UPDATE: Missing Dog Found After Escape From Deadly Iditarod

Published by Katherine Sullivan.

Update (June 6, 2022): Leon, the dog who was used by rookie musher Sébastien Dos Santos Borges and who went missing during the 2022 Iditarod, has been found.

It’s a miracle that Leon was found alive after escaping from an Iditarod checkpoint nearly three months ago—a wise move, given the abuse these dogs endure.

While Leon survived, more than 150 dogs have died in this cruel and perilous race, and hundreds are pulled from it every year because their bodies can’t take the strain anymore—so PETA is calling for an end to the Iditarod and urging Dos Santos Borges not to endanger Leon or any other dogs by forcing them onto icy trails again.

—PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman

Update (April 12, 2022): PETA has a running list—one seemingly longer than the Iditarod’s death trail—of reasons why the cruel race is dangerous for dogs and others and why it must end. Here’s one that we never imagined needing to add: On March 25, 2022, Iditarod musher and Life Below Zero personality Jessie Holmes reportedly turned several dogs loose in a hotel parking lot in Wasilla, Alaska, near a residential area. We’re not surprised that an Iditarod participant who forces dogs to take part in a race in which more than 150 dogs have been killed failed to safeguard his dogs off the trail, too. But for Lucky the dog’s unsuspecting guardian, the tragedy that unfolded was a shock: Holmes reportedly “[stood] at the top of [a] hill watching” while the dogs he let loose invaded a woman’s front yard and killed Lucky, her 15-pound companion dog.

Liza Tulio McCafferty, Lucky’s guardian, took to Facebook to describe the tragic incident and the aftermath, saying, “It wasn’t until I started screaming for help and telling [Holmes] to retrieve his dogs, did he come down to get his dogs.” Video footage has reportedly confirmed her account of the incident. According to her, once Holmes was finally able to “get control of his dogs,” he placed Lucky’s body on her front porch. “Lucky was unresponsive and his intestines were hanging out. His neck was gouged and was bloodied from the attack; he was dead,” McCafferty said on Facebook. Local authorities will reportedly “be issuing multiple citations with the most serious being for Animal Cruelty,” she said. “[C]itations are expected to be issued,” Wasilla Mayor Glenda Ledford said in a statement.

Authorities reportedly have been unable to reach Holmes, who apparently has since gone on to force dogs to run again in the Kobuk 440 sled race—a move that seemingly demonstrates that he either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care that his actions as a musher can have deadly consequences.

“This tragedy was avoidable,” said McCafferty. PETA agrees.

Animal suffering is the name of the game for the Iditarod, and what dogs endure off the trail is no exception. PETA and concerned people all over the country are calling for this rotten race to end. For Lucky and all the dogs who should never be forced to race, please, join us in taking action:

Update (March 29, 2022): Only one human wins the Iditarod each year, but every dog forced to race loses their chance at a happy and healthy life free of exploitation. That’s why—as more and more people reject the idea of a canine death race—PETA has a job offer for this year’s Iditarod losers: Let us help pay for the cost of training and equipment for you to embark on a new career, such as snowplow operator, ski instructor, or park ranger.

iditarod losers offered help become snowplow operators PETA

PETA will help mushers kiss the Iditarod goodbye and move on to a job that no one will despise them for doing.

Update (March 25, 2022): According to shocking reports, three mushers who participated in the 2022 Iditarod were penalized for sheltering dogs indoors while a dangerous windstorm raged outside. You read that right—per official Iditarod rules, mushers are actively discouraged from saving dogs’ lives and instead encouraged to let them suffer or die if they want to place high and earn more prize money. Cruelty is deliberately built into the structure of this death race’s rulebook, and compassionate people everywhere must call for this dangerous and deadly spectacle to end.

More than 150 dogs have died in the Iditarod since it began. In just this year’s event, two dogs went missing, a musher was apparently forced out of the race after the dogs he used were found in poor condition, and nearly 250 dogs were pulled off the trail due to exhaustion, illness, or injury. Before the race even started, dogs were attacked and one was killed during training.

Update (March 20, 2022):

The last team of exhausted dogs forced to race in the 2022 Iditarod crossed the finish line, marking the official end to this year’s cruel event.

