Iditarod dog kennel horrors

Sled dogs killed and skinned

Iditarod mushers get rid of unwanted sled dog puppies by tying them in a bag and tossing the bag in a creek, lake or river. Mushers even have a saying about not breeding dogs unless they can drown them: “Those who cannot drown should not breed.”

Iditarod mushers get rid of unwanted sled dog puppies by tying them in a bag and tossing the bag in a creek, lake or river. Mushers even have a saying about not breeding dogs unless they can drown them: “Those who cannot drown should not breed.”

Click on the links or arrows below to view expanded content.

Killing unwanted sled dogs

Iditarod kennels are puppy mills:

“The goal is to produce 70 or more quality pups a year.”

“Now, for the rest of the readers, the real answer to the question ‘Are you running a puppy mill?’ is essentially ‘yes.’ Let’s face it you made the decision to raise 70 pups and pick out the 15 or 20 best ones. That means there are 50 pups left to see, give away, or put down. You can’t keep the average dogs because it will ruin your focus on developing a championship team and besides that, unless you are independently wealthy, you cannot afford it.”

– Runyan, Joe. Winning Strategies for Distance Mushers. Sacramento: Griffin Printing, 1997

“That’s a sad reality of this sport, most mushers have no problem breeding litter after litter in an attempt to be the next big thing, but few mushers want to step up and actually give a dog a home that may not be able to help them get to the finish line in first place.”

– Colleen Robertia, Rogues Gallery Kennel Blog, December, 2011

Mushers kill unwanted sled dogs:

“Puppy culling has been going on with Alaska mushers for generations. They can’t afford to feed all the pups and don’t want the ones who they think won’t perform. I’ve had personal experience with mushers and I can tell you that out of any given litter, most will be killed. Many are ‘musher wannabees’, who don’t realize the cost and commitment a team requires. Many are urban posers and give up and kill them all. The professionals are just as guilty as the rookies.”

– John Lawrence, life-long Alaskan
– Email to the Sled Dog Action Coalition on February 13, 2015

Ethel Christensen: “Our philosophy and goal at the Alaska SPCA is prevention, not destruction. And, what they’re doing is breeding and breeding and then they cull and cull and cull. And culling to the musher doesn’t bother them one bit. And they use to take them into animal control here and then also up in the valley, but they got such criticism so now they’re doing their own killing. And it’s not humane. Believe me it’s not humane.”

– Ethel Christensen was the Executive Director of the Alaska SPCA
– She made these remarks on Animal Voices, a radio show in Toronto, Canada.
– She was interviewed by Rob Moore on February 28, 2006

“The top mushers raise 30 or 40 or even 100 pups a season and have the luxury of keeping only the very best.”

– Bowers, Don. Back of the Pack, Anchorage: Publication Consultants, 2000.

“Letter to the editor: Dog abuse even worse than column describes

Margery Glickman has stated the truth about this inhumane race, and all her facts are accurate. What she did not cover is the after-race dog deaths that no one seems to think are important. There are no statistics to support this occurrences as no records are maintained. But it is true there are many after race deaths either from sickness or from a bullet in the head by the owner to end the suffering of an injured or sick dog. Dogs have no value if they cannot run.

Also not mentioned is the pre-race culling. When you have 50 to 100 dogs to care for you have one massive problem, especially when you bring to life two to four more litters each year. What to do with all the dogs that don’t make the team? Some are given away, but there are few takers.

The pounds in Alaska are full of unwanted dogs, so most of them will be shot and at the ripe old age of a year or two. Sad, isn’t it? This is animal exploitation at it worst. Take the money out of the race, and it would end. This is something I urge all supporters to do. Don’t help to finance this inhumane race.”

– Thomas J. Classen, Fairbanks, Alaska – The Vero Beach Press Journal, March 5, 2007
– Tom Classen is a retired Air Force colonel who has lived in Alaska over 20 years.
– He wrote this letter in response to an article the paper published about the Iditarod.

Dogs shot for fun:

Iditarod mushers routinely shoot sled dogs they don't want.. Dogs have also been shot for fun. Photo attributed to Augustas Didzgalvis on Wikipedia

Iditarod mushers routinely shoot their unwanted sled dogs. Dogs have also been shot for fun. Photo attributed to Augustas Didzgalvis on Wikipedia

“One kennel I worked at the manager would walk through the dog yard with his pistol shooting dogs for fun. He thought it was great sport.”

– Mike Cranford, dog handler, Two Rivers, Alaska, letter sent to the Sled Dog Action Coalition on February 28, 2000.

