Iditarod preps for any scenario as 2021 race plans proceed

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The world’s most famous sled dog race will go forward in 2021, and amid the ongoing pandemic, officials now are preparing for every possible contingency for what the race and the world might look like in March when the Iditarod starts.

It’s not the mushers who worry Iditarod CEO Rob Urbach; they’re used to social distancing along the 1,000-mile trail.

The headaches start with what to do with the 1,800 volunteers and staff needed to stage the race, some scattered in 21 villages that serve as checkpoints along the trail between Anchorage and Nome, and how to protect them and the village residents from the coronavirus. The goal is zero community transmission.

“We’re really trying to plan for the worst and hope for the best,” Urbach said. “The mushers getting from checkpoint to checkpoint is the easiest piece.”

The Iditarod got some on-the-fly training last March. When the race started March 8, people were still shaking hands and not wearing masks. By the time the race ended in mid-March, some villages asked that mushers bypass their communities. Most public buildings in Nome, where the race ends, were closed.

The Iditarod was the only major sports event not to cancel last spring. Officials plan to combine what they learned with best practices from other professional leagues, like the NFL, to incorporate into a plan for the 2021 race. They also expect on-the-ground help from an epidemiologist.

Urbach said they are developing criteria for testing protocols and will adhere to whatever standard is determined by Alaska state health officials at the time of the race. That could include wearing masks or requiring volunteers and mushers to be vaccinated if there is a vaccine by then and it’s recommended. The Iditarod is also investigating getting its own rapid test lab that can travel on the trail.

Other changes may include support staff being reduced to the bare minimum and traveling pods of four to maintain a bubble. It may mean volunteers sleeping outside in warmed tents instead of stacking 12 people cheek-to-jowl in a small cabin in a village checkpoint.

The look of the ceremonial start in downtown Anchorage, which normally attracts thousands of fans, might be smaller as people may have to social distance. It may mean few or no spectators at the Nome finish.

It also might mean bypassing villages altogether.

“Our course may be adapted to navigate around any civilization, and that will be a heck of a race,” Urbach said.

Besides being in contact with public health officials in Alaska, the Iditarod also is leaning on Dr. Jodie Guest to help its formulate its plan. She is an infectious disease epidemiologist at Emory University in Atlanta and has been an Iditarod race volunteer for years, often spending time in small villages.

Guest has been working on how to craft the best prevention messages based on culturally competent messaging and how to get testing into communities that have a distrust of the medical system.

“I’ve really tried to do with my team is have us be a group that is that both nimble and can do testing pretty efficiently and quickly, no matter where you put us, but also a group that really can talk to and listen to communities that are not getting a lot of attention,” Guest said.

“So that does translate very well to potential risk for villages and concerns the villages might have, and so I’m very hopeful that the work I’ve been doing will translate well for us in Alaska,” she said.

The worst-case scenario is that there is no Iditarod in 2021. “That’s what we hope won’t happen, but it needs to be something we consider for the safety of everyone,” Guest said.

But the race also has components that are “perhaps safer than a lot of other things for COVID-19. And that’s what we’re going to try to do, is figure out how to take all the parts of the Iditarod that are super safe by comparison and change all the parts that aren’t to make them so that they are,” Guest said.

Urbach is confident there will be a race. “If the Iditarod doesn’t run, the world’s got a bigger problem,” he said.

There are 12 international mushers in the field of 62 teams that will start the race north of Anchorage on March 7, including defending champion Thomas Waerner of Norway.

Race officials are investigating travel waivers and other means, such as hiring a cargo plane, to get international mushers and their teams of 16 dogs each to Alaska if travel restrictions or quarantines are in place, Urbach said.

Waerner was stuck in Alaska for months after winning in March until he could get a flight home. Despite that, he says he is trying to find his own travel back to Alaska.

“I am working to find a way to go,” he said in an email to The Associated Press. “Right now it is not possible,” but he says there is a long time before he wants to arrive by mid-February.

Urbach said race officials continue to anticipate what the race could look like six months from now.

