For the second consecutive year, no dogs died during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
"I’m ecstatic. Last year zero dog deaths were considered an anomaly. Two years in a row with no deaths is a statement," Stu Nelson, Iditarod chief veterinarian, told Eye on the Trail.
Nelson believes that one reason for the drop in dog mortality is the focus on reducing ulcers or ulcer-related issues in the sled dogs. While the cause of ulcers in the animals is unclear, methods to reduce or prevent them are not.
"In the past we did nothing, and then three years ago, ongoing research by Dr. Mike Davis showed that an acid suppressant could control ulcers," said Nelson.
Davis, a professor of Physiological Sciences at Oklahoma State University and a licensed veterinarian, does off-season research on sled dogs in cooperation with kennel owners. Thanks to that research, Nelson encouraged mushers to give acid suppressants to their teams, and said that the results from those doing so are evident.
"I knew that if we could control ulcers, we could have zero deaths," Nelson said. "The animal rights people who attack the Iditarod and the sport are not really interested in dog care. They have not spent one cent on research, not one cent on improving animal care."
Nelson, an Iditarod veterinarian for 25 years -- with 16 of those as chief managing a 41-member volunteer vet corp -- seems to enjoy everything about the 1,000-mile plus race.
"It’s about the people, the mushers, the volunteers, the villagers; there is a camaraderie that comes with sharing the event. It’s about the beauty of the land ... but ultimately it is about the dogs. They are fun-loving and happy go lucky."
-- Kelly Burgess
Photo: Musher Peter Kaiser races from Safety to the Nome, Alaska, finish line of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Credit: Bob Hallinen / Anchorage Daily News