Iditarod officials try to explain redacted test results
With the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race a week away, Iditarod Trail Committee officials are addressing a newly unveiled redaction in the document showing a positive drug test on four-time champion Dallas Seavey's dogs.
The race is already dealing with the aftermath of the test showing pain reliever and banned substance Tramadol in some of Seavey's dogs, as well as dissension among its board of directors and a report calling for greater transparency with mushers and sponsors.
Seavey has fiercely denied the Tramadol accusations, challenging race officials to "prove it." In the interim, he has called for a purge of the ITC's board and opted to race the Finnmarkslopet in Norway rather than the Iditarod this year.
KTVA sat down with Iditarod CEO, Stan Hooley, race marshal Mark Nordman, head veterinarian Dr. Stuart Nelson and chief operating officer Chas St. George.
Hooley confirmed that Seavey’s dogs were the only ones to test positive for Tramadol following last year’s race.
However, KTVA has obtained documents from a member of the Seavey camp which allegedly raises a red flag about a second, unnamed musher.
The ITC has confirmed that the list of results on 2017 Iditarod dogs from the Industrial Laboratories Company of Wheatridge, Colo., which conducted the tests of the dogs’ urine samples, hasn't been altered from the versions submitted by the lab.
KTVA has reached out for comment to the lab's director of drug testing services but has received no response.
ITC officials weren't able to explain Friday what appears to be a redacted section a few lines below the Tramadol findings for Seavey's dogs.
“I do not know exactly why this blank is here, because that is part of what the lab is doing,” Nelson said.
Nelson also addressed the second page from the lab, containing handwritten notes with numerous drugs that have lines crossed through them. He said those lines are referred to as “bench notes,” which were taken by a chemist at the Colorado lab.
“It’s a multi-level effort. There’s an initial screening test that goes. It can show some spikes,” Nelson said.
Once those spikes are found present, more testing is done. But of all the drugs listed, the Tramadol found in Seavey’s dogs -- the only result positively confirmed -- is the only one circled.
“These notes were possible suspects in that process but never confirmed as positives other than Tramadol was the only positive test.” Nelson said.
The other drugs, Hooley said, “were ruled out and never present at all.”
The unconfirmed drugs include the anabolic steroid Metandienone, Naloxone, which blocks the effects of opioids and Theobromine -- a diuretic commonly found in chocolate, which can be dangerous to dogs in large doses.
The Iditarod has released a summary of its drug testing regime for this year's race.
Beyond the document from Seavey's camp, the ITC's leadership also touched on a number of preparations for next month's race.
Nelson says the dogs are currently undergoing screening to ensure their health for the 1,000-mile race to Nome. That work includes blood work, as well as electrocardiograms which test the heart’s electrical activity.
Nelson reviews the blood work, while a cardiologist looks over the ECG results. His staff includes 56 veterinarians, 45 of which will be on the trail examining dogs at the checkpoints. Veterinarians are being asked to remember the acronym HAWL: hydration and heart, attitude and appetite, weight and lungs.
Dallas Seavey claims his dogs were doped by someone else. To address that concern, Nordman says volunteers will have a greater presence at checkpoints.
“Everybody has stepped up their game," Nordman said. "Look across society -- I think everybody is a little leery, (but) I still have trust in my mushers and our fans.”
“The notion of security weighs on our mushers, staff and volunteers,” St. George said. “We’re strategically taking a look at locations that we want to make sure we cover at some level or another.”
There will be more surveillance in the Nome dog lot, where Seavey's dogs were reportedly dosed soon after his second-place finish, but the ITC didn't offer further details on what that will entail.
Nordman added that while the Iditarod has received great support from the local communities, "it’s not something you can control every second of every day.” As a result, mushers’ drop bags for dog food -- which Seavey has said may have been drugged last year -- will have zip ties marked with "Iditarod."
“If your bag is opened you might want to talk to somebody about it," Nordman said. "Much like a child-proof container. If the seal is broken: ‘What’s going with this?’”
Hooley admitted that Iditarod officials erred in waiting to identify Seavey as the musher whose dogs tested positive for Tramadol.
Seavey's dogs were tested at the finish line in Nome on March 15; his dogs' test results were confirmed a few days later, and he was notified by the ITC on April 10. But the ITC initially referred to him only as "Musher X," and his name wasn’t made public until October.
“Hindsight’s always 20-20. Had we had the opportunity to do it over again, the board would have elected to disclose that positive result earlier and deal with it in a more timely fashion,” Hooley said. “The outcome wouldn’t have been any different. The timing I think was the bigger issue for people.”
“The issues and relationships between the mushers, the staff, the organization and the board, that’s on everybody’s radar," Hooley said. “Reaching out, communicating more with the mushers is something we're doing. That’s one way to regain some of that trust.”
The Iditarod begins with the ceremonial start in Anchorage on Saturday, March 3. The restart will take place from Willow the following day. ITC officials say the race will take the southern route for the first time in five years, then follow it for the next two years as well.
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