ANCHORAGE - The committee in charge of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is calling for an independent investigation into allegations that a musher beat and kicked some of his dogs during this year's race.
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Musher Ramy Brooks of Healy was disqualified three days after completing the 1,100-mile race from Anchorage to Nome. He admitted to race officials that he had "spanked" some of his dogs with a wooden trail marker after they didn't want to continue on the trail in the village of Golovin on the Bering Sea Coast.
A Golovin schoolteacher told the Anchorage Daily News that Brooks' actions were far worse. She told Iditarod officials that over the course of 15 to 20 minutes, Brooks periodically beat and kicked various dogs in his team and hit them with a ski pole.
At least a half-dozen Golovin residents have since offered similar accounts of what happened.
Iditarod Board President Richard Burmeister issued a statement Friday that said the race's legal advisers have been asked to put together a plan to investigate the incident independently of the committee and race staff.
Burmeister called for a full report to be delivered to the Iditarod board before its April 27 meeting. Such an investigation is needed, he said, because of "the reports of witnesses versus what has been acknowledged by Ramy."
The announcement came just days after Burmeister sent a separate letter to most former Iditarod finishers warning them to "be careful what you say" about the accusations against Brooks.
"Don't go making announcements that will bring (this) issue back to the attention of the press," he wrote. "Be careful of what you do and what you say. ...What we should be doing is supporting Ramy as a friend, even though we do not agree with his actions. We should not be trying to dig a hole and putting him there."
Several Alaska mushers have said there is no place for people with a bad temper in the sport. Willow musher Lynda Plettner, a 12-time Iditarod finisher, said Friday that in all her races she never had to do more to discipline a dog than slap it with a thickly padded, cold-weather mitten.
"I didn't have to hit them to get in the top 20," she added. Plettner said she is offended if anyone thinks beating dogs is the way to Iditarod success.
"That is kind of the old-time way," said Will Forsberg, a past winner of the Copper Basin 300 Sled Dog Race and one of the founders of PRIDE, an organization to dedicated to better care of Alaska sled dogs. "It might even work a little bit."
But he said that he thought five-time Iditarod champ Rick Swenson of Two Rivers, four-time Iditarod champ Susan Butcher of Fairbanks and a host of multiple champs who followed them demonstrated that a dog that wants to run will triumph over one made to run every time.
Brooks, however, denies abusing his dogs. He has said that he has veterinary reports that will show that all of his dogs were healthy at the Iditarod finish in Nome, except for one that died on the way into the Safety checkpoint.
Iditarod veterinarians still don't know why that dog fell dead about 25 miles short of Nome, but they have said there is nothing to indicate it was Brooks' fault.
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