Iditarod mushers docked places, prize money for sheltering dogs during whiteout near end of race
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A fierce winter storm in the last stretch of this year’s Iditarod Trail Sled Dog, which ultimately forced six mushers to scratch the same day, now has cost three other mushers for sheltering their dogs instead of leaving them outside in the harsh conditions.
Mille Porsild of Denmark, Michelle Phillips of Canada and Riley Dyche of Fairbanks were penalized for taking dogs inside shelter cabins to ride out the storm with winds so strong, they whipped up white-out conditions, the Anchorage Daily News reported Friday.
The decision to punish the mushers was made by race marshal Mark Nordman, who said the indoor rest for the dogs amounted to a competitive advantage over teams that trailed them into Nome.
“No doubt that Michelle and Mille did the right thing for their dogs,” Nordman said. “But it also affected the competition for racers going forward.”
Porsild was dropped from 14th to 17th position, while Phillips dropped one notch to 18th. Dyche wasn’t demoted in the standings, but he was fined $1,000 after officials determined there were no other mushers close to him that would have been affected by the dogs resting inside.
The drop in finishing position equated to $3,450 less for Porsild and $1,000 less for Phillips.
The nearly 1,000-mile race across Alaska was won March 15 by Brent Sass, who was also affected by the storm just as he was nearing the finish line in Nome. He said he fell off the sled and couldn’t see anything, and thought he was going to have to hunker down with his dogs and ride out the storm.
The demotion of the three mushers, which was not widely publicized by the Iditarod, immediately drew a harsh retort from the race’s biggest critic, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
“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,” PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman said Friday.