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Two more dogs die on Iditarod trail; musher Lance Mackey looks poised to win race

Iditarod Many Iditarod watchers say Lance Mackey's victory is almost a lock.  The musher reached the checkpoint of Elim at 4:20 a.m. local time today with a comfortable lead; Elim is 123 miles from the race's endpoint of Nome.

The victory for which Mackey seems poised would be his third consecutive Iditarod win.  But a more troubling trend is also emerging as the race nears its completion: Two more dogs have died on the trail.  (A member of Jeff Holt's dogsled team died of an undetermined cause last week.)

The two dogs, Dizzy and Grasshopper, were part of the team of rookie Iditarod competitor Lou Packer, a doctor from Wasilla, Alaska.  Packer's wife, Ellen, told the Anchorage Daily News that she became worried about her husband while monitoring his progress through the Iditarod's GPS tracking system, a new technological addition to the race this year.  She recounted that Lou was measured traveling at .2 miles per hour for hours on Sunday. 

She asked Iditarod officials to check on Lou; he and his team were later rescued in a remote area 22 miles past a checkpoint called Iditarod. 

The Anchorage Daily News reports:

[Arnold Hamilton, a race trail breaker] said the winds have been blowing hard out of the north for days in the area and the little-used trail between Iditarod and Shageluk had drifted closed beneath blowing snow. That left mushers unable to move.

"There was three mushers that we heard were in trouble," he said. "So we sent two snowmachines out. Meantime, a plane got to them and took the one musher out with, I guess, he had two dead dogs."

Iditarod officials confirmed the dog deaths and said necropsies were planned to determine how the animals died. Thin-coated huskies have been an issue of concern among Iditarod veterinarians in recent years. Concerns have been growing that such dogs might fall victim to exposure.

A pathologist for the Iditarod Trail Committee was unable to determine visually the cause of Dizzy's and Grasshopper's deaths.  Further testing is expected.

Two other mushers, Kim Darst and Blake Matray, also scratched (removed themselves from the competition) between the checkpoints of Iditarod and Shageluk.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: A musher drives across Norton Bay.  Credit: Al Grillo / Associated Press

Comments () | Archives (11)

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Okay all of you...Lou Packer is my brother. We grew up with never less than 2-4 dogs in our home at all times.
He LOVES DOGS and would never put his life in front of them! He almost died out there trying to save them all.
He was caught in terrible unexpected conditions and was walking his team of doggies out of the trail in -37 degrees with 60 mph winds. His inguries are from trying to save them all. He sent his team of dogs up in the rescue plane before himself. I know that both myself and my brother Lou would throw ourselves in front of a moving truck to save a dog. Give him a break. By the way, he volonteers to go to many small villages in Alaska to give FREE medicial care to the local residents. Nobody will ever know what he really went through out there!

My heart goes out to Mr Packer as I know he must have had great anguish watching and trying to care for his dogs. I worry about all the mushers and the dogs as they do what they LOVE in life and wish them all the best.

Our son and daughter have been friends of Lou since they were teen agers. We know Lou. You will never find a more animal lover than Lou. He was the first one to ever mention going to the shelter for a family pet Hearing this from a teen ager.
Our family has been following Lou's progress in the race and were concerned about him since it was taking so long since he left Iditarod. Our thoughts and prayers have been, and will continue at this time, to be with him. We know this big softy is grieving over his beloved dogs.

How many more dogs have to die before people get outraged enough to outlaw the iditarod? The idea of putting these poor dogs through such a grueling ordeal should be considered animal abuse. The iditarod itself is animal abuse.

Hey Sandra M, You really need to get some information before you start spouting. The Iditarod is a closely monitored race where the dogs safety is first and foremost. Two nfl players drowned when their boat sunk, and I would be certain to say that boating won't be outlawed because of it. Again, get your info straight.

I am proud to say that have been a friend of Lou's for over 30 years and have followed his life since he left the Los Angeles area. Knowing how he loved his family and his extended family (animals) I can feel his pain in this loss. These magnificent animals were born & bread to do what they gave their lives doing. Lou, if you read this, do not feel that you let them down. They loved what they were doing until the very end. I can only hope that when my life ends I can say the same.

I would just like to say "Ditto" to my brother and mom's comments above. We know that you are the ultimate dog lover,and would give your life for them. Things happen in life. You were running well until you got slammed in that storm. We are so sorry for the loss of Dizzy and Grasshopper, however we are grateful that you and the rest of your dogs survived. We wish you all the best Lou.

"Rocky" : Humans didn"t make those NLF players get on that boat and do wahtever it is they did to get themselves into trouble. Humans did however, breed and "raise" dogs only to tie them tp a sled and egg them on to run and run and run. Dogs don't chose to run 1000 miles. I'm sure they'd much rather be fetching or napping or chewing on something or hunting rabbits on a farm or doing what dogs do. Running in a made up race is just silly. Especially when it ends in death.

you are unfortunately wrong in your facts. these animals are never forced to run. they go because they want to. not one dog on my team ever is forced to run. and to put them on a farm to lay around would be the real death sentance to these intelligent creatures.

To Justin, you silly boy! I personally would LOVE to see one of these highly intelligent dogs your talking about chain themselves up to short posts, chain themselves to the sleds and on their OWN ( without being whipped to do so RUN for miles on end! Just because your raised around these things and believe there right does not truly make it so. Some of it is acceptable, but a lot of it is not.
Stop trying to justify some of the cruelty that go along with the race!

"Thank you" to those that know Lou Packer for this information. I confronted the trolls who were ranting about the race on CNN and although there were some legitimately-minded people concerned about the well-being of dogs (and going on about the destruction of dogs by unscrupulous operators after the Olympics had concluded and the Canadian man who shot his dogs because he "couldn't afford them") they were to the person just entering mean-spirited comments because they ARE trolls.

One thing it seems to me reading this - is that perhaps some of the hardships the dogs are experiencing is due to the manipulation of their breeding to create dogs with thinner coats and/or less body mass to cope with warmer winter conditions. Wonder if any of you have an opinion about that?

Thanks again for your information


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