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Iditarod claims two dogs as Mackey leads 1,131-mile race amid harsh conditions

March 17, 2009 | 10:15 am

Defending champion Lance Mackey during Sunday's arrival at Unalakleet, Alaska. Mackey still leads the 1,131-mile race from Anchorage to Nome.

The 1,131-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is nearing completion. Lance Mackey, a cancer survivor who once lived in a tent, is leading comfortably as he attempts to win the grueling competition for the third consecutive year.

But "comfortably" is not necessarily an appropriate term. Mackey is the only musher to have reached Elim, which is only 123 miles from the finish line at Nome. But he and all of the mushers have had to endure brutal conditions — including wind-chill readings of 50 below — that have led to rescues and the deaths of at least two dogs.

Rookie mushers Lou Packer, Kim Darst and Blake Matray have either been rescued or are being rescued. All are said to be OK. Two of Packer's dogs, however, are confirmed dead, and it's hoped a necropsy will determine the exact cause.

According to a story in the Anchorage Daily News, thin-coated huskies are most vulnerable when conditions turn especially harsh.

The sad news about the dogs is sure to draw criticism from animal rights advocates.

— Pete Thomas

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Top photo: Defending champion Lance Mackey during Sunday's arrival at Unalakleet, Alaska. Mackey still leads the 1,131-mile race from Anchorage to Nome. Credit: Associated Press

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