Dogs, drugs and the Iditarod

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Photo credit: Inna Mikhailova

The Iditarod is more than 100 days away, but race-centered drama has found a spotlight before there’s even snow on the ground.

Every year after the race, the first 20 teams to make it to Nome are subject to a canine drug test. Since this drug testing was implemented in 1994, there had not been a positive test — that is, until this last spring.

According to a statement released by the Iditarod Trail Committee, “Prior to the 2017 Race, ‘Musher X’ requested a delay in the collection of the urine samples by the ITC drug testing team after the finish of the race, explaining that there were other tests that were already ordered by ‘Musher X’ and that ‘Musher X’ wanted to make sure the dogs were sufficiently rested for both the urine draw and the additional tests.”

The ITC later outed Dallas Seavey as “Musher X,” and four of his dogs had tested positive for a banned substance.

Dallas Seavey was racing in 2017 as the reigning champion, having won the previous three years and four years out of the last five. In 2017, he finished second, a couple hours behind his father, Mitch Seavey.

The substance that was reported in the testing was Tramadol, an opioid pain medication that is not uncommonly prescribed to pets, but is banned from use during the race.

There is no proof that Dallas Seavey administered the drug to his dogs, and he has publically denied any wrongdoing, suggesting sabotage.

“I have never knowingly broken any race rule. I have never given any banned substance to my dogs. But yet, out of the blue, I can be thrown under the bus this quick by the Iditarod and they will do nothing to protect you,” Seavey said in a statement on his YouTube channel. “But I don’t care if I never race another dog race, I don’t care if I never make another cent, which is my life, around this sport. I will not spend the rest of my life looking in the mirror knowing that I backed down when I did nothing wrong.”

Although the ITC did not formally punish Seavey for the positive drug test of his dogs, they did change the rules for future races that now force mushers to prove innocence, following a situation like this.

Despite not being banned from the 2018 race, Dallas Seavey has since dropped out on his own accord, stemming from his frustrations with how ITC has handled this situation. Other mushers have followed suit, citing the dysfunction surrounding the situation. As of this writing, Mitch Seavey is still officially entered in the 2018 race.