Second dog dies on Quest

CENTRAL On Sunday morning, a second dog died on the Yukon Quest trail. Melville, a five-year-old male on Brent Sass’ team collapsed about…


On Sunday morning, a second dog died on the Yukon Quest trail.

Melville, a five-year-old male on Brent Sass’ team collapsed about eight kilometres from Slaven’s cabin.

Sass ran up and performed CPR on the dog, but didn’t get a response.

When Sass arrived at the cabin with Melville in the sled, the vet pronounced him dead.

Monday, Melville was flown to Central for a necropsy to determine the cause of death.

“Melville, at some point either before or during the race, ingested a piece of fabric or harness,” said head vet Vern Starks.

“The object failed to pass through his digestive system, and his death was caused by the perforation of the intestine.”

The dog didn’t show any signs of illness, said race marshal Mike McCowan.

“He just went down like a gunshot.”

Often, when a dog has ingested a foreign body it can’t pass, the animal stops eating. But Melville died with a full stomach.

“The dog could have died on your couch and you would never have know,” said McCowan.

“I’ve had dogs, in less than two minutes, eat a whole harness,” he added.

Sass is continuing with the race, and was still in Central Wednesday morning.

“I like being out with my dogs,” said Sass, in Eagle before the incident.

“There’s no other work besides taking care of the dogs and spending time outside.”

When the Alaskan musher first started running dogs, he loved to head out camping with his team.

And the Quest is an extension of this, he said.

“It symbolizes what mushing is — you live, eat and breathe dogs.”

Sass wasn’t out to win the race.

“There’s lots to learn,” he said.

“And you can only learn by doing.

“I’m racing, no doubt, but I know my limits and the dogs’ limits and I’m staying within those and having a blast.

“And if I finish with happy dogs, I’m happy.”

Sass, who wants to run the Quest as often as possible, had two friends documenting his journey from a small bush plane. The pair take pictures and write for his website.

Originally from Minnesota, Sass wanted his friends and family to see what the race was all about.

“I want them to know what it is and realize it’s an awesome dog race,” he said.

“In the lower 48 everyone’s heard about the Iditarod, but no one’s heard of the Quest.”

Sass and his team live at Chena Hot Springs during the winter, and make money by offering short dog sled trips to Japanese tourists. When the season slows down, he and the dogs head to the Brooks Range to camp for a month.

“I build snow caves for the dogs, and we do day trips and hunt caribou,” he said.

Last year, during the storm on Eagle Summit, Sass rescued a musher who’d lost his team, then went on to win the Quest 300.

During this year’s race, he ran across Yuka Honda after she’d lost her team. He offered her a ride and stayed with Honda while she dealt with finding one of her dogs dead.

Sass is currently in 16th place.

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