Three racers in the Iditarod Sled Dog Race have been punished by race authorities for sheltering their dogs inside a cabin instead of leaving them outside during a powerful winter storm. Two of the three riders saw their rankings demoted, and a third was served with a fine but his ranking was not affected.

The riders were Mille Porsild of Denmark, Michelle Phillips of Canada, and Riley Dyche of Fairbanks, Alaska. The storm reportedly had winds so strong that it caused white-out conditions, and six mushers dropped out of the race that day. Their decision to house their dogs during a dangerous storm amounted to a competitive advantage over other racers, confirmed Iditarod race marshal Mark Nordman.

“No doubt that Michelle and Mille did the right thing for their dogs. But it also affected the competition for racers going forward,” Nordman said. Porsild’s ranking was dropped from 14th to 17th position and Phillips’ from 17th to 18th.

Porsild denied that protecting her dogs gave her any advantage. “Stopping and having the dogs in the shelter cabin gave Michelle and I no competition edge. On the contrary: We both lost the edge we had––especially me and my team.” She also wrote in an email to Nordman himself, “There was no doubt to me that my dogs sitting unprotected in these conditions could lead to death or deaths of dogs.”

The move to punish Iditarod mushers quickly gained the attention of PETA, a longtime critic of the sled race. “Nothing makes it clearer that this death race must end than the fact that the Iditarod slapped mushers with a fine as punishment for acting to prevent dogs’ deaths,” Tracy Reiman, EVP of PETA. She also added that “cruelty is baked into this deadly race, and it’s time for it to stop.”

The Iditarod lasted from March 5 to March 15 and ended with American musher Brent Sass winning first place.

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