noses at the Quest, past Iditarod “champs” who “demean newer mushers on ‘their’ trail and treat their dogs with disrespect.” Neff goes on:

Is dog mushing all about sponsors and financial gain? “Well, the purse just isn’t big enough to be worth it…” Are they worried about how organized that other 1,ooo mile race is? Well then why not provide expertise in helping it evolve? Is it the cold Alaskan interior weather? Temps have hovered way above zero over the last few years– warmer on average than the Last Great Race’s have been. Whatever their excuses it really is pathetic. Alaskans lead by example, unfortunately these prominent mushers glued to earning incomes off of Mr. Redington’s dream are the worst role models the Greatland has.


Much of what is behind Neff’s displeasure is that he feels the Iditarod, with its focus on winners and expanding purses, has lost much of the spirit that its founder, Joe Redington Sr., was after: the spirit of adventure, the spirit of Alaska, and the spirit of sled-dog culture. Neff believes the Yukon Quest still embodies this spirit.

It will be interesting to see if Neff’s words lead to speculations about his reason for skipping this year’s Iditarod. Ostensibly, he’s skipping it to participate in the Finnmarksløpet in Norway, which starts March 9th. After reading his post, will anyone see his absence as a diss?

Stay tuned.

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