Yukon Quest dog choked to death: officials

The dog that died Sunday in the 1,600-kilometre Yukon Quest International Sled Dog race choked to death after musher Yuka Honda lost her team, officials say.

The dog that died Sunday in the1,600-kilometre Yukon Quest International Sled Dog race choked to death after musher Yuka Honda lost her team, officials say.

The 34-year-old Japanese musher, who has been living in Alaska, arrived at theCarmacks checkpoint late Sunday night with the dead dog, Jewel, in her sled.

In a news release Monday, Quest pathologist Matti Kiupel said the five-year-old dog "regurgitated, aspirated and died from asphyxiation."

Honda lost her14-dog team after getting off the sled to untangleher leaders from the two dogs behind them, the release said. They pulled thetwo snowhooks she had set and took off before she could catch the sled.

Another musher, Brent Sass, picked Honda up as she was chasing her team down the trail but by the time they caught up with the dogs, Jewelwas dead, it said.

Honda is one of 28 mushers who left Whitehorse Saturday on the trail to Fairbanks, Alaska. Her team is owned by 1987 Quest champ Bill Cotter, who is also her handler for the race.

Shortly after her arrival at the checkpoint, head veterinarian Vern Starks saidHonda was extremely upset by the death.

"The musher, understandably, was devastated that it happened," Starks said. "She's understandably very distraught, so we kind of want to give her a little bit of time to get over it a little bit or at least cope with it."

Honda returned to the trail Monday morning and is en route to the third checkpoint in Pelly Crossing, about 120 kilometres from Carmacks.

This is Honda's second attempt at the gruelling race. Last year, she and her team were plucked off Alaska's Eagle Summit by helicopter, along with four other teams, after they were stranded in a snowstorm.

Officials say the last time a dog died during the race was in 2002. Although the rules statemushers may be disqualified if one of their dogs dies, it is not an automatic disqualification.

Alaskan musher Lance Mackey prepares food for his team in Carmacks Sunday. ((CBC))
Meanwhile, defending champion Lance Mackey was the first musher to arrive in Pelly Crossing Monday, followed by Alaskans Huff Neff and Dave Dalton.

Nine teams have arrived in Pelly and are beginning to move on to Stepping Stone and the Stewart River.

Mackey, Neff and Yukoners William Kleedehn and Gerry Wilomitzer left Pelly Monday morning.