3 Iditarod mushers penalized for breaking dog sheltering rule

Published: Mar. 27, 2022 at 10:40 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - While the 50th running of the Iditarod is in the rearview mirror, the race standings weren’t finalized until well after the last musher crossed under the Burled Arch in Nome, with three teams determined to have violated a race rule that adjusted the final team rankings in the end.

Iditarod mushers Michelle Phillips, Mille Porsild and Riley Dyche were all found to have broken part of rule 37 in the Iditarod rule book during this year’s race. That rule states: “Dogs may not be brought into shelters except for race veterinarians’ medical examination or treatment.”

Between Koyuk and Elim, Phillips said she ran into a nasty storm that caused her and her team to lose the trail several times. Through the storm, she managed to identify a shelter cabin with the lights already turned on. Phillips then joined Porsild who was already taking shelter inside the cabin.

“I haven’t ever quite felt that situation, where I was truly afraid for my animals,” Phillips said. “Like, I knew we’re going have to stop and camp, but when I had the option for shelter, it didn’t cross my mind to not use it.”

While the two mushers and their teams stayed inside the cabin, multiple other mushers passed by, including Joar Liefseth Ulsom, Matt Hall, Lev Shvarts and Mitch Seavey. All of them filed complaints saying that Phillips and Porsild gained a competitive advantage by sheltering their dogs from the storm.

“It hasn’t happened a lot, and I don’t think we have had anything to this extent,” said Iditarod Race Marshal Mark Nordman, “but due to the weather that was involved, and I told both Mille and Michelle that, they definitely made the right call for their dogs. No question about that.

“That is an individual choice thing,” he continued, “and I believe they felt truly that they were in peril, and it was best for them to put their dogs in that shelter cabin.”

Nordman did ultimately determine that Phillips and Porsild did break the rule and gained a competitive advantage. Because of that, the rankings were changed, with Phillips and Porsild moved down to be behind the group of mushers with whom they were racing. Porsild dropped from 14th place to 17th place, and Phillips went from 17th place to 18th place.

Regarding prize money earnings for finishing the Iditarod this year, Porsild lost $3,450, and Phillips was said to have lost somewhere in the range of $1,000 or less.

“It is ridiculous; it is supposed to be about dog care,” Phillips said, “and that didn’t even cross my mind that I would be in trouble for making that choice in those circumstances. I understand they don’t want dogs in shelters, but I feel like in these exceptional circumstances, when, you know, we get these high winds and you want to get out of the winds because they are dangerous for the animals, that you need to do what is important to keep your animal safe, keep your dog safe.”

Phillips called the decision “unfortunate and frustrating,” and said it left a bad taste in her mouth. Iditarod 50, she said, would likely be her last Iditarod.

Nordman said both Porsild and Phillips are appealing the decision, and that their appeals will be taken seriously.

The official Iditarod rule book says “[a]ppeals will be decided by hearing before an appeals board appointed by the president of ITC, which will be held within forty-five (45) days of filing the appeal.”

Iditarod musher Riley Dyche was also found to have broken the same part of rule 37 during his team’s run from White Mountain to Nome, during which he took his dogs inside a shelter cabin for their safety.

Dyche was fined $1,000 for breaking the rule, but because the infraction didn’t cause him to lose or gain any ground in the standings, he remained in 33rd place in the final rankings.

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