In the hours since Iditarod announced that all mushers that have a dog died on the race (unless it "was caused solely by unforeseeable, external forces") will be withdrawn from the Race, I have been asked for my opinions a number of times.
I hate talking dog deaths, the wounds on that issue are still raw for me.
For those of you unaware, my lead dog, Snickers, died of a gastric ulcer in Grayling during the 2007 Iditarod. I have throughly examined the events leading up to that so many times. I shared her necropsy report with many highly respected vets and asked their opinions. My head knows that I did right by my girl, my heart will always ask, 'What if....?'.
I almost quit racing after that night.
Ultimately though, everything in life has risks - even sitting on the couch is a risk. I make decisions for my dogs that mirror the decisions I make for me. I am not a foolhardy person, I take my wellbeing seriously and I do the same for my dogs wellbeing - but I also want for all our lives to be rich and full.
I look at and reevaluate that balance often. You may not agree with where my balance point is, I may not agree with yours - but the point is that it was made thoughtfully and caringly, so it should be respected.
I don't disagree that this new rule might make an uncaring musher think twice about leaving a dog in a checkpoint (though it should be noted that there are already rules in place to deal with mushers whose dogs die a preventable death) - and that is good thing but what I also see is what it may do to a musher who really does care and really was doing their best for their dogs - a musher who really views their dogs as a member of their family, as I did and do.
As I write this my mind is in Grayling. I remember everything about that night. The fear, and eventually, the sorrow, but I also remember the support. The community, the vets (oh, the vets!!), the officials, and my fellow mushers all offering such tremendous support and compassion - and once I got home, I was overwhelmed by the outpouring from fans. I can't even begin to say what that meant to me.
Now, I fear that the new rule will take some of that away. I was given the room and the support to make the choices that I needed to make for me (my choice was to scratch - my heart just wasn't in the race anymore). Now, I fear, when the worst happens, there will be a black cloud of suspicion over a musher - the suggestion that you did do something wrong and have been judged and penalized for it without your story even being heard.
I was reading some comments on the new rule on FB today and saw some already saying that it was good because whether or not the musher cared, they still made a mistake that led to the dog's death. The judging has begun. Life is tenuous and fragile - living it 'mistake free' does not guarantee that it will be long.
I believe there are pros and cons to this new rule - but, in my mind, what it boils down to is whether you believe most mushers care about their dogs or whether most mushers don't.
I believe that most mushers care about their dogs.