“The worst case is, we put a lot of time, work and effort and we have too much sanitation supplies and disinfectant, then so be it,” Urbach said. “We want to be overly prepared.”

Scottish Deerhound makes history, wins Best in Show again at 2021 National Dog Show

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The Scottish Deerhound has won Best in Show again at the 2021 National Dog Show, making it the first repeat champion in the competition’s history.

Claire the Scottish Deerhound beat out hundreds of dogs representing 180 breeds and varieties recognized by the American Kennel Club. She completed the same feat last year as well. First, she won the Hound Group in a field of 29 breeds. She then competed against the other six group winners before taking home the top honor. The Pyrenean Shepard, winner of the Herding Group, was named Reserve Best in Show.

Hear from Claire’s handler Angie Lloyd about the victory:

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Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 National Dog Show will only allow fully vaccinated spectators, which is a change from the previous event. Last year, the competition was held without spectators, vendors, sponsors or media. Judging followed strict safety guidelines, including social distancing, wearing masks and monitoring temperatures of all participants. The competition was also limited to 600 dogs, a 70% decrease from the nearly 2,000 who compete in a regular year. Read more about the National Dog Show’s vaccination policy for the 2021 edition.

The Kuvasz won the Working Group; the Bulldog won the Non-Sporting Group; the Lakeland Terrer won the Terrier Group; and the Affenpinscher won the Toy Group; and the German Shorthaired Pointer won the Sporting Group.

This year, one breed made its National Dog Show debut. The Biewer Terrier (pronounced like beaver), which competed in the Toy Group, originated in Germany as a tri-colored Yorkie.In 2007, Mars Veterinary geneticists studying the DNA from 10 Biewer Terriers determined that it was a bonafide breed, stemming from the dominant traits of four others – Yorkshire Terrier, Maltese, Havanese and Bichon Frise – making it the first breed ever to be recognized as purebred as a result of a genetic study. The breed is long-haired and tri-colored with a soft-silky coat and its feathered tail curled over its back.

Related: Full list of breeds at 2021 National Dog Show

NBC televised the 2021 National Dog Show directly after the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade for the 20th straight year. Every year, more than 20 million people tune in for the event, which was commentated by longtime hosts John O’Hurley and David Frei. Mary Carillo also returned for more commentary, analysis and behind-the-scenes looks at one of the oldest dog shows in the world.

Full list of breeds at the 2021 National Dog Show

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For its annual TV special “The National Dog Show Presented by Purina,” NBC records the judging, examination and walk of all breeds and varieties competing in the annual event so that dog lovers and aficionados can get a close-up look at their breeds of interest.

The exclusive video generates heavy interest from enthusiasts around the world with a total of 160 breeds and varieties featured with backdrop audio of the breed description from PA announcer Wayne Ferguson, President of the Kennel Club of Philadelphia.

Related: Download the 2021 National Dog Show program,

Groups

Best In Show | All Group Winners

Herding Group | Winner

Hound Group | Winner

Non-Sporting Group | Winner

Sporting Group | Winner

Terrier Group | Winner

Toy Group | Winner

Working Group | Winner

 

Herding Group (All Dogs | Winner)

Australian Cattle Dog

Australian Shepherd

Bearded Collie

Beauceron

Belgian Laekenois

Belgian Malinois

Belgian Sheepdog

Belgian Tervuren

Bergamasco

Berger Picard

Border Collie

Briard

Canaan Dog

Cardigan Welsh Corgi

Collie (Rough)

Collie (Smooth)

Finnish Lapphund

German Shepherd Dog

Miniature American Shepherd

Old English Sheepdog

Pembroke Welsh Corgi

Polish Lowland Sheepdog

Puli

Pumi

Pyrenean Shepherd

Shetland Sheepdog

Spanish Water Dog

 

Hound Group (All Dogs | Winner)

Afghan Hound

American Foxhound

Azawakh

Basenji

Basset Hound

Beagle (15 inches)

Bloodhound

Borzoi

Bluetick Coonhound

Cirneco dell’Etna

Dachshund (Longhaired)

Dachshund (Smooth)

Dachshund (Wirehaired)

