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Musher penalized after killing moose still wins record 6th Iditarod

Dallas Seavey overcame killing a moose and receiving a time penalty to win the Iditarod on Tuesday, a record-breaking sixth championship in the world's most famous sled dog race.

Seavey drove his team a half-block off the Bering Sea ice onto the frozen streets of Nome to cross under the famed burled arch finish line, a triumphant moment in a race marred by the deaths of three sled dogs, including two on Sunday, and serious injury to a fourth.

The deaths prompted one animal rights organization to renew its call for the end of the storied endurance race in which a team of dogs pulls a sled across 1,000 miles of Alaska wilderness.

Iditarod Dallas Seavey
Dallas Seavey of Talkeetna, Alaska, takes an auction winner in his sled 11 miles over the streets of Anchorage, Alaska, during the March 2, 2024, ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.  Mark Thiessen / AP

Seavey, 37, becomes the winningest musher in the 51-year history of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, which takes the teams over two mountain ranges, across the Yukon River and along the frozen edges of the Bering Sea just south of the Arctic Circle.

The race started March 2 for 38 mushers with a ceremonial run in Anchorage. The competitive start was held the following day 75 miles north of Anchorage. Since then, seven mushers have withdrawn.

Fans poured out of bars lining Front Street to cheer Seavey, whose team was escorted by a police car with flashing lights. A former mayor once compared the atmosphere in Nome for the Iditarod finish to that of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, but with dogs.

Official restart of the 52nd Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Willow
Dallas Seavey takes part in the official restart of the 52nd Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Willow, Alaska, U.S. March 3, 2024. Kerry Tasker / REUTERS

Such a momentous win started out rough for Seavey after his team got tangled up with a moose on the trail just hours after the Iditarod started.

Seavey's dog Faloo was injured before Seavey shot and killed the moose with a handgun. Race rules require any big game animal killed in defense of life or property to be gutted before the musher moves on.

Seavey told officials he gutted the moose the best he could. However, he was ultimately given a two-hour time penalty because he only spent 10 minutes gutting the moose, officials said.

The time penalty did not cost Seavey the race, and he left the second-to-last checkpoint Tuesday morning with a healthy three-hour lead over his nearest competitor.

Official restart of the 52nd Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Willow
Erin Altemus during the official restart of the 52nd Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Willow, Alaska, U.S. March 3, 2024. Kerry Tasker / REUTERS

Seavey's name is found throughout the Iditarod record book. In 2005, he became the youngest musher to run in the race, and in 2012, its youngest champion.

Seavey also won Iditarod championships in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2021. He had previously been tied with now-retired musher Rick Swenson with five titles apiece. Swenson won the Iditarod in 1977, 1979, 1981, 1982 and 1991.

Seavey's family history is deeply entwined with the Iditarod. His grandfather, Dan Seavey, helped organize and ran the first Iditarod in 1973, and his father, Mitch Seavey, is a three-time champion.

Dallas Seavey almost took a different path in the sports world. He was the first Alaskan to win a USA national wrestling championship when he took the 125-pound Gregco-Roman title in 2003 and trained for a year at the U.S. Olympic Training Center before concussions led him to back to mushing.

Besides the moose encounter and time penalty, the race had other controversial issues this year.

After going five years without a dog dying during the race, two on separate teams collapsed and died Sunday, and another died Tuesday. Efforts to resuscitate all three dogs were unsuccessful.

Mushers Issac Teaford, of Salt Lake City, and Hunter Keefe, of Knik, both voluntarily scratched or they would have risked being removed by the race marshal because dogs in their care died during the race, per Iditarod rules. The third dog, a 3-year-old male named Henry on rookie Calvin Daugherty's team, collapsed on the trail about 10 miles before reaching the checkpoint in the village of Shaktoolik. A necropsy is planned, and Daugherty also scratched.

Ceremonial start of the 52nd Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage
Sean Williams' sled dog team participates in the ceremonial start of the 52nd Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage, Alaska, U.S. March 2, 2024. Kerry Tasker / REUTERS

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the loudest critic of the Iditarod, called for officials to end the race.

"PETA is calling for an immediate end to this nightmare before any more corpses are added to the towering pile this race has already amassed," PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman said at the conclusion of the race. "This year's Iditarod has been the deadliest in recent years. Five dogs were killed in snowmachine incidents before this year's race even began. (Another eight were injured.)"

"The Iditarod is the shame of Alaska," Reiman said in am earlier statement. "How many more dogs need to die before this stops? Dogs' lives are worth more than this."

Before the race even started, officials disqualified Eddie Burke Jr., the race's rookie of the year last year, as well as 2022 champion Brent Sass as allegations of violence against women embroiled the Iditarod.

Race officials disqualified Burke on Feb. 19. But the state of Alaska then dropped charges alleging he choked his then-girlfriend in 2022, and the Iditarod Trail Committee reinstated him. He ultimately withdrew because he had leased his dogs to other mushers when he was disqualified and couldn't reassemble his team in time for the race.

The committee also disqualified Sass without explanation, other than pointing to a rule governing personal and professional conduct, and race officials refused to discuss it during a media briefing ahead of the race.

Sass said in a Facebook post he was "beyond disappointed" and that the "anonymous accusations" made against him were "completely false." No criminal cases against Sass appear in online Alaska court records.

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