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 that they whipped up white-out conditions. 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, the AP reports.
"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 near him who would have been affected by the dogs resting inside. The drop in standings 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 also was affected by the storm as he was nearing the finish line in Nome. He said he fell off the sled and couldn't see anything, and he 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, 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 Tracy Reiman said in a statement Friday. She called for cruelty charges to be filed against mushers who did leave their dogs outside while they went inside shelter cabins. Porsild defended her decision bring the dogs inside. "Stopping and having the dogs in the shelter cabin gave Michelle and I no competition edge; on the contrary we both lost the edge we had—especially me and my team," she said.
(Read more Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race