Greyhound

Ibizan Hound

Irish Wolfhound

Norwegian Elkhound

Otterhound

Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen

Pharaoh Hound

Plott

Portuguese Podengo Pequeno

Redbone Coonhound

Rhodesian Ridgeback

Saluki

Scottish Deerhound

Sloughi

Treeing Walker Coonhound

Whippet

 

Non-Sporting Group (All Dogs | Winner)

American Eskimo

Bichon Frise

Boston Terrier

Bulldog

Chinese Shar-Pei

Chow Chow

Coton de Tulear

Dalmatian

French Bulldog

Keeshond

Lhasa Apso

Löwchen

Poodle (Miniature)

Poodle (Standard)

Schipperke

Shiba Inu

Tibetan Spaniel

Tibetan Terrier

Xoloitzcuintli

 

Sporting Group (All Dogs | Winner)

Barbet

Brittany

Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Clumber Spaniel

Cocker Spaniel (ASCOB)

Cocker Spaniel (Black)

Cocker Spaniel (Parti-Color)

Curly-Coated Retriever

English Cocker Spaniel

English Setter

English Springer Spaniel

Field Spaniel

Flat-Coated Retriever

German Shorthaired Pointer

Golden Retriever

Gordon Setter

Irish Red & White Setter

Irish Setter

Irish Water Spaniel

Labrador Retriever

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

Nederlandse Kooikerhondje

Pointer

Spinone Italiano

Sussex Spaniel

Vizsla

Weimaraner

Welsh Springer Spaniel

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

 

Terrier Group (All Dogs | Winner)

Airedale Terrier

American Staffordshire Terrier

Australian Terrier

Bedlington Terrier

Border Terrier

Cairn Terrier

Cesky Terrier

Colored Bull Terrier

Glen of Imaal Terrier

Irish Terrier

Kerry Blue Terrier

Lakeland Terrier

Miniature Bull Terrier

Miniature Schnauzer

Norfolk Terrier

Norwich Terrier

Parson Russell Terrier

Rat Terrier

Russell Terrier

Scottish Terrier

Sealyham Terrier

Skye Terrier

Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier

Staffordshire Bull Terrier

Welsh Terrier

West Highland White Terrier

White Bull Terrier

Wire Fox Terrier

 

Toy Group (All Dogs | Winner)

Affenpinscher

Biewer Terrier

Brussels Griffon

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Chinese Crested

English Toy Spaniel (B&PC)

English Toy Spaniel (KC&R)

Havanese

Italian Greyhound

Japanese Chin

Long Coat Chihuahua

Miniature Pinscher

Papillon

Pekingese

Pomeranian

Pug

Smooth Coat Chihuahua

Toy Fox Terrier

Toy Manchester Terrier

Toy Poodle

Yorkshire Terrier

 

Working Group (All Dogs | Winner)

Akita

Alaskan Malamute

Bernese Mountain Dog

Black Russian Terrier

Boxer

Bullmastiff

Cane Corso

Doberman Pinscher

Dogo Argentino

Dogue de Bordeaux

German Pinscher

Giant Schnauzer

Great Dane

Great Pyrenees

Greater Swiss Mountain Dog

Komondor

Kuvasz

Leonberger

Mastiff

Neapolitan Mastiff

Newfoundland

Portuguese Water Dog

Rottweiler

Saint Bernard

Samoyed

Siberian Husky

Standard Schnauzer

Tibetan Mastiff

Related: What to know about the National Dog Show

NBCSports.com also includes highlights from the TV special and behind-the-scenes video, capturing all the backstage canine energy of one of the country’s oldest and most well-known dog shows.

The two-hour special airs on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, following the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade for the 19th straight year. It annually attracts a total audience of more than 20 million people as America’s most prominent and widely-viewed showcase for the sport.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Dog Show will only allow fully vaccinated spectators. Read more about the National Dog Show’s vaccination policy for the 2021 edition.

Watch NBC’s coverage of the National Dog Show on Thanksgiving day, November 25, directly after the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade from 12-2 p.m. local time on NBC, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.