THIS Is How the Iditarod Is Actually Going

Musher Brent Sass finished first in this year’s race, but there are no real winners in the Iditarod. Dogs forced to run in the event face potential illness, injuries, and even death—and this year’s race was no exception. Here is a recap of just a few of the worst incidents that occurred during the 2022 Iditarod:

  • Photos from the starting line show dogs chained up in the freezing cold and mushers dragging dogs and heaving them into tiny crates
  • Nearly 250 dogs were pulled off the trail because of exhaustion, illness, injury, or other causes, forcing the remaining ones to work even harder to pull the mushers.
  • Iditarod “winner” Brent Sass—whose dogs have died in other races and who chains his dogs to wooden boxes and plastic barrels in the frigid cold—left behind three dogs who could go no farther. He also shared a disturbing video during the race of dogs covered in snow and ice in the blistering wind with, as he described, their faces “totally entrenched in snow” and their eyes “all frozen shut.” In a previous race, he pushed dogs so far beyond their breaking point that he had to call for a rescue.

“I’ve got 11 dogs who are literally bunkered down in the snowdrifts. Like, their faces are totally entrenched in snow. I’m, like, cleaning their muzzles off, because the snow and ice are just … starting to build up everywhere. Their eyes are all frozen shut.”

— 2022 Iditarod “winner” Brent Sass

  • Musher Hugh Neff reportedly had to quit after the dogs he was forcing to race—who were described as “skinny” and were apparently suffering from diarrhea—were found in such poor condition that they couldn’t continue. Neff was banned from the 2019 race after one of his dogs died during the Yukon Quest.
  • Notorious musher Dallas Seavey—who has raced dogs who have tested positive for opioids, operates a kennel accused of killing dogs who didn’t make the grade, and owns property where a whistleblower reported finding dying puppies—admitted that during the first half of the race, the dogs he was forcing to run were suffering from diarrhea and that several dogs had been pulled off the trail because of injuries.
  • A dog named Jimbo was left behind by musher Richie Diehl and subsequently escaped the Iditarod’s “dropped dog” area in Anchorage. He was on the loose for more than a day.
  • Leon, a dog used by rookie musher Sébastien Dos Santos Borges, went missing at the Ruby checkpoint during the Iditarod—and was missing for months before being found.
  • Before the race even began, four dogs were severely injured by a moose while being forced to train by rookie musher Bridgett Watkins, and the month before, a team of dogs run by musher Jaye Foucher was hit by a truck, killing one of them, injuring others, and causing another dog to go missing.

The days are numbered for crude, outdated entertainment like the Iditarod.

Even though the race has concluded, PETA’s work is far from over. The nearly 250 exhausted, sick, and injured dogs pulled off the trail this year are that many more reasons why the Iditarod must end. Join us in calling for this reckless, cruel race to be the last—urge Liberty Media/GCI to sever its ties with the death race:

Keep scrolling for full coverage of the events described above and to learn how else you can speak up for dogs forced to race:

Update (March 15, 2022): This morning, Brent Sass “won” the 2022 Iditarod. But Sass, whose dogs have died in other races and who keeps his dogs chained to wooden boxes and plastic barrels in the bitter cold, has only scored the cruelty crown, nothing more. This top dog abuser left behind three dogs who could no longer carry on, meaning the remaining ones had to work even harder to pull him. This is par for the course for Sass, who pushed dogs so far beyond their breaking point during a previous dog-sledding race that he had to call for rescue.

Update (March 14, 2022): We’re more than seven days into the 2022 Iditarod, and more than 180 dogs have been dropped from the race. Dogs’ misery is still taking center stage. On Friday, musher Hugh Neff was reportedly made to quit the event after the dogs he was forcing to race, who were described as “skinny” and were apparently suffering from diarrhea, were found in such poor condition that they couldn’t continue, according to Alaska Public Media. “I just wanted to get to Nome,” he said afterward. Neff is the same notorious musher who was banned from the 2019 Iditarod after he forced a dog to pull a sled until his body broke down and he inhaled his own vomit during the Yukon Quest, a similarly cruel event. The full necropsy report also showed that the dog had died after enduring more than six hours of seizures.

Also over the weekend, Dallas Seavey—whose record of cruel animal treatment is as long as the Iditarod trail—admitted that during the first half of the race, the dogs he was forcing to run were suffering from diarrhea, too, and that several dogs had been pulled off the trail because of injuries.

Another musher, Matthew Failor, reportedly shot and killed a moose he encountered on the trail—a killing that surely never would have occurred had it not been for the Iditarod.

And a fourth musher, Paige Drobny, apparently nodded off while dogs kept pulling her and her sled through the race. “[I]t’s hard to stay awake,” she said.

“My feet got a little bit cold. It wasn’t that much fun,” said Drobny. Try being the dogs.

