Earlier we blogged about an amazing back-to-back win by Lance Mackey and the sled dogs from his Comeback Kennel. He had just taken first place in the 2008 Iditarod, and had won the Yukon Quest.
An unidentified man driving a snowmachine early Saturday morning, possibly under the influence of alcohol, crashed into the back of the dog sled driven by two-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey during the All-Alaska Sweepstakes and seriously injured the key sled dog in his Comeback Kennel.
Mackey broke down in tears Saturday, telling how his most-prized dog, Zorro, was critically injured as the canine was riding in the sled’s basket from Safety to Nome — less than 22 miles left in the 408-mile race.
“I was flashing them like mad with my headlamp,” Mackey said. “I was shining my headlamp right in his face, but they kept on coming at me. I jumped aside, and by 30 feet farther up the trail, there was a snowmachine sitting on the middle of my sled.”
The machine impaled the sled bag with its runners.
“Three or four dogs were sucked underneath, and Zorro was trapped in the sled bag,” Mackey said. “We had to physically remove (the snowmachine) from the sled.”
The accident happened several miles west of Safety, the third-to-last checkpoint. The driver who hit Mackey and his partner on another machine helped Mackey right the mess, then left as Mackey continued on.
Mackey’s sled made it to Nome but was ruined. It was of no consequence compared with his dogs, he said.
“I would give my life for my dogs. I can’t make anyone know how important animals are to me.”
Mackey finished the race and did not immediately know Zorro was severely injured. He got some rest and when he awoke he could see his favorite dog was in trouble and called the race veterinarian. When the vet arrived, Zorro was lying on his side and “shocky.” He was given pain medication and fluids, which stabilized him enough for a flight aboard Alaska Airlines to Pet Emergency in Anchorage. Zorro had broken ribs and perhaps internal injuries. Other dogs had injuries, but they were not life-threatening, Mackey said.
The historic All-Alaska Sweepstakes was supposed to be the final race of Zorro’s storied career.
“If he lives, I don’t think he is going to want to race to Nome again.”
Nine-year-old Zorro has been the top stud in Mackey’s Comeback Kennel, helping the cancer survivor in 2007 become the first musher to win the 1,100-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest in the same year. But that year Zorro became ill at White Mountain, the Iditarod’s second-to-last checkpoint, and did not get to finish. Like his owner, Zorro made a comeback last month in the Quest, helping Mackey capture his record fourth straight title. Zorro was not part of Mackey’s 2008 champion Iditarod team because he had saved Zorro for the Sweepstakes
“He’s priceless,” said Mackey. “Nine of my Sweepstakes dogs were descendents of Zorro.” And 40 of his 80 dogs at home are related to Zorro.
Mackey wants to give the snowmachine driver a chance to come forward “like a man and make it right.”
Mackey made a plea for race officials to keep snowmachines away from the trail at the end of the race because it has become a growing safety issue. About two weeks ago on the Iditarod Trail, a snowmachine killed a dog running in Jennifer Freking’s team. The Minnesota musher was parked on the Yukon River when a snowmachine took the life of Lorne, a 3-year-old female Siberian Husky.
“The public needs to be aware of this issue,” Mackey said. “Running from Safety to Front Street is almost suicidal. I almost got hit on the way into Nome during Iditarod and then was almost hit half an hour later.”
Update on Zorro: April 6
The veterinarian treating Lance Mackey’s sled dog Zorro says he will make a full recovery from injuries suffered when he was hit by a snowmobile.
But Kobi Johnson, an Iditarod trail veterinarian and part of Mackey’s team, says Zorro’s racing days are probably over. The 9-year-old faces weeks of recovery for broken ribs and severe bruising.
Johnson says an MRI and an examination by a neurological specialist at The Animal Emergency Clinic in Tacoma found no need for emergency surgery.
In addition to four broken ribs, Zorro had a minor concussion, severe bruising in the spinal cord area of the last rib in the back, one injured disc, severe bruising to back and chest muscles, some lung bruising and some internal bleeding, which has stabilized.
The silver-sable husky mix, was sent home on Friday. He is able to walk and, even better, wag his tail!
Zorro will begin 6 – 8 months of recovery with veterinarians in Fairbanks. He will retire from racing and become a family pet, possibly siring another generation of prizewinning sled dogs.
“It’s very, very good news. It’s a huge relief,” said Zorro’s owner and musher, Iditarod champ Lance Mackey, who is in Seattle with his wife, Tonya, and Zorro. “He’ll be one of the children in the house now.”
Meanwhile, the snowmobile driver who hit Mackey’s sled dog has come forward. Mackey put out a plea Saturday in Nome for the driver to identify himself, and that happened Sunday, he said.
Mackey declined to name the individual but said the person was “absolutely devastated by what happened,” the musher told Nome radio station KNOM. Mackey said he expects the person to make reparations. He also said alcohol was involved.
First photo: Jan DeNapoli