Iditarod plans to beef up security for 2018 race after dogs tested positive for banned drug

The Iditarod Trail Committee plans to increase security for the 2018 race after sled dogs tested positive for a prohibited painkiller this year, according to a race spokesman.

"There will definitely be more security in Nome," Iditarod spokesman Chas St. George said in an interview Friday.

St. George said that may include installing surveillance cameras at the dog lot in Nome, where mushers take their dog teams after finishing the race. He said it may also include attaching a battery-powered camera to each musher's sled.

"When you're at a checkpoint, you turn it on. When you leave a checkpoint, you can turn it back off," St. George said. "We're looking at what that would cost."

During interviews last week, four-time Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey called for more security on the Iditarod trail and in Nome. Seavey's dogs were the ones that tested positive for tramadol, a prescription-only opioid painkiller that the Iditarod prohibits.

Seavey said he never gave the drug to his dogs and suggested that most likely someone else had slipped them the pills "maliciously."

The urine samples that tested positive were taken from four of Seavey's dogs in the Nome dog lot after they finished the 2017 race. This year, a musher was also accused of stealing four dog crates from another competitor in the Nome dog lot. The theft charge was recently dropped.

"We have to do a better job of protecting property and of protecting the dogs," St. George said.

St. George reiterated Friday that Iditarod officials don't know how the drug entered the sled dogs' systems. He said Seavey "was not found guilty of anything."

"He said he had nothing to do with it at all," St. George said. "There's a huge spectrum of speculation, but he was not penalized."

[Confused about the Iditarod drug controversy? Here's what happened — and what we still don't know]

Seavey did not return a call Friday, and neither did musher Wade Marrs, president of the Iditarod Official Finishers Club.

St. George said race officials are continuing to discuss how to make the Iditarod trail more secure, and are seeking input from the mushing club about where to heighten security. He said the costs would have to be absorbed into the 2018 race budget, set at about $1.7 million.

"In the coming weeks we've got to establish a plan and then deploy it," he said.

The Iditarod trail snakes nearly 1,000 miles through Alaska wilderness. Along the way, teams stop at checkpoints often located in rural villages not connected to a road system. The dogs sleep outside on straw.

In Nome, the dog lot is partitioned off and volunteers conduct security, St. George said. Volunteers are only supposed to let certain people into the lot, including mushers, dog handlers and veterinarians.

He said the Iditarod plans to reach out to volunteers for the 2018 race to highlight the importance of remaining vigilant.

"The fact is, we are where we are so now we've got to move forward," he said. "We have to do the best job we can."

Tegan Hanlon

Tegan Hanlon was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News between 2013 and 2019. She now reports for Alaska Public Media.