2 dogs die during Alaska Iditarod race, prompting call from PETA to end the competition

FILE - Wade Marrs (Willow, AK) drives his team from the starting line during the restart of the 2020 Iditarod Sled Dog Race at Willow Lake on March 8, 2020 in Willow, Alaska. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)

Two dogs have died during Alaska’s annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, making it the first time a dog has died during the competition in five years. 

The deaths have prompted renewed calls from the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to end the 1,000-mile race. 

The two dogs who died include Bog, a 2-year-old male on musher Issac Teaford’s team and George, a 4-year-old male on musher Hunter Keefe’s team. 

Bog collapsed Sunday morning roughly 200 feet short of the checkpoint in the village of Nulato, a former Russian trading post located 582 miles into the race across the Alaska wilderness. A veterinarian spent 20 minutes performing CPR on him to no avail. 

George also died on the trail roughly 35 miles outside the village of Kaltag, approximately 629 miles into the race. 

A necropsy did not determine a cause of death for Bog, and the Iditarod said further testing will be conducted. A necropsy on George will also be undertaken.

What is the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race?

The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is an annual long-distance sled dog race that takes place in early March from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska.

Often referred to as the "Last Great Race on Earth," it spans roughly 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) through some of the world's most challenging and remote terrain, including frozen tundra, dense forests, and mountain ranges.

The race commemorates the historic 1925 serum run to Nome, where sled dog teams transported diphtheria antitoxin to combat an outbreak. Today, mushers and their teams of sled dogs compete in the Iditarod for honor, recognition, and a substantial cash prize.

Is it common for dogs to die in the race?

The last dog to die during the annual race was Oshi, a 5-year-old female on musher Richie Beattie’s team, in 2019. At a post-race checkup, veterinarians found signs of pneumonia in the dog. She was flown to Anchorage for care but later died.

In the months leading up to this year's race, five other dogs died and eight were injured after snowmobiles hit the dog teams during training runs.

According to the Associated Press, Keefe and Teaford are relatively inexperienced in running the Iditarod. Teaford is a rookie and Keefe was in his second race after finishing 11th last year. 

What PETA had to say

PETA claims more than 150 dogs have died in total in the Iditarod, but officials of the race have never confirmed this number or provided an official count of dogs that have been killed since the first race in 1973. 

PETA organized a protest at the race’s ceremonial "Mushers Banquet," held on March 2 in Anchorage to kick off the race. 

"The death count keeps climbing for dogs who are forced to run until their bodies break down, all so the human winner can get a trophy while the dogs get an icy grave," PETA Senior Vice President Colleen O’Brien said in a statement. "PETA is calling for this despicable race to end."

The Associated Press contributed to this story. It was reported from Los Angeles.