Watch: Alaska's famed Iditarod kicks off amid turmoil - CBS46 News

Watch: Alaska's famed Iditarod kicks off amid turmoil

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(AP) (AP)

(AP/Meredith) -- The 46th running of Alaska's famed Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race kicks off Saturday amid the most turbulent year ever.

Among the problems: a doping scandal, the loss of a major sponsor and escalating pressure from animal rights activists after the deaths of five dogs last year, alone.

Organizers have since changed the rules for doping after its first positive test last year in the storied race's history.

"Well, it's been one of our more challenging years," said Iditarod CEO Stan Hooley. "We think we've figured out the best path forward in terms of changing a rule relative to our drug testing program that will make things much easier to manage going forward."

Participants and organizers believe it will be the only doping scandal to sully the race.

"I'm one who believes we'll go another 43 years before the next doping scandal and this will be remembered as the year that the anomaly happened," said four-time Iditarod winner Jeff King.

The Iditarod's board disclosed in October that four dogs belonging to four-time winner Dallas Seavey tested positive for a banned substance.

The organization said it couldn't prove Seavey administered the drugs to his dogs and didn't punish him. But the rules on doping have now been changed to hold mushers liable for any positive drug test unless they can show something beyond their control happened.

Seavey has denied the allegations.

"And the Iditarod has been clear that they have not charged him or accused him of violating any rules. They have not imposed any sanctions," said his attorney Clinton Campion.

Meanwhile, animal rights activists are putting pressure on race officials to end the event for good, claiming it amounts to animal cruelty.

Race officials dispute the contention and blame activists for using the manipulative information to pressure corporate sponsors like Wells Fargo, a longtime backer, to sever ties to the Iditarod.

"We really think that now is the time to put pressure on these companies and you know, educate people themselves about the cruelty that goes on behind the scenes at the Iditarod," said Tricia Lebkuecher of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Regardless, race officials are confident the event will go on for many years to come.

"There's always going to be an Iditarod," Hooley said. "I consider this more of a growing process than anything else."