Dog Dies During Iditarod Race in Alaska, Richie Beattie Withdrawn From Race

dog sled race
A dog died after completing the 2019 Iditarod, renewing concerns that the competition is cruel to its four-legged participants. Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

A 5-year-old dog that competed in the Iditarod race last week has since died of pneumonia, officials with the annual event confirmed.

The dog, Oshi, was a member of Richie Beattie's team and made the wintry trek of nearly 1,000 miles to the finish line Thursday. During a post-race checkup, Iditarod Trail Committee veterinarians noticed the dog showed symptoms of pneumonia.

"Oshi was stabilized and flown by emergency charter flight, operated by Bering Air, to Anchorage on Friday... for further evaluation and care," the statement read. "Sadly, Oshi passed away the following day."

The statement went on to note that Beattie would be withdrawn from the race as a result. According to the race's official rules, dogs are "under the jurisdiction of the Race Marshal" from the start of the race until three days after they have been cleared by veterinarians or two days after the final musher finishes. In a 2018 rule change, the Itidarod governing board voted to exclude from the competition any musher whose dog died while on the trail, unless the death was caused "by unforeseeable, external forces."

Beattie is cooperating with race officials, the statement read.

Veterinarians said Oshi suffered from aspirational pneumonia, but a necropsy will be conducted by a board-certified veterinary pathologist in the coming days to determine the official cause of death.

Established in 1973, Alaska's most famous dog sled race has long faced accusations that its conditions are punishing and cruel on its four-legged participants. As part of the race, mushers and a team of dogs travel for more than 900 miles from Anchorage to Nome in about two weeks, weathering extreme conditions in the process. A dog-doping scandal and activist protests cast the annual competition under increased scrutiny in the past several years.

More than 140 canine fatalities have been directly connected to the race, according to the Sled Dog Action Coalition. The activist group says the causes of death range from strangulation in towlines, internal hemorrhaging "after being gouged by a sled" to heart failure and pneumonia. Pressure from activist groups has resulted in a loss of sponsorship deals for the race.

"No dog wants to run so far or so fast, or can do it without enduring great suffering," the coalition says in its mission statement. "At times, Iditarod has been described as an exciting contest of man against nature. These descriptions do not tell us about the dogs' untold suffering."

In 2017, three dogs died after collapsing on the trail and a fourth dog died after overheating. In response to criticism from those deaths, Iditarod Chief Executive Stan Hooley said mushers love and honor their dogs. Supporters have also said the race is a tradition steeped in Alaskan history and is important to cultural heritage.

"These misguided activists are implying that the Iditarod condones and engages in cruelty to sled dogs that participate in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race," the statement said. "Nothing could be further from the truth. We honor the sled dogs who participate in the Iditarod."