Fan favorite Iditarod musher Zirkle retiring after ’21 race

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) One of the sport’s most popular mushers has announced she will retire from competitive dog mushing after this year’s Iditarod, her 21st entry in the world’s most famous sled dog race.

Musher Aliy Zirkle made the announcement in a retirement letter posted on her website Thursday.

“I don’t want you to think that I’m just up and quitting,” Zirkle wrote, saying this has not been a quick decision.

Zirkle said the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race has always been a spectacular adventure for her, but it’s also been physically and mentally demanding.

“And if I’m being honest, at times, I have been challenged to my very core,” she wrote. “I know that in the not so distant future, I will not be able to give it my 100%. So, I am retiring before I have to retire.”

This year’s race will start March 7 near Willow, Alaska, about 50 miles (80.5 kilometers) north of Anchorage. The traditional ceremonial start the day before in Anchorage has been canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has also led organizers to shorten the nearly 1,000-mile (1,601 kilometer) race to 850 miles (1,368 kilometers).

The race will not go to the Bering Sea coast for its normal finish in Nome. Instead, mushers will travel from Willow to the ghost town of Iditarod and back to Willow for the finish. Forty-seven mushers are signed up to race, the smallest field in two decades.

Zirkle is a fan-favorite though she has never accomplished her goal of becoming the third woman – and first since the late Susan Butcher won her fourth title in 1990 – to win the world’s most famous sled dog race.

She endeared herself to fans with her effusive personality, her ever-present smile and can-do attitude vividly on display during three straight second-place finishes from 2012-2014. Since then, she’s had four other top 10 finishes. Last year, she placed 18th.

She’s also exhibited the tough Alaska persona that one would expect from a competitor in a race that takes about 10 days to finish in elements that requires them to carry an ax. She once broke another woman’s arm during an arm wrestling contest in a Nome bar following one race.

But it hasn’t always been easy for Zirkle, who told The Associated Press in 2017 she had suffered panic attacks and sought therapy after being attacked by a man on a snowmobile on the trail in the previous year’s race.

Arnold Demoski was given a six-month sentence for driving a snowmobile at four-time Iditarod champion Jeff King and Zirkle in separate attacks on March 12, 2016, near the Iditarod checkpoint in Nulato, Alaska. One of King’s dogs, Nash, was killed, and other dogs were injured.

Demoski pleaded guilty to felony criminal mischief and misdemeanor charges of assault, reckless endangerment and driving under the influence.

“Over the course of almost two hours, one man, by using his snowmachine, made prolonged, aggressive and what I believe to be deliberate threats to me and my team,” Zirkle said in a statement just days after the attack. Snowmachines are what Alaskans call snowmobiles.

“I was terrified. Had it not been for my defensive reactions, we could have been maimed or killed,” she said at the time.

She struggled but continued the race, placing third that year. At the finish line, fans chanted her name, hugged her and she even got a bouquet of roses. She credited fans and race volunteers for their support for helping her get through the race.

Zirkle was born in Manchester, New Hampshire, in 1969 and first came to Alaska in 1990, midway through getting a degree in biology from the University of Pennsylvania. She lived in a wall tent on the Alaska Peninsula, counting birds for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

She went back to college and finished her degree in 1992, and then came right back to Alaska. She and her husband, musher Allen Moore, own a kennel.

They built their home in Two Rivers where they hunt moose in the fall.

Zirkle, who has earned almost $475,000 since her first race in 2001, said her post-Iditarod future is somewhat undecided.

“I love Alaska and will continue to explore our great state. Of course, my husband, Allen, and I will together decide what our next life adventure will be,” she wrote. Zirkle didn’t immediately respond to an email from the AP on Friday seeking more information.

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.