Iditarod changes rules for when a dog dies on the trail

The Iditarod re-start in Willow, Alaska.
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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The Iditarod might be 266 days away, but changes are already being made to the 2019 race. The Iditarod Trail Committee Board of Directors met Friday at the Lakefront Hotel in Anchorage.

The most contentious rule change relates to what happens to a musher when one of their dogs dies during the race.

The board engaged in heated debate and board President Andy Baker called on mushers in the room to weigh in.

Four-time champion Jeff King proposed a simple adjustment: If a dog dies racing Iditarod, the musher should be withdrawn immediately. "For 10 days you've got to keep your dogs alive, if not the musher, who the hell is responsible?"

Three-time champion Mitch Seavey hit back at that suggestion saying there should be exceptions and worried that mushers would be cast as villains, regardless of guilt.

The rules committee had earlier proposed something of a compromise to Rule 42: A musher would be scratched or withdrawn if one of their dogs die, unless the death was caused solely by unforeseeable or external forces.

After some false starts, the board voted for the change with a caveat; the rules committee could propose further amendments to clear up any ambiguities.

Rule 42 had previously left the decision of withdrawing a musher up to the race marshal and the marshal's judges.

After the vote, Mitch Seavey said he agreed with the compromise. "I think the rules committee version strikes some balance and it will probably work well."

Rule 17 was also changed Friday, a rule which previously stated each team could have up to 16 dogs at the starting line. Teams will now be capped at 14 dogs.

A big backer of the the rule change was Iditarod Chief Veterinarian Stu Nelson, who says smaller numbers will improve the level of care.

Mitch Seavey said he didn't have a strong position on the change to Rule 17, but did mention the drop to 14 dogs might mean too little power for some mushers.

The board also agreed to adopt the Mush with P.R.I.D.E. program which stands for Providing Responsible Information on a Dog's Environment.

The race says it is a mandatory program for mushers to comply with P.R.I.D.E. standards, and to self-certify.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article said the P.R.I.D.E. standards were voluntary, officials with the race confirmed they are in fact mandatory for mushers.

The article also inferred that Mitch Seavey was opposed to the Rule 42 change. He says he supported the compromise that provided some exceptions for mushers.

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