- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 15, 2017

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Mitch Seavey became the oldest and fastest musher to win the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, in year marred by an abnormally high number of dog deaths.

After bringing in his dog team off the Bering Sea ice and under the famed burled arch on Front Street in Nome Tuesday, the 57-year-old winner greeted each of his dogs and thanked them with a frozen snack. He later posed with his two lead dogs, Pilot and Crisp.

“They get frustrated when they go too slow, so I just let them roll, which was scary because I’ve never gone that fast, that far ever, but that’s what they wanted to do,” he said.

Seavey set a time record of eight days, 3 hours, 40 minutes and 13 seconds, the Iditarod said. That shaved several hours off the record his son set last year: eight days, 11 hours, 20 minutes and 16 seconds.

Seavey, who broke his own record for being the oldest musher set four years ago, said the dogs know only one thing - 9½ to 10 mph.

“They hit their peak, they hit their speed, and that’s what they do,” Seavey said at the finish line. “They trusted me to stop them when they needed to stop and feed them, and I did that, and they gave me all they could.”

Seavey’s push for Nome was tempered Tuesday with news of the fourth death of a dog associated with the Iditarod among the 2,000 or so that started the race March 6 in Fairbanks. While not all deaths were on the trail, the death total does match the entire number of dog deaths for the years 2012-2016 and prompted a call from an animal rights group to permanently end the Iditarod.

“They deserve far better than a lifetime of isolation, cruelty, suffering, and death training for and running in the Iditarod. PETA is calling for a permanent end to this dangerous race,” said People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Vice President Colleen O’Brien in a statement.

A spokesman for the Iditarod Trail Committee said more than 40 veterinarians volunteer during the race and dogs are evaluated at each checkpoint.

“Any musher found guilty of inhumane treatment would be disqualified and banned from competition in future Iditarods,” according to an Iditarod Trail Committee statement emailed to The Associated Press late Tuesday.

Two dogs died on the trail. Another was hit by a car in Anchorage, and one dropped dog likely died of hyperthermia while being flown back to Anchorage.

The latter prompted race officials to change policies how dogs are transported, including not wearing coats in transport planes and making sure there is proper ventilation.

PETA said there have been at least 28 dog deaths since 2004, exacerbated by making them run 100 miles a day in treacherous conditions.

Iditarod Chief Operating Officer Chas St. George could not immediately provide a number of dog deaths since the race first started in 1973. He said there were anecdotal reports of dog deaths from the race’s early history that would have to be verified.

“We have to go back and perform our due diligence, and that’s what we’re doing,” he said.

The race started March 6 in Fairbanks, with 71 teams. Five mushers scratched.

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