Sad news. On Friday, Fairbanks musher Paige Drobny’s dog Dorado (pictured above) died at a dog lot in Unalakleet after being buried beneath a snowdrift. Drobny had dropped Dorado from her team at the Unalakleet checkpoint last Monday because he was showing signs of stiffness.
It’s routine for mushers to drop dogs at checkpoints if they’re injured, ill, or overtired. The dogs are flown back to Anchorage to be reunited with their owners at the end of the race.
Dropped dogs in Unalakleet are housed in two airport storage buildings. However, a storm on Thursday kept a plane scheduled to pick up some of the dogs from landing. As a result, there were 135 dogs in the lot that night, an unusually high number. A hundred dogs were kept in the storage buildings while 35 dogs, including Dorado, had to be kept in a spot behind the buildings where volunteers felt they would be protected from the wind.
The dogs were last checked at 3:00am Friday morning, but between that time and daylight a snowdrift passed through and covered about half a dozen dogs. When volunteers realized what had happened, they began digging furiously for Dorado, but by the time they found him, he was dead. None of the other dogs were harmed.
A necropsy on the five-year-old dog determined the cause of death to be asphyxiation as a result of being buried in the snow.
It is the first Iditarod-related dog death since 2009.
Sled dogs can withstand temperatures as low as -80F, and it is common for such dogs to curl up during blizzards and survive burial beneath the snow. It is not known why Dorado died and the other dogs survived. Dorado showed no signs of illness before the storm, other than the stiffness coming into the checkpoint.
It is unknown at this point if Dorado’s death will lead to changes by the Iditarod Trail Committee in how dropped dogs are housed.
Drobny said on her Facebook page that she was “deeply saddened” by the death. Her husband, Cody Strathe, who is also a musher, said there was a sense of sadness among the musher community in Nome upon hearing about Dorado.
“Nothing can be done now to change this, we are still collecting the facts and will be putting pressure on ITC to make recommended changes before the next race occurs,” Strathe told a reporter. “We have a tremendous amount of support amongst this year’s mushers, and we just hope that this horrible accident can help future sled dog events.”