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  • Mar
  • 7

The Iditarod: 1,150 miserable miles

Posted by at 3:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

US Mission Canada/cc by 2.0

Right now, if you’re reading this in the comfort of your armchair or a cozy kitchen nook, please give a moment’s thought to the dogs who are running through blinding snowstorms, subzero temperatures and howling winds in Alaska’s Iditarod. Some will likely not survive. The Iditarod is a life-and-death contest—but only for the four-legged participants.

Dogs routinely pay with their lives in this race. Since no records were kept in the early days of this event, it’s impossible to know the exact death toll, but more than 140 dogs are recorded as having perished. That’s not including the countless dogs who are killed when breeders decide that they aren’t fast enough.

The Iditarod‘s 1,150-mile course means that dogs run more than 100 miles a day for almost two weeks straight. Their feet become bruised, bloodied, cut by ice and just plain worn out because of the vast distances they cover. Many dogs pull muscles, incur stress fractures or become sick with diarrhea, dehydration, intestinal viruses or bleeding stomach ulcers. Dogs have frozen to death and died from inhaling their own vomit. Sled dog myopathy—being run to death—has claimed many lives.

“Overdriving” or “overworking” an animal is considered a violation of cruelty-to-animals laws in most states—but not in Alaska. There are no race regulations that prohibit whipping a dog, and The Speed Mushing Manual recommends whipping as an effective way to get dogs to run faster.

Mushers ride, eat and sleep (and until it was banned, chilled out smoking pot) while the dogs pull and pull and pull. The official Iditarod rules require that the dogs be given a total of only 40 hours of rest—even though the race can take up to two weeks. Rule 42 of the official Iditarod guidelines states that some deaths may be considered “unpreventable.” According to the rule’s offensive euphemism, dogs don’t “die”—they “expire.”

Dogs love to run, but even the most high-energy dog wouldn’t choose to run 100 miles day after day. Iditarod organizers downplay the dogs’ suffering and work to hide abuse from the public. Even when mushers are caught beating dogs, as musher Ramy Brooks was in 2007, they barely receive a slap on the wrist. One of Brooks’ dogs later died, but rather than banning this bully for life, the Iditarod committee allowed Brooks to race again.

Life for dogs off the trail is equally grim. Most kennels keep dozens of dogs who live on short chains, with only overturned barrels or dilapidated doghouses for shelter. Their world is a 6-foot diameter of mud, ice, feces and urine. Slow runners are discarded like defective equipment. There have been many cases in which chained dogs have been abandoned and left to starve to death. Others have been shot, stabbed and bludgeoned to death.

Iditarod mushers brag about their “accomplishment,” but there’s no glory when someone else does all the work. And there’s no honor in running dogs to death.

Image:US Mission Canada/cc by 2.0

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  • Linda Milner says:

    Sled dog races need to be banned just like any other cruel sport.This is ridiculous in this day and age.These poor animals suffer and are cruelly abused.BAN NOW! Also a lot of these dogs are not given appropriate shelter from freezing elements.Why are these owners not being charged with neglect and cruelty?Someone is not doing there job!Disgusting,vile,sadistic humans.

  • DEE FAUT says:

    I never saw this side of the Iditarod. What can we do to stop this inhumane treatment. This must stop ASAP. Why is Alaska allowed to continue this inhumane treatment of dogs? The deceptive distinction between die and expire by the Iditarod committee is ridiculous.

    If you look up the definition “die” the verb form is “expire.” die/dī/
    Verb: (of a person, animal, or plant) Stop living.
    verb. perish – pass away – expire – decease – depart

  • Pam Fagan says:

    There should be a law against such cruelty. I would gladly sign a petition if one were started. All animals, except wild ones, are dependent on humans just as children are for love and protection and they are loyal creatures.

  • Maureen says:

    Can’t a petition be started that would help to prevent this horrific cruelty by law?

  • b.e. says:

    This needs to stop. Amillion years ago. These people are really sick, and they need to be stopped now!!!!! Please help these innocent dogs

  • Tim Johnston says:

    In my life’s experience I find that people who have to achieve things by being cruel to animals are usually inadequate and incapable of gaining things with their own skills.I think one of PETA’s greatest achievements is enlightening us of the cruelty that is involved in so many things that seem a normal part of our lives. I did not realize the cruelty of dog sled racing until now.

  • Lindsey says:

    Last year there was a massacre of 100+ sled dogs in Whistler, BC by a sled dog company owner who claims he had too many dogs and couldn’t find them enough homes. There was massive outrage by the public. If only the public knew that cruelty to animals isn’t confined to these extreme cases that become public. Everyday is a mass of extreme cases that goes unnoticed for animals. Here’s a link to the Whistler sled dog massacre news article.


  • MARIA says:

    I had no idea the poor, inocent dogs were mistreated and abused like that. I saw a movie about it, but the musher was wonderful and kind with his dogs, which obviously is not the norm. Is there anything PETA can do to create a law against this race and pass some laws against such cruelty and abuse? I would sign any petition and donate to the cause for sure.

  • ms alabama says:

    Every year NPR glorifies the Iditarod [and other animal torture events such as bull fighting] by doing reports on them. I stopped listening to NPR because NPR won’t stop being the shill for animal exploitation.

  • Brittany says:

    My dog breed was bred for sledding work and races. When I got him, I thought about entering one of these races, but when I learned more about it, there was no way I was putting my dog through any pain. I’d rather pull my dog than him pull me, let alone several dogs pulling me while I slept! It might be a fun idea if they loved the snow and cold (as my dog does, also loves wind!), and they could stop if they wanted to, etc, but these races are just way too much. Torture. Murder.

  • Anita says:

    I sometimes think that God looks down at us with tears in His eyes. He put the human being in control and this is what we do. we are all guilty because we watch and do nothing about it. every dog on earth deserve to be treated with respect and they will in turn respect you.

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