Young dogs who goof off are shot:

“Some of the younger dogs that are just goofing off and don’t look like they will make it, I just go ahead and shoot those dogs right now.”

– Attla, George, and Bella Levorsen, editor. Everything I Know About Training and Racing Sled Dogs, Rome: Arner Publications, 1974

Dogs who look back are killed:

“When a dog in your team looks back, and looks back, and keeps looking back, the whole team knows that dog is looking back, and pretty soon the rest of the dogs are looking back. So it’s best to discard that one.”

– Attla, George, and Bella Levorsen, editor. Everything I Know About Training and Racing Sled Dogs, Rome: Arner Publications, 1974

Dogs who can’t keep up are killed:

“When I start training dogs in the fall, anything that can’t keep up with the rest goes to the happy hunting grounds.”*

*”Happy hunting grounds” means “North American Indian heaven.”

– Attla, George, and Bella Levorsen, editor. Everything I Know About Training and Racing Sled Dogs, Rome: Arner Publications, 1974

Older dogs who won’t run downhill are killed:

Question to George Attla: “What do you do about older dogs that won’t run down hill?”

George Attla’s answer: “I don’t waste time on them. I get rid of them.”

– Attla, George, and Bella Levorsen, editor. Everything I Know About Training and Racing Sled Dogs, Rome: Arner Publications, 1974

Dogs who are scared when the team runs wide open are killed:

“Any one of these three dogs – a dog that looks back, or one that is scared when the team runs wide open, or a dog that is scared to run downhill – I wouldn’t have anything to do with. I’d get rid of them right now.”

– Attla, George, and Bella Levorsen, editor. Everything I Know About Training and Racing Sled Dogs, Rome: Arner Publications, 1974

Dogs who don’t keep their back line tight are killed:

“I don’t care how many ways a dog’s legs are flying. If they are flying in all directions, it don’t make no difference to me, just so long as when that dog is moving his back line is staying tight. If it isn’t, I wouldn’t monkey with a pup like that. I’d discard him right now.”

– Attla, George, and Bella Levorsen, editor. Everything I Know About Training and Racing Sled Dogs, Rome: Arner Publications, 1974

Dogs killed for being slow, not wanting to run, throwing their legs out funny, not keeping lines tight:

“If a pup is slow, I am not going to mess with them. It is not worth messing with a pup if it hasn’t got any speed and doesn’t want to go- yes, I am talking about draggers.

That is the first culling – they just plain don’t want to go. Then I look at their gaits or if they throw their legs out funny or obviously are too slow, if their lines are slack all the time. There is no sense wasting good dog food and your time on a dog that isn’t fast enough to keep up.”

“If you want to have trotters, you can save yourself a lot of dog food, keeping the faster ones and eliminating the others.”

– Swenson, Rick. The Secrets of Long Distance Training and Racing, 1987

— How many dogs has Rick Swenson killed?

“But on the average, a fellow like myself, who raises a minimum of 50 pups every year, using almost all proven breeding stock, still doesn’t get more than two pups out of a litter that wind up making the race team when they are three years old.”

– Swenson, Rick. The Secrets of Long Distance Training and Racing, 1987

Dog shot for being “funny looking:”

“As a new handler with about two weeks of experience, walking through the dog lot with the main handler, I pointed to a dog and said, ‘That’s a funny looking dog.’ I found the dog shot, still at his house on his chain.”

– Mike Cranford, Iditarod dog handler, letter to the Sled Dog Action Coalition, 2012

Mushers drown unwanted puppies:

“…The [Iditarod] board was silent when Iditarod musher John Cooper wrote a story for this newspaper’s magazine talking about getting rid of unwanted puppies by tying them in a bag and tossing the bag in a creek.”

– Craig Medred, Anchorage Daily News, April 20, 1992

“I drowned one litter at birth because they were born to my main lead dog at the start of the fall training season.”

– Olesen, Dave. Cold Nights Fast Trails, Minocqua: NorthWord Press, Inc., 1989

Old saying: “Those who cannot drown should not breed:”

“There is an old saying in the dog world: ‘Those who cannot drown should not breed.’ It is true. Many pups will be born and some pups will be culled.”

– Olesen, Dave. Cold Nights Fast Trails, Minocqua: NorthWord Press, Inc., 1989

Iditarod musher bludgeons 14 sled dog puppies to death with an ax handle. Photo attributed to Wikimedia Commons

Iditarod musher bludgeons 14 sled dog puppies to death with an ax handle. Photo attributed to Wikimedia Commons

Musher kills puppies with an ