PETA apologizes, sort of, for cruelty accusation against Iditarod musher

Kyle Hopkins
Dorado, on Paige Drobny's Iditarod team, died while at the Unalakleet checkpoint, Friday, March 15, 2013.
Paige Drobny of Fairbanks tends to her dog team in the village of Nikolai during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, Mar. 5, 2013.
Bill Roth

A Fairbanks musher says she was swamped with hate mail after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wrongly blamed her for the death of her sled dog.

"We got people calling our house and telling us we should rot in hell and be buried in a snowbank," said Paige Drobny, whose 5-year-old dog Dorado suffocated in snow while under the care of Iditarod workers and volunteers.

PETA last month sent a letter to the Nome district attorney calling for criminal animal cruelty charges to be filed against Drobny and others. Drobny's attorney, Iditarod veteran Myron Angstman, demanded that PETA retract its accusation, which claimed Drobny had left the dog unattended.

Drobny had given the dog to race workers in Unalakleet on March 11 because he seemed stiff, she had said. Mushers routinely "drop" dogs at checkpoints along the route when the huskies are injured, ill or refuse to pull.

A storm prevented airplanes from flying Dorado and other dropped dogs from the village checkpoint. The husky was found dead, buried in the snow, on March 15.

PETA on Friday issued an apology to Drobny.

"PETA has learned that Ms. Drobny had no way of knowing that a sudden storm was coming to the checkpoint area and is not culpable for Dorado's death. PETA apologizes for suggesting that she was," the statement said.

"PETA thanks Ms. Drobny for asking the Iditarod to make changes so as to supply shelter for all dogs dropped off at collection points along the race route in the future and is pleased that the Iditarod has agreed."

Drobny has not decided whether to pursue a lawsuit against the organization, she told the Daily News Monday.

"It was an accident, but they didn't even know the facts," she said.

She said she is considering competing in the race again next year. If she does, she will spread Dorado's ashes on the trail.

PETA is among the fiercest critics of the 1,000-mile sled dog race, which the group says is inherently cruel to sled dogs. Dorado's death was the first during the race since 2009, when six dogs died.

The animal-protection group still objects to the race, it wrote. "This cruel race should end -- but until then, Iditarod organizers need to enact further reforms, including time limits on dogs' participation and better supervision to prevent abusive training methods."

Drobny said she sought to have PETA's letter calling for her to face criminal charges removed from the organization's web site. The bad publicity could make it harder for her to find sponsors, she said.

"It's disappointing, but it's not unexpected from that organization, to apologize in the midst of also slamming us," Drobny said.

After an investigation into the most recent death, race officials said they plan to build dog boxes for better shelter, conduct more frequent checks of dogs, and schedule extra flights to move them more quickly out of checkpoints.

Drobny, 38, said she asked for the changes and would like to see them first-hand if she competes again. The musher was a rookie before finishing this year's race on March 14 in 34th place.

She recently received Dorado's cremated remains in the mail, Drobny said.


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