Dogs are 'dropped' for many different reasons during an Iditarod race. Most common are sore wrists and ankles. Some are dropped due to poor appetite, minor sprains and abrasions, coughs and colds - anything a human athlete might encounter during a 10 day competition. Some mushers are training younger dogs and only expect them to perform for part of the race. Others may drop slower dogs when they reach the Bering Coast in anticipation of a final sprint. The reasons are varied but the bottom line is to prevent serious injury to the dogs and to optimize the performance of the whole team.
Dropped dogs are left only at checkpoints with an Iditarod veterinarian. The vet thoroughly examines the dog, provides treatment and medications and completes an Iditarod Dropped Dog Form which accompanies the dog until he/she arrives at its home kennel. Dogs dropped at early checkpoints are flown directly back to Iditarod Headquarters at the Millenium Hotel in Anchorage. Those dropped approximately Rohn or later are flown to a commercial airline hub (McGrath, Unalakleet or Nome) by the Iditarod Air Force. Here they are cared for by trained dog drop volunteers, who continue to treat according to veterinarian instructions. Commercial planes, some carrying as many as 50 dropped dogs, ferry the sled dogs back to Anchorage. They are trucked from the airport to Iditarod HQ. Vets assess each dog at every step along the way. Dogs requiring the most care are given priority and flown out first.
In a secure area behind the Millennium Hotel, overlooking beautiful Lake Hood, each dog is again examined by a volunteer vet, treated, fed, blanketed and surrounded by adoring, trained dog drop volunteers. (When we picked up Tug, her volunteer was heart broken to see her go as they had bonded for several hours.)
The dropped dog is subsequently released to the musher's predesignated representative, along with the 'Iditarod Dropped Dog Form', the log of examinations and treatment that has accompanied the dog from the checkpoint.
If musher representatives are unable to retrieve a dropped dog until the next day, these dogs have the honor of being cared for by an unusual group of Iditarod volunteers, who step up to the plate with enthusiasm each year. The dogs are transported to a nearby minimum security prison for women. Inmates earn the privilege of being trained as dog drop volunteers. They prepare a large shed with tethers, straw, food, water, blankets, etc. They are professional and loving and each year we marvel at the service they provide to the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. So dogs can also be picked up at the prison the day following their flight to Anchorage.
Dogs with home kennels near Anchorage are usually back in their own beds a few hours after pickup. Since our home kennel is a seven hour drive north, we have a kennel away from home in the Wasilla area. Our good friend, Margie Bauman, provides cozy houses, clean straw and warm vittles for our dogs in a yard surrounded by spectacular mountains and blue skies. They get to stretch out and rest their aches until a truck is available to take them back to SP Kennel.
L-R: Tug relaxing at the Millennium with the volunteers; Tug and Sissy at their temporary home at Margie's
Be assured that we will always post the names of dogs dropped from the SP teams as soon as we know them. Often we do not know until the dogs are unloaded from the planes in Anchorage! We are as eager to know as you are.
From the SP Kennel Dropped Dog Team in Anchorage:
Kennel Mom (Mickey), Moira, handler extraordinaire and Doug (Aliy's Dad)