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ANCHORAGE - One of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race's most popular mushers was handed a two-year suspension Friday and placed on three years' probation for abusing his dogs during this year's race.
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Ramy Brooks can next request entry to the 1,100-mile race in 2010.
Brooks, twice an Iditarod runner-up, was disqualified from the race for striking his dogs with a quarter-inch wide wooden trail marker when they stopped in Golovin, less than 100 miles from the finish in Nome.
The Iditarod Trail Committee conducted a more in-depth inquiry after getting eyewitness reports that what occurred in Golovin was far more serious, with several residents saying he had kicked, hit or struck his dogs with a ski pole.
The 38-year-old Brooks has adamantly denied the eyewitness accounts. He spoke to the board behind closed doors at a meeting Friday in Anchorage. He did not speak to the media.
The board voted unanimously for the two-year suspension.
Brooks' lawyer, Thomas Wang, issued a statement that said, "Ramy is understandably disappointed in the board's decision."
The Iditarod board was left with sorting out the different accounts of the incident to decide if more severe punishment was warranted. The board had an investigator from the Anchorage law firm Davis Wright Tremaine LLP that represents the race conduct the investigation.
Five witnesses - three adults and two children - told the investigator that Brooks kicked his dogs. The accounts differed on whether Brooks punched some of his dogs, hit them with a ski pole or struck them with a chain.
Stan Hooley, executive director of the Iditarod Trail Committee, said whether Brooks actually hit and kicked his dogs remains in dispute. He said the board did not base the two-year suspension on the Golovin accounts. Instead, the suspension was for the severity of what Brooks had already acknowledged - hitting his dogs with the wooden trail marker.
"The board did not feel they could act on those allegations," Hooley said, of the eyewitness accounts.