Cause of death identified for two dogs who died on the Iditarod trail

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The results are back from the necropsies performed on two of the dogs that died during the 2017 Iditarod race.

In the race last year, only one dog died after getting run over by a snowmachine. The 2017 Iditarod marks the most deaths in the race's history since 2009, when 6 dogs died.

Mark Nordman, the race marshal on the Iditarod Trail Committee released statements just before midnight on Thursday to identify the causes of death for the two animals.

The targeted autopsy was conducted on Flash, belonging to musher Katherine Keith, who raced under bib 52, and Shilling, the dog belonging to Roger Lee, who raced under bib 10 this year.

Flash was a 4-year-old male dog, and was determined to have died from "acute aspiration pneumonia." This condition is brought on from inhaling foreign substances into the lungs, such as food, liquid, or often, vomit.

The board-certified veterinary pathologist who oversaw the autopsy determined that the animal's condition to be consistent with this cause of death.

In Nordman's statement, he writes that further testing is being conducted to complete the necropsy study.

Shilling, a 3-year-old male dog, died just before getting to the Unalakleet checkpoint. Hid death was determined to stem from abnormalities, with "extensive pulmonary edema" being the "most significant abnormality determined" in the inspection. This condition is caused by too much fluid in the lungs.

As with Flash, Nordman says further testing will be performed on Shilling, as the actual cause of the edema is not yet known. Whether the deaths of these dogs were unavoidable has similarly not been determined.

These two dogs were part of the five dogs overall that died in connection to this year's Iditarod. Four of the dogs died on the actual trail, while one was hit by a car after escaping his handler.

PETA slammed the Iditarod, calling for the race to be abolished following these deaths. Colleen O'Brien, a representative for PETA, said, "Dogs are dying on the trail. They're being run to death. But again, when they're not being run, they are living in crates, they're living outside, they're miserable."

Earlier this week a coordinator for the race's dropped dogs said the dogs coming through upon returning from the race by and large were happy and healthy.

However, O'Brien disagreed. "These are not someone's companions. These are dogs who are seen as a moneymaking tool. [...] If there was a human sport in which each time it took place, someone died, we wouldn't be doing it," O'Brien said.

Iditarod representatives released a statement in part responding to PETA's condemning of the race, saying, "This is an anomaly that we will study in a deliberative and scientific fashion over the following months." They retorted to PETA's claim that Iditarod is cruel, saying that PETA's "track record speaks for itself."

A memorial for the dogs that perished during this year's Iditarod race has slowly been growing at the Balto statue downtown on 4th Avenue.

Flowers have been slowly added to the statue along with cards and well-wishes for both the four dogs that died on the trail, and the fifth dog killed in the car accident.

A photo gallery of the memorial site can be viewed below: