Fourth sled dog in a week dies

Beth Bragg

The death toll is mounting for Alaska's sled dogs.

A fourth sled dog has died in a race, this time a female named Roxy who was running the Norton Sound 450 on Nenana musher Aaron Burmeister's team.

In one week's time, four dogs have died in three races -- two in last weekend's Tustumena 200 on the Kenai Peninsula, one Thursday in the Yukon Quest and one in the Norton Sound 450.

Roxy, a seven-year-old veteran of multiple Iditarods, died 35 miles into the race that started Wednesday in Unalakleet. The animal was flown to Anchorage for a necropsy, according to the race's Facebook page.

Burmeister performed CPR on the dog to no avail, according to Facebook reports.

Meanwhile, Yukon Quest officials announced the results of a necropsy completed on General, a dog running for Big Lake musher Jake Berkowitz.

Head veterinarian Kathleen McGill said the dog died from a condition called intestinal volvulus with bowel infarction. The animal had traveled roughly 500 miles to the halfway point in Dawson City, where Berkowitz dropped it from his team. It was with a veterinarian and on its way to Whitehorse, where the race began a week ago, when it died.

The dogs that died in Tustumena 200 -- Fox, a 2-year-old female on Paul Gebhardt's team, and Jack, a 3-year-old male on Nicolas Petit's team -- died from pulmonary edema, or fluid in the lungs, that led to hypoxia, according to necropsy results.

While dog deaths occur rarely in the Quest and the Iditarod, mushing's two thousand-mile races, they are all but unheard of in shorter races like the Tustumena and Norton Sound. The Tustumena's fatalities are believed to be the first since the race began in 1984.

Iditarod executive director Stan Hooley called the cluster of deaths curious.

"A lot of people are scratching their heads trying to figure out why," he said. "It happens in some of our longer races, but it goes to show that it can happen really at anytime."

The Iditarod, which came under intense scrutiny from animal-rights activists in the 1990s, has staged three straight races without a dog death.


Quest update

While frontrunners Hugh Neff of Tok and Allen Moore of Two Rivers left Eagle early Friday morning, most of the Yukon Quest mushers were still mushing toward the first checkpoint in Alaska, or serving a four-hour layover there.

Neff and Moore were separated by 16 minutes when they left Eagle. Neff departed with 11 dogs at 2:42 a.m.; Moore followed with 11 dogs at 2:58 a.m. As close as that may seem, it's nothing compared to last year, when Neff beat Moore to the finish line by 26 seconds.

Jake Berkowitz left Eagle at 7:15 a.m., followed by Brent Sass at 9:22 and Scott Smith at 12:02 p.m. Markus Ingebretsen's layover ends at 10:08 p.m., meaning he can return to the trail then, but no one else will complete their layover until after midnight.

The race ended Friday for Christina Traverse, who was withdrawn by officials for asking for assistance late Thursday night, according to race reports. Twenty-two of the Quest's 26 mushers are still racing; besides Traverse, three have scratched, including four-time champ Lance Mackey of Fairbanks.


Norton Sound 450

Pete Kaiser sprinted to victory Friday when the Norton Sound 450 turned into the Norton Sound 40 after mushers and race officials decided to revamp the race because of low temperatures, a ground blizzard, and more bad weather in the forecast.

After putting a hold on the race in Shaktoolik, 220 miles into the race, officials and the field of eight mushers came up with Plan B.

They called off the 450-mile race and turned it into a 40-mile dash from Shaktoolik to Unalakleet. Everyone started anew, in two-minute intervals, with the time differential made up at the finish line.

Kaiser, the winner of last year's inaugural race, beat Martin Buser by three minutes. Aaron Burmeister was third, followed by Gerry Willomitzer and DeeDee Jonrowe.

Jonrowe was the race leader after 220 miles, reaching Shaktoolik at 10:18 p.m. Thursday, 10 minutes ahead of Kaiser.