The two dog deaths during the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race occurred due to fluid build-up in the dogs’ lung tissue. Although the dogs died of similar causes, there is no connection between the deaths, according to the race’s veterinarian.
Fox, a 2-year-old female on Kasilof musher Paul Gebhardt’s team, died while nearing the finish of the race. Jack, a 3-year-old male on Girdwood musher Nicolas Petit’s team, died between the race’s Homer and Freddie’s Roadhouse checkpoints.
Gary Kuchinka of Soldotna’s Twin Cities Veterinary Clinic said both dogs died from fluid in the lungs, or pulmonary edema. Why this afflicted both of the dogs is unclear, he said.
“This was a physiological process that occurs in the lungs; it was triggered somehow, and we’re trying to get to the bottom of it,” Kuchinka said. “It was nothing (the mushers) could’ve foreseen … it was pretty sudden.”
According to race officials, Gebhardt attempted life-saving measures but could not revive Fox.
Tami Murray, T200 president and race director, said Tuesday both Petit and Gebhardt were cleared of any misconduct or abuse related to the dogs’ deaths.
Tissue samples have been sent to a forensics lab in Washington, Kuchinka said.
Temperatures in the 30s lasted throughout the weekend on the Kenai Peninsula. Sled dogs prefer colder weather; overheating can harm the dogs, mushers said at the T200 finish.
The two dogs died during different times of the day, however. Jack died at night on Saturday, and Fox died in the early evening on Sunday.
“Well, that’s the knee jerk reaction, wondering if the heat had anything to do with it,” Kuchinka said. “But there’s not a correlation between the two events.”
— Jerzy Shedlock