Iditarod begins admist myriad of problems

Alaskan musher Jim Lanier's dog team is all smiles during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, Saturday, March 3, 2018, in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/Michael Dinneen)

By RACHEL D’ORO

Associated Press

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Cheering fans lined the streets as mushers took their dog teams for a short sprint in Alaska’s largest city Saturday for the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

The morning trek along snow-heaped paths in downtown Anchorage gave supporters a chance to mingle with mushers and their furry teams before the competitive portion of the 1,000-mile race to Nome begins Sunday to the north in the community of Willow.

But two hours before Saturday’s action got started, a dog on Norwegian musher Lars Monsen’s team got loose and disappeared during preparations for the 11-mile run through town. The dog, Hudson, was not immediately found, Iditarod spokesman Chas St. George said.

This year’s Iditarod comes amid a plethora of troubles for race organizers, including a former winner’s dog doping scandal, the loss of a major sponsor and increasing pressure from animal rights activists following the deaths of five dogs connected to last year’s race.

But on Saturday, the focus for mushers was on the race ahead.

“It’s all about the dogs now,” said defending champion Mitch Seavey, a three-time winner. “Dogs are what we focus on. I think that’s why everybody showed up down here on the streets today, it’s because we love the dogs.”

Veteran musher Scott Janssen of Anchorage said that for now, he is letting all “the negative stuff go in one ear and out the other,” but will do everything in his power after the race to change the face of the Iditarod.

“I run this race because I love the Iditarod and I love my dogs,” said Janssen, a funeral home director known as the Mushing Mortician. “My dogs have been training all year to do this and we’re going to go out there and we’re going to have a great time.”

Fans also were concentrating on the race itself. Among them were sisters Liz and Jenny Ott of Bradford, England. The pair first got a desire to see the Iditarod in person after going on a sled dog ride with Iditarod veteran Ryan Redington, grandson of late race co-founder Joe Redington Sr., as part of an Alaska cruise land excursion five years ago.

“It’s a bucket list thing,” Liz Ott said.

“Something you have to do before you die,” her sister added.

Also present for the parade of dog teams were members of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which brought five headstones with the names of the Iditarod dogs that died in 2017.

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