Iditarod

Iditarod sled dog Leon found safe in McGrath nearly 3 months after escaping from checkpoint

Leon, an Iditarod sled dog that slipped from his coat and collar and ran away from a race checkpoint in March, was found alive nearly three months later and 150 miles from where he escaped, race officials said Saturday.

On Tuesday, McGrath locals notified Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race officials that the dog, who belongs to rookie musher Sébastien Dos Santos Borges of Chazey-Bons, France, had been seen visiting a local homestead where food had been left out for him, race officials said in a statement.

Early Saturday morning, a McGrath resident was able to catch Leon, Iditarod officials said. The dog has since been reunited with Dos Santos Borges, who flew to Anchorage this week after receiving updates on the search, according to race officials.

Leon was safe, alert and “understandably skinny but seemingly healthy,” Iditarod spokesperson Shannon Markley told the Associated Press.

The dog was expected to see a veterinarian in the coming days and needs a health certificate before he can fly back to France with Dos Santos Borges, Markley said.

Leon is a 3-year-old husky with yellow-gold fur, brown eyes and dark brown ears. He slipped out of his coat and collar around noon March 13 at checkpoint in Ruby, according to race representatives.

Nome 2022 Iditarod northern route map

How Leon escaped remained unclear. Another 2022 Iditarod dog, Jimbo, escaped from a dropped dog area in Anchorage but was found a day later.

As the search for Leon continued in the weeks following the race, Iditarod officials in early April said they were “actively working on updating the Standard Operating Procedures to prevent this from happening in the future and instilling a stronger sense of shared responsibility.” Race officials did not respond to questions at the time about what those updated procedures might look like.

The search for Leon involved extensive efforts, including Air Force helicopter flyovers, snowmachine trips and fundraising by Iditarod fans and volunteers, as well as help from local communities and Alaska musher Nicolas Petit.

Petit helped organize an “Operation Find Leon” fundraiser on Facebook that raised more than $8,000 from hundreds of race fans toward search efforts and provided updates on the search.

Dos Santos Borges was taken off the trail and scratched near the end of the race during a powerful storm in the White Mountain area five days after Leon escaped.

“The Iditarod cannot express enough gratitude for all of Iditarod Nation’s help, prayers, thoughts and well wishes for Leon,” Iditarod officials said in their statement Saturday. “Thank you, Iditarod Nation, and welcome home, Leon!”

Annie Berman

Annie Berman covers health care for the Anchorage Daily News. She's a fellow with Report for America, and is a graduate of the University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. A veteran of AmeriCorps and Vista volunteer programs, she's previously reported for Mission Local and KQED in the Bay Area.

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