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Sled dog dies during Iditarod race

March 10, 2009 |  5:25 pm

Mac, one of Jeff Holt's sled dogs, peeks out of its box as he waits to join the 
team and begin the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race The Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Race began over the weekend in Alaska, and today the Anchorage Daily News reports that a sled dog has died while participating.  The dog, a six-year-old named Viktor, was a member of musher Jeff Holt's team and died between the Rainy Pass and Rohn checkpoints, although the cause of his death is not yet known.  From the Daily News:

That is a steep section of trail where some mushers ran into trouble Monday night and today, prompting a rescue attempt of musher Nancy Yoshida, 58, who lost both of her sled runners. Other mushers said Yoshida's sled and team blocked the narrow trail, causing wrecks behind her, though it's not clear Holt's dog died anywhere near where Yoshida crashed.

A necropsy will be conducted by a board-certified pathologist to try to determine why Holt's dog perished, the press release said.

Three dogs died during the running of last year's Iditarod, according to the Baltimore Sun.  Animal rights groups including PETA have long contended that dogsled racing constitutes animal abuse, while others (including our colleague Pete Thomas at the Outposts blog) say the dogs enjoy the grueling competition.  Thomas writes:

In fact, as any musher will attest, dogs enjoy the grueling competition as much as mushers do. Some dogs will become injured and a few will succumb to the severe weather and the incredible workload along the 1,150-mile route to Nome.

But sled dogs are bred for and live for this kind of competition, and seem to achieve the same sense of satisfaction their handlers feel after a successful, if long, bitter-cold day on a blustery wilderness trail.

What do you think -- does the Iditarod promote cruelty or celebrate the human-dog bond?  Can it be both?

--Lindsay Barnett

Correction: An earlier version of this post said Viktor was a member of musher Jeff Kent's dogsled team.  He was a member of Jeff Holt's team.  We've corrected the error; thanks to astute reader karrsic for pointing it out.

Photo:  Mac, a sled dog on Jeff Holt's team (note: not the dog who died during the race today), peeks out of his box as he waits to join the team and begin the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Credit: Al Grillo / Associated Press.

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