Yukon Quest dog died of aspiration, says race's head vet

Preliminary necropsy results on musher Misha Wiljes's dog Joker showed no signs of abuse or neglect, officials say.

Veteran musher Misha Wiljes's dog Joker showed no signs of abuse or neglect, race officials say

Misha Wiljes's dog Joker died on the Yukon Quest trail on Monday evening. Race officials say preliminary necropsy results show the dog died of aspiration. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

Yukon Quest officials say preliminary necropsy results show no signs that musher Misha Wiljes's dead dog was abused or neglected.

According to the race's head veterinarian, the dog, named Joker, was in good body condition. Cristina Hansen said Joker died of aspiration, meaning he choked on something or suffocated, while in the race. 

Quest officials said Joker died on Monday evening, about five kilometres from the Circle checkpoint. 

"Wiljes carried Joker into the Central checkpoint in her sled," said a news release from race officials on Tuesday morning.

Misha Wiljes arrives in Dawson City on Feb. 6. On Tuesday morning, Wiljes had left the Circle checkpoint to continue the race to Fairbanks, Alaska. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

By Tuesday afternoon, Hansen reported on the preliminary necropsy results. Final results are expected to be released within a month of the race's finish. 

The Quest, a gruelling 1,600-kilometre race between Whitehorse and Fairbanks, Alaska, started on Feb. 2. The first mushers arrived at the finish line in Fairbanks, Alaska, on Monday afternoon. 

According to her Quest bio, Wiljes is a Yukon Quest veteran who also raced in 2012 and 2013. She is Czech and American, living in Willow, Alaska. Wiljes, a postal clerk, has been running dogs for 18 years. She said all her dogs are between two and nine years old, with four race rookies.

"We are looking forward to seeing them happy and healthy at the finish line," her bio stated.

10 dogs have died in past

Yukon Quest mushers start with 14 dogs.

About 10 dogs have died in the last decade or so of the Quest, including last year when musher Hugh Neff's dog Boppy died along the way.

Activists have spoken out about the race being inhumane, saying animals are exploited, but Yukon Quest veterinarians maintain that the dogs are generally in good shape and are taken care of on mandatory medical check stops.

Most of the dog's deaths have been due to medical issues, such as heart malformations or intestinal problems, or from the animal choking on food or vomit.

Activists say animals are exploited in the race, but Yukon Quest veterinarians maintain that the dogs are generally in good shape and are well taken care of. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Alaskan musher Brent Sass was the first to cross the finish line of the Yukon Quest on Monday, with all of his 14 dogs. In total, seven mushers had finished the race as of Tuesday afternoon.

Wiljes left Circle on Tuesday morning, with two more checkpoints to go before reaching Fairbanks.

Thirty mushers began the race this year in Whitehorse. Three have since dropped out.