Two Iditarod mushers who had their finishing places in the 2022 race lowered as a penalty for sheltering their dogs indoors during a windstorm have had their initial finishes reinstated following a decision by an appeals board that imposed fines on the mushers instead.
Mille Porsild of Denmark and Michelle Phillips of the Yukon also had a portion of their purses returned to correlate with their original positions. Porsild has been moved from 17th place back to 14th and Michelle Phillips was moved from 18th back to 17th. The Iditarod standings page indicated the reinstatement as of Thursday morning.
Porsild and Phillips were the two top-finishing women in the 2022 race and both said in comments afterward that their actions were intended to protect the welfare of their dog teams.
Both mushers brought their dogs inside the Kwik cabin between the Koyuk and Elim checkpoints during a severe windstorm.
Four other mushers had filed formal complaints against Porsild and Phillips for sheltering their dogs inside, which is forbidden under the Iditarod’s Rule 37. Race marshal Mark Nordman determined a competitive advantage was gained by the teams of Porsild and Phillips.
Porsild said her actions potentially saved dogs from dying and, in her appeal, wrote they did “comply with Iditarod’s overarching policy of: ‘the humane care and treatment of dogs,’ ... specifically written in Rule 37 as ‘There will be no cruel or inhumane treatment of dogs.’ ”
According to a portion of the decision provided to the Daily News, the appeals board determined the penalties assessed by Nordman were outside the scope of the rule in question. The board — whose members were appointed by the Iditarod Trail Committee president — said only a monetary fine or a full withdrawal were options under Rule 51, which governs penalties.
In a prepared statement, the Iditarod Trail Committee wrote: “The Board has reviewed the facts in light of the Official Rules as currently drafted and decided to reverse the penalties, reinstate Ms. Porsild’s and Ms. Phillips’ race standings and award them the purse winnings corresponding to their original standing: 14th place Mille Porsild, 15th place Matt Hall, 16th place Mitch Seavey, 17th place Michelle Phillips, and 18th place Lev Shvarts.”
The board instead imposed $1,000 fines on both mushers — the same penalty faced by musher Riley Dyche of Fairbanks, who also brought his team indoors to shelter against a storm in a separate incident in the 2022 race.
Phillips gained back $1,000 for the adjustment in her placement, so the decision is a financial wash for her. Porsild’s placement will return $3,450 in winnings to her, for a net gain of $2,450 after the fine. The decision said none of the racers who gained places due to the initial penalty will have to return any winnings.
The board, in its statement, acknowledged the conflict within the rules against sheltering and the mandate to protect dogs.
“The Board recommends and urges the ITC Rules Committee to revisit these Rules and make all efforts to clarify the Rules to eliminate conflicting language on sheltering and dog care during the Iditarod. As part of the amendment process, mushers will have the opportunity to comment on any proposed Rule changes prior to their finalization.”
In an email to the Daily News, Porsild said the decision “is a victory for the dogs.” She maintains that she not only did the right thing for her dogs but also didn’t gain any advantage in doing so.
“I honor the sport of sled-dog racing and the Iditarod,” she wrote in the email. “It was my hope that by the Appeal Board looking at the facts including trackers, actual run / rest times and weather data both in Koyuk at the time I left and when I reached the cabin as well as when the protesting teams passed the Kwik Shelter, ITC would reconsider and reverse their adverse actions and reinstate me to the time and place in which I actually completed this year’s race. It was and still is really my hope that we, the mushers and the organization, use this unfortunate event and the following process to strengthen and improve the race and its rules for the future — really, actually strengthen our sport in the future.”
Phillips did not return a call for comment on the decision.
The board said its decision “should not serve as a precedent for future violations of Rule 37. Instead, the Board refers all competitors to the tiered penalties within Rule 51 as currently drafted, including a time penalty, monetary penalty, or disqualification.”