Whitehorse Daily Star

Image title

Photo by Whitehorse Star

RACE BAN – Hugh Neff and his dog team arrive at the Dawson checkpoint during the 2016 race. Neff will not be able to run the 1,000-mile race again until 2021 at the earliest.

Neff responsible for dog care: Quest officials

The Yukon Quest barred two-time champion Hugh Neff from competing in next year’s race

By Dustin Cook on April 25, 2018

The Yukon Quest barred two-time champion Hugh Neff from competing in next year’s race after the final necropsy report from a dog who died during the 2018 race showed many issues including a whipworm infestation, stomach ulcers and muscle wasting.

Following the announcement of the decision Tuesday morning, Dr. Kathleen McGill, the chair of the rules committee, said it was these other findings that were of the greatest concern and showed lack of dog care on the part of Neff.

“These things are very disturbing, and this dog was in a bad condition before it even aspirated and that was our biggest concern,” she said in an interview with the Star Tuesday afternoon.

The final necropsy report determined that the dog, Boppy, died of aspiration pneumonia caused by inhaling vomited stomach contents – as was the initial finding. But it also determined that the dog wasn’t healthy ahead of that.

“These things didn’t just start on the race, they were before the race,” she said. “The dog should not have had whipworm. There should be a deworming process in the kennel.”

McGill said although there are vet checks before and during the race, the main responsibility lies with the musher as they are with their dogs all the time and know their behaviour.

“Mushers should be picking up if a dog’s not eating well,” she said. “We looked at the vet books and the weight did drop. In the severe cold, you need to feed more.”

Based on the findings, the rules committee made the decision to apply a censure not allowing Neff to compete in the 2019 running, in either the 300 or 1,000-mile races, and he will have to run the YQ300 race before entering the 1,000-mile race again.

The rules committee made the decision based on the Code of the Trail as well as the Yukon Quest rules pertaining to treatment of dogs and expired dogs. The rules state that the death of any dog may result in the prohibition from entering future races, but this is the first time in race history that a musher is faced with this type of censure.

“Somebody has to speak for the dog is what it comes down to,” McGill said.

“The Yukon Quest has put more emphasis on dog care.”

Quest head veterinarian Dr. Nina Hansen, who oversaw the final necropsy, said she believes the severe weight loss of Boppy during the race was the main issue that guided the rules committee and the board.

Boppy died while Neff and his team were stopped at the Clinton Creek Hospitality Stop between the Eagle and Dawson checkpoints – which is about a 150 mile distance.

Neff and his team were stopped at the hospitality location already with the plan to scratch in Dawson when the aspiration occurred.

“There’s no vet checks in that long stretch so they’re responsible for caring for their own dogs in that period to ensure they’re eating well and in good condition,” Hansen said.

Prior to the race, Hansen said Neff’s dogs completed their pre-race vet check with his own veterinarian in Fairbanks.

The Quest vet team received the results after the checks and Hansen said they were all good and showed no negative signs.

“Everything according to those records were good. All his dogs were in good body condition,” he said. “I’m not putting any blame on his veterinarian. I think she did a great job and provided complete records.”

But, the pre-race vet checks don’t include blood work or a fecal floatation test, Hansen explained, which is why some of the conditions found in the necropsy could have been pre-existing but weren’t spotted by the vet teams.

McGill, who is also a former head vet of the Quest, said unlike the Idiatord they don’t have the budget to include these tests in the race checks.

“Whipworm and ulcers, you can’t see that from the outside,” McGill said.

“These things indicate to us this dog wasn’t on the top conditioning that it should have been when it came to the race, but these are things the vets aren’t going to see.”

The intestinal parasite whipworms were probably in Boppy’s system before the race, Hansen said, because they take time to grow.

She said the Quest will be reviewing their deworming protocols as a result of the finding.

After the final necropsy report was submitted, McGill said the rules committee met via conference calls on several occasions to make a decision. She said any ruling must be unanimously agreed upon by the committee and then recommended to the Alaska and Yukon boards who voted on the decision.

“The message is that we’re looking more closely, if you will, we’re scrutinizing. At any point in time we’re looking at the care of the dogs and the responsibility is not only with the vet team, but more importantly with the musher,” she said.

“Somebody has to speak for the dog and that’s where we feel our responsibility lies.”

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) released a statement Tuesday on the necropsy findings.

“This poor dog’s intestines were inflamed, his skeletal muscle cells were dying, and his muscles were wasting away, yet Hugh Neff forced him to pull a sled until he inhaled his own vomit and died of pneumonia. This should earn Neff a lifetime ban from the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod – which allowed him to compete just a month later and drop seven suffering dogs along the way – and all other races,” executive vice president Tracy Reiman said.

When reached this morning, Neff said he will not be answering questions at this time, but is planning to release a statement and a video.

McGill said Neff was notified of the ruling Tuesday and according to the rules he has 30 days from that date to request an informal hearing.

Comments (1)

Up 1 Down 0

Angry Yukoner on Apr 26, 2018 at 11:10 am

Hugh Neff should be charged with animal abuse. Boppy was run to death on the Canadian side, that's where he died. Where is Jay Lester our animal welfare officer? If the Yukon Quest won't ban this animal abuser for life, the law should.

I am haunted, thinking about what this creature went through all under the watchful eyes of Hugh Neff, and race vets and race judges. This is insane and has to stop.

Also consider this. The Yukon Government tourism department funds the Yukon Quest. They must demand higher standards of dog welfare and that Neff never runs a team in this race again.

Add your comments or reply via Twitter @whitehorsestar

In order to encourage thoughtful and responsible discussion, website comments will not be visible until a moderator approves them. Please add comments judiciously and refrain from maligning any individual or institution. Read about our user comment and privacy policies.

Your name and email address are required before your comment is posted. Otherwise, your comment will not be posted.