Photo: Ezra Shaw (Getty)

Alaskan musher Katherine Keith had one of her sled dogs, Blonde, die during the Iditarod yesterday. Last year, one of her dogs died as well. Last year, five dogs died, and since the race began in 1973, over 150 dogs have died.

A statement from the event, which bills itself as “a race covering 1000 miles of ... jagged mountain ranges, frozen river, dense forest, desolate tundra and miles of windswept coast” that “pits man and animal against nature,” said:

At approximately 12:15 a.m. today, Blonde, a five-year-old male from the race team of Katherine Keith (bib #51), died at the Koyuk checkpoint. Blonde had been dropped there earlier in the day and was being treated by veterinarians for signs of pneumonia.

A gross necropsy will be conducted by a board-certified veterinary pathologist.

According to the Associated Press, a “race official said he could find no fault in how [Keith] cares for her team.”

A report written by another musher and published on KTVA, a CBS affiliate in Alaska, said the sled dogs’ safety is the number one priority for Keith and other mushers:

Kat either carried one of her teammates into Koyuk or handed Blondie over to the care of the Iditarod veterinarian crew shortly after arriving in Koyuk and discovering the signs of pneumonia. It is very likely due to her expertise Kat recognized an abnormality to Blondie’s attitude or behavior and notified the vets as soon as she arrived at the checkpoint. I suspect this because I’ve mushed with Kat before and seen the extreme caution and care she has for her teammates.

In 2015, Kat mushed into Old Woman cabin, where I was resting, absolutely distraught over a dog on her team with blood foaming from its nose and mouth. She was convinced her dog was dying and desperate to do anything to help, even pushing the SOS button on her SPOT tracker and ultimately ending her race, just to assure she had veterinary care for her dog as soon as possible.

All the mushers around the cabin sprung into action to help her until help arrived. Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. Upon examination, the dog ended up just having a small puncture in the nasal cavity— that when combined with the athlete’s heavy breathing— caused the bloody foam.

However, Kat’s race was over, and I’m sure if she had the choice, she’d do it again. What I saw from her that day was 100 percent love and care for a member of her family and team.

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People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has called for the race to end, saying:

Dogs used in the Iditarod are forced to run up to 100 miles a day through biting winds, blinding snowstorms, subzero temperatures, and treacherous ice. Even with snow booties on some, the dogs’ feet can become cut, bruised, and raw from the vast distances of frozen terrain that they cover.

The broader sled dog industry treats the dogs as disposable. Puppies that are not seen as having a future in racing, are sometimes killed or abandoned, in a practice called “culling.”

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Keith’s most recent post on Instagram, from November 2017, was a photo of a litter of puppies from Blonde, the dog who died yesterday, with the caption: “Looking ahead to 2019 Iditarod!”