Most recently, Millennium Hotels and Resorts and computer software company Nutanix both dropped their support of the death race after hearing from PETA. We’re urging Liberty Media/GCI to back away from this spectacle of suffering, too. Will you join us?

Update (March 11, 2022):After being on the loose for more than a day, likely scared and all alone, Jimbo (below) has been found. PETA hopes Jimbo’s escape is a wake-up call to all Iditarod mushers and we urge them to get out of the cruel industry before more dogs suffer.

Update (March 11, 2022): A dog named Jimbo reportedly escaped the Iditarod’s “dropped dog” area in Anchorage, Alaska, yesterday morning and has been missing ever since. Jimbo, who was apparently suffering from a cough, was dropped by Richie Diehl, the same musher who admitted that he dropped out of the 2020 Iditarod because five dogs had coughs and were showing signs of the beginning stages of pneumonia.

Jimbo should have been curled up on a loving guardian’s warm couch, not forced to run hundreds of miles through biting winds and ditched like a flat tire when he became “useless” to Diehl.

And this isn’t the first time a dog forced to race in the Iditarod has gone missing in Anchorage, according to the Anchorage Daily News:

[O]ne of Norwegian musher Lars Monsen’s dogs escaped before the ceremonial start in 2018 and was found hours later, and a dog that belonged to Lachlan Clarke was killed by a car after getting loose in 2015.

Jimbo is one of more than 100 dogs who have already been pulled from this year’s race. Yet even though these dogs were taken off the trail because of exhaustion, illness, injury, or other causes—leaving the remaining ones to work even harder—some media outlets still attempt to portray mushers as being the ones who are burdened by “VERY rough” trail conditions and who are “exhausted.” One musher reported forcing dogs pulling his sled to “run through some of the most hellacious moguls [he’d] seen, in a lifetime.” Another admitted to bumping into trees, realizing at one point that his “lead dog” was no longer attached—the animal was missing. This year’s Iditarod and every race before it have demonstrated the same truth: Abusing dogs—not athleticism—is the key to winning.

Jimbo—a Dog Forced to Race in the 2022 Iditarod—Is Missing

Jimbo (left)

Jimbo’s dangerous escape from the Iditarod’s “dropped dog” area is yet another reason why PETA is calling on the race’s remaining sponsors to see the writing on the wall and pull their support, much as Millennium Hotels and Resorts, Nutanix, and so many others have done. And you can help:

  • Never take dog-sled rides or buy excursions that include visits to dog kennels.
  • Remind your family, friends, and social media followers to act in dogs’ best interests, too—share this blog post on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Click below to join PETA in urging Liberty Media/GCI and others to stop sponsoring cruelty to dogs.

Update (March 8, 2022): More than 30 dogs have already been pulled from the Iditarod during just the first few days of this year’s race. In related news, after hearing from PETA, computer software company Nutanix quickly confirmed that its new sponsorship of the death race will end. It did the right thing by shutting down its support of the cruel spectacle, and we’re calling on the remaining sponsors—which, like Nutanix, may be unaware of the suffering and deaths dogs endure—to join them.

Update (March 6, 2022): The 2022 Iditarod—a race that treats dogs like tow trucks or old bicycles chained up in the bitter cold—is one day in, and PETA is still on-site ensuring that any dogs who collapse and die on the trail aren’t forgotten. On Sunday, our supporters gathered at the Iditarod’s restart in Willow with giant logos spoofing the 50th anniversary of the race.

Meanwhile, PETA ads juxtaposing clips of happy canine companions with footage of lonely, shivering dogs at Iditarod mushers’ dog-sledding operations are running dozens of times on local television stations through March 16.

Join us in ensuring that the 2022 Iditarod is the last.

Update (March 5, 2022): At the Iditarod’s ceremonial start in downtown Anchorage, PETA “pallbearers” carried a dog sled piled with “bloody dog” props in a funeral-style procession. They alerted spectators that more than 150 dogs have died in the Iditarod to date and that the most common cause of death is aspiration pneumonia (caused by inhaling their own vomit).

Many more dogs have been killed during the off-season because they weren’t fast or fit enough to win money for the mushers who owned them. Click to urge Liberty Media/GCI to quit dragging its feet and cut its ties with this cruelty now.

Update (March 3, 2022): As the Iditarod marks 50 years of running dogs to their deaths—more than 150 so far—PETA supporters are in Anchorage protesting against Liberty Media’s company GCI, one of the race’s few remaining sponsors. Realistic-looking “dogs” tied to a stake showed the way mushers “store” living, breathing, feeling dogs, as revealed in PETA’s exposé of Iditarod mushers’ kennel facilities.

