Relatives of a musher disqualified during last month's Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race for allegedly abusing his dogs pleaded with race organizers to show leniency in deciding his punishment.
"I want to live in a society where you get second chances," Mike Carter, the great uncle of two-time runnerup Ramy Brooks, told the race's board of directors Friday. "Don't take him out for life on this thing. That would be the wrong thing to do."
However views were mixed among Brooks' fellow mushers, with some demanding that he be strongly punished for the good of the sport — and of the dogs.
Brooks, 38, was disqualified from the 1,100-mile race after witnesses said they saw him punch and kick some of his dogs and hit them with a ski pole when they refused to leave a checkpoint during a March 13 stage in Golovin, less than 100 miles from the finish in Nome.
Brooks has admitted to "spanking" his dogs with a wooden trail marker.
One of Brooks' dogs died the day after the incident. A necropsy could not determine why the dog died, and race officials said there was no evidence that Brooks was to blame.
Race officials must now weigh the differing accounts of the incident. The board hired an Anchorage law firm to conduct the investigation.
Shane Goosen, who has taken part in the Iditarod three times, said race officials should have moved more quickly.
"It took three days to disqualify this guy," he said. "There went the credibility of the Iditarod right there — it's gone."
Goosen told the board that during the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race in January five people said they saw Brooks kick, hit and drag his dogs. He said he supported the decision to disqualify Brooks from this year's Iditarod race.
"There is no doubt in my mind that he beat his dogs," he said.
Bud Smyth, a former race marshal and Iditarod musher, criticized race officials, saying they were slow to interview and tape record witnesses.
His son Cim said that while any kind of force should not be allowed on the Iditarod Trial, he doesn't know of many mushers who don't discipline their dogs during training.
"I don't think it is fair to scapegoat Brooks on this issue," he said.
Musher Perry Solmonson choked back tears as he addressed the board. Three times he dropped out of the Iditarod out of concern for his team, he said.
"It is just a sad situation," Solmonson said. "I hope as a board you will have some integrity and do what is necessary for the dogs."