Dallas Seavey embroiled in Iditarod doping scandal
By Diana Haecker
After several weeks of withholding the name of the Iditarod musher whose dogs tested positive for an opioid painkiller after finishing the 2017 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, the Iditarod trail committee on Monday released his identity: four-time Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey.
The announcement came after the Iditarod Official Finisher’s Club, an organization consisting of Iditarod finishers, demanded the ITC release the name within 72 hours in a document drafted during a special emergency meeting of the club on Sunday.
Pressure from the public also played a role. The doping story and excruciating suspense who Musher X is, went beyond mushing circles in Alaska and occupied headlines nationwide in mainstream outlets like NPR, ESPN and Sports Illustrated as well as going viral on social media.
The press statement released on Monday afternoon from the Iditarod stated, “because of the unhealthy level of speculation involved in this matter, ITC has now decided to disclose the name of the musher involved.”
Dallas Seavey responded within the hour of the Iditarod release with a nearly 18-minute YouTube video posted to his Facebook site. In it he vehemently denies giving his dogs the drugs or having knowledge of another person giving tramadol to the dogs on his behest.
He points towards sabotage, either by a fellow musher or a third-party, and accuses the ITC of “throwing him under the bus.”
The Iditarod Trail Committee sent out a press release on October 9 saying the board has updated Rule 39, which spells out substances prohibited in sled dogs running the race. It then dropped the bombshell information that the revised rule has been put in place “because several dogs in a single musher’s team in the 2017 race tested positive for a prohibited substance. In consultation with legal counsel, the Board of Directors determined that the ITC would likely not be able to prove intent.”
According to ITC and Seavey, the race marshal informed Dallas Seavey about the findings. The findings were that four dogs in his team tested positive for the opioid canine painkiller drug called Tramadol.It is a prescription drug. According to ITC, a drug testing team took urine samples from four dogs in Seavey’s team, six hours after he finished the race in Nome.
Seavey denied having administered Tramadol to his dogs.
ITC spokesman Chas St. George told the Nugget that the way the rule was previously written, it could have been interpreted to require the ITC to have proof of intent. “We could not prove intent,” he said.
After the Oct 9 press release the questions and speculation on who the musher was and why there were no sanctions doled out began to gain momentum and spiraled into main stream media and social media sites.
All top 20 teams are subject to urine tests on random dogs, which implicated all 20 mushers as suspects.
To make matters worse, the Iditarod Official Finishers Club president Wade Marrs received a statement from musher X that prompted an answer from the ITC on Oct. 22.
The Iditarod Official Finishers Club held an emergency meeting on Sunday, Oct. 22 to discuss how the ITC handled the drug test and reaffirmed the stance denouncing doping of dogs in any form. The IOFC mushers demanded the release of the name of musher X, a more comprehensive and enforcable drug policy, and the lifting of rule 53, dubbed the ‘gag order’that puts mushers in fear of retribution if they speak their mind. They also asked for extending the date for a full refund for next years race.
Seavey in his 18 minute response said he has never broken any rule and that he suspects an act of sabotage. He said, he has been misled by race officials when he believed they cleared him of any alleged wrongdoing and that the ITC would increase security of food drops, checkpoints and the Nome yard.
What we don’t know
How the drugs ended up in four of Seavey’s sled dogs after the race. Tramadol is available by prescription only. It is unknown who prescribed the drug and who administered them.
Not only did PETA immediately pounce on the opportunity to discredit the Iditarod and the sport of mushing in general, the International Federation of Sleddog Sports strongly chastised the ITC for how it handled the incident. “It is unfortunate for the world of mushing that the ITC chose to follow an anti-doping protocol that it cannot enforce and that the ITC’s inattention to developing an infallible anti-doping protocol has put at risk the reputation of a potentially innocent musher, the integrity of the Iditarod race itself and the entire world of mushing, which is made up of dedicated, concerned, animal lovers, the vast majority of whom would never consider doping a sled dog,” wrote IFSS President Helen Lundberg.