The Iditarod, an annual long-distance sled dog competition in Alaska that boasts itself as the "Last Great Race on Earth," is currently under investigation for a doping scandal.
It has been revealed that four dogs belonging to champion musher Dallas Seavey tested positive for high levels of the painkiller Tramadol last spring. According to the Chicago Tribune, "It was the first time since the race instituted drug testing in 1994 that a test came back positive."
Since news of the scandal broke, the Iditarod Trail Committee (ITC) said in a statement that it intends to rewrite its current canine drug test rule to "adopt a bright line strict liability standard."
Dr. Giacomo Gianotti of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine explained that Tramadol (which can be used in both humans and dogs), is an analgesic, an opioid-like substance that relieves pain. The drug, however, does not have an addictive quality for dogs. So while it may work as a mild pain reliever, it does not have the "rewarding dopamine." The drug is significantly less potent than a typical "doping" drug like morphine, he added.
Seavey has vehemently denied any wrongdoing in regard to the allegations beyond the ITC's investigation, even taking to YouTube to claim his innocence. He suggested that perhaps another racer slipped the dogs the drugs in order to sabotage them.
With no concrete reason as to why Seavey would administer the painkiller to his dogs intentionally, the committee did not discipline the musher, nor did it strip him of his titles or cash winnings. The decision did not sit well with some animal rights activists.
"If a member of the Iditarod's 'royalty' dopes dogs, how many other mushers are turning to opioids in order to force dogs to push through the pain?" asked PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman in a statement. "And what about an investigation into where this controlled substance came from, whether a veterinarian or not?
"Dogs are not sleds," she continued. "They are sensitive beings who do not deserve to be run to their deaths. Mushers are pushing dogs to the brink and beyond for a cash prize, and this doping scandal is further proof that this race needs to end."
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