First dog dies in this year’s Iditarod

Dorado spent his last night outside in extreme conditions that ultimately proved fatal.

On average, about 3 sled dogs die each year in Alaska’s annual Iditarod. 2013, however, saw just a single canine fatality in the race that has Huskies running about 100 miles per day in frigid temperatures over jagged ice and through biting wind. This year, the race took the life of a 5-year-old male named Dorado.

Circumstances around Dorado’s death are not typical of those of Iditarods past. He didn’t have a heart attack nor was he strangled by his harness, the way others have met their fates. Dorado, along with several dozen other dogs dropped from the race due to injury, exhaustion, or illness, was spending the night outside as he awaited transport. The dogs were scheduled to be taken from a temporary holding area in Unalakleet, Alaska, over to Anchorage the following day.

As temperatures dropped to minus 15 degrees and winds reached 45 mph, conditions outdoors became treacherous. Race officials report that Dorado was last checked on at 3 a.m. local time. Sometime between then and 9 a.m. that morning, Dorado died, asphyxiated after being buried alive in a snowdrift.

The debate rages on among Iditarod enthusiasts, who claim sled dogs relish running the 1,000 mile race, and animal welfare advocates, who say the dogs would not willingly choose to participate in such a grueling ten days that often includes broken bones, genital frostbite, bloody paws, bleeding ulcers, torn tendons, and other extreme conditions.

Despite Dorado’s passing, his musher, Paige Drobny, continued racing along with her team. She finished in 34th place.

I can’t help wonder if such a finish was worth it. I wonder if a 1st place finish would have been worth it. Most of all, I wonder at what point does the life of a beloved companion become more valuable than a trophy?