Three merciful mushers were quietly penalized during an iconic Alaskan dog sled race for breaking rules by sheltering their animals during a fierce winter storm.
Mille Porsild of Denmark, Michelle Phillips of Canada and Riley Dyche of Fairbanks were punished for potentially saving their dogs’ lives during the last stretch of this year’s Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race by taking them into shelter cabins to ride out wind-whipping, white-out conditions, the Anchorage Daily News reported Friday.
Race marshal Mark Nordman said he penalized the mushers because indoor rest for the dogs created a competitive advantage over other teams that trailed them.
“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 slid down from 14th to 17th place, while Phillips dropped one notch to 18th. Dyche wasn’t demoted in the standings, but he was fined $1,000 after officials determined there weren’t any mushers close to him that would have been affected by the dogs resting inside.
The drop in the standings cost Porsild $3,450 in prize money and $1,000 less for Phillips.
The nearly 1,000-mile race across Alaska was won March 15 by Brent Sass, who was also affected by the storm just as he was nearing the finish line in Nome.
The demotion of the three mushers, which was not widely publicized by the Iditarod, has come under fire by 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 Vice President Tracy Reiman said 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 to 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 wrote to the Daily News from Denmark.
Iditarod rules say dogs cannot be taken inside shelters except for race veterinarians’ medical examination or treatment. However, cruel or inhumane treatment of dogs is also prohibited during the event.
With Post wires