As you may already know, Karen dropped two dogs before leaving Nikolai, and for those of you not familiar with the Iditarod and the term “Dropped Dog”, we wanted to provide you with some insight on why a musher might drop a dog and what that really means.
The actual procedure and care for dropping dogs is well documented on the Iditarod Web site, the work of the volunteers, vets, and Iditarod Air Force all combined provide 1st class care and transportation for any dog that can’t continue on the trail for whatever reason.
Depending on where the dogs are dropped determines where they go to wait and are cared for by volunteers and vets until they are reunited with their team and musher: Anchorage, or Nome. Some get to spend time at the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center, where since 1974, inmates care for the dogs under the supervision of Iditarod authorities and vets.
Ok, so we’ve covered the basic “how”, but now on to the “why” a dog may be dropped.
In the case of Karen’s selection to drop two dogs today, Wolvie, as a rookie, was just a bit freaked out still about the crowds at the start of the race and the whole experience. Billie, another rookie, wasn’t running as fast as her other team mates. They are both fine, they are going through the usual protocol at the Nikolai checkpoint and will soon be back getting all sorts of love and attention, and a well deserved rest back in Anchorage.
In past races, Karen has dropped dogs because they simply don’t seem to be enjoying themselves. If you own huskies, you know that you can’t make a husky do what they don’t want to do, and they will make it perfectly clear that they aren’t having fun.
Sled dogs are athletes, and like all athletes running long distances, sometimes a muscle will hurt, or they’ll step wrong in a rut and sprain a leg, or they could find a tasty carcass along the route and end up with an upset stomach.
So what happens if a dog gets hurt along the trail in the middle of two checkpoints? Well, they get a ride in the bag (we’ll cover what all is required to be in the bag in a later post). If you are wondering how well a sled dog rides in a bag, Karen says it best in her blog account of WiFi during the Don Bowers 200 this year.
And now to answer a question that was asked one time: yes, the dogs are flown back to the dropped dogs area by plane, but no, they don’t parachute down.