On Saturday, 20 March 2010, the very last musher competing in the famous Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, crossed over the finish line in Nome, Alaska.
The Red Lantern Award
The Red Lantern was awarded to this last musher, a 37 year old rookie named Celeste Davis from Deer Lodge, Montana. The Red Lantern is awarded to the team that finishes last in the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.
Even though this award is given to the last musher, the circumstances involving this year's award is rather unique: Ms. Davis completed the race in 13 days, 5 hours, 6 minutes and 40 seconds - making this the fastest Red Lantern time throughout the race's entire 38 year history.
No Dog Deaths
However, this year's Iditarod race had something even more spectacular to celebrate when Ms Davis crossed over that finish line: Iditarod officials have stated that there was no dog deaths related to the 2010 Iditarod race.
The Iditarod's chief race veterinarian, Stuart Nelson, happily claimed:
"To stand there and watch that last team come in, I'll tell you, is the highlight of my veterinarian career. I think it's a pretty safe assumption that this is a first."
The majority of the mushers who competed in the 2010 race all agreed that their dogs' general wellbeing was enhanced by the low temperatures and good trail conditions.
"Typically our greatest concern is dogs that might overheat," explained Dr. Nelson. "So when you have a colder race, you can take that factor, typically, out of the equation."
Iditarod Dog Deaths
Dr. Nelson first became involved in the Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Race back in 1986.
The first year in which a dog died during the race was in 1994, followed again in 1996. Incidentally, though, the number of dog deaths slowly arose from two per year in the 1990's to almost three per year in 2000. The increase in dog deaths has been attributed to the increase in mushers who competed in the races - some years there were 80 to 90 competitors.
In 2009, the Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Race was extremely harsh and there were six dogs reported to have died during the race. This added fuel to the fire already growing from animal rights groups around the world, who claimed that the 1,000 mile race borders on the line of animal cruelty to the sled dogs.
One of the most well known animal rights groups, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, stepped forward and insisted on a full investigation into the deaths of the dogs in last year's Iditarod race.
This caused the race organizers to increase their plans to have the sled dogs more closely studied during the 2010 race and enlisted the help of 40 volunteer veterinarians whose sole purpose was to check the dog teams at various points on the trail for any health issues.
Hugh Neff, a musher who finished in ninth place this year, was informed that Dr. Nelson had "put out the word to all of us that the dogs were going to be checked more thoroughly and that after what happened last year, we needed to be more vigilant."
Sled Dog Action Coalition
Although there were no dog deaths during this year's race, many people are still concerned about the health and wellbeing of the dogs, such as Margery Glickman, who is the founder of the Sled Dog Action Coalition.
"If it's true that there have been no dog deaths, I hope that remains the case for however long this race is run and I hope that they make other improvements," Ms. Glickman reportedly told an Anchorage newspaper.
However, mushers feel quite strongly about their sled dogs; like Lance Mackey who is this year's winning musher:
"I'm not going to win the Iditarod at the expense of my team."
Photo Credit: Alaskan Dude