Demonstrators called on GCI to “disconnect from the cruel Iditarod” as many former sponsors have done—including ExxonMobil (which used to contribute $250,000 a year) and Millennium Hotels and Resorts (the race’s longtime host).

Update (February 11, 2022): Following a worldwide PETA campaign, Millennium Hotels and Resorts has confirmed that its nearly 30 years of support for the Iditarod, the notorious dog-sled race in which more than 150 dogs have died, is ending this year.

The decision follows appeals from nearly 500,000 PETA supporters and a campaign including ads on buses in Anchorage, Alaska, “Millhellium” ads in hospitality magazines, a billboard near Millennium’s Times Square hotel in New York City, and dozens of protests around the world, from Alaska to Paris to New Zealand. Only a few major corporate sponsors, such as Liberty Media subsidiary GCI, remain—and PETA recently bought stock in Liberty Broadband to push it to drop its sponsorship. Join us in upping the ante against Liberty Media:

Update (February 4, 2022): It’s not only the 1,000-mile Iditarod race that endangers dogs: Training sessions can also result in catastrophe and agony. It was reported that four dogs—Bill, Bronze, Flash, and Jefe—were severely injured by a moose while being forced to run by first-time Iditarod musher Bridgett Watkins. The dogs reportedly needed emergency surgery and are expected to recover, but hopefully this incident makes Watkins realize that no prize is worth a dog’s life.

Originally published on January 20, 2022:

The 2022 Iditarod death race is still more than a month away, but already at least one dog has been killed. On January 19, a team of dogs forced to race by Jaye Foucher—a musher registered for next week’s Willow 300 and this year’s Iditarod—was hit by a truck, killing one of them (Noddy) and injuring others. One dog, Felicity, is reportedly still missing.

The Willow 300 is a qualifying race for the Iditarod.

Foucher may now understand what PETA has been saying for years: The dog-sledding industry is rife with dangers for dogs, from being hit by vehicles to asphyxiation, heart attacks, and freezing to death.

Birch, an Iditarod victim

This is Birch. She endured horrific neglect at this “kennel” co-owned by former Iditarod champion John Baker. Despite sustaining a crippling, extremely painful spinal cord injury when she was just a puppy, she was denied veterinary care and chained in the freezing cold 24/7.

Up to half the dogs who start the Iditarod don’t finish it, and during the 2021 race alone, nearly 200 dogs were pulled off the trail because of exhaustion, illness, injury, or other causes. The leading cause of death for dogs made to race in the Iditarod is aspiration pneumonia—caused by inhaling their own vomit. Many more die during the off-season while chained up outside in subzero temperatures or are killed because they aren’t considered fast enough. Thanks to a PETA investigator, the world was given a glimpse of what it’s like for some of these dogs, including Snickers—she was kept chained near the icy sea, limping, crying, and left to pace in circles all day.

Snickers, an Iditarod victim

Rather than providing Snickers with the veterinary care and comfort that she desperately needed, former Iditarod champion John Baker chained the elderly dog beside the frozen sea, all alone and unable to escape the Arctic cold.

No prize is worth a dog’s life, and we’re urging Foucher to do what’s right and best for dogs by dropping out of the Willow 300, the Iditarod, and racing altogether. And for Birch, Snickers, and countless other victims of the Iditarod, PETA will continue to protest the event’s cruelty—expect to see activists at the start of the Iditarod on March 5 in Anchorage, Alaska. We’ll be monitoring this year’s death race, so check back—this story will be updated as the 2022 Iditarod ensues.

Sponsor by sponsor, PETA’s been taking down the Iditarod. Learn how you can join us in speaking out for dogs.

Injured dogs, missing dogs, dead dogs—it’s no wonder that so many major companies, including ExxonMobilChryslerAlaska AirlinesCoca-ColaJack Daniel’sState Farm, and Wells Fargo, have listened to PETA and dropped their sponsorships. So tell Liberty Media/GCI to quit dragging its feet and cut its ties now:

If you’re planning a trip or cruise to Alaska, please don’t buy any packages or excursions that include dog-sled rides or visits to dog kennels. Ask your friends and family not to, either:

Learn more about the abuse of dogs in the Iditarod: Watch the documentary Sled Dogs—which shines a spotlight on the dogs who are forced to run until their bodies break down or who are killed if they don’t measure up—available now on Prime Video and Plex.

PETA is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide websites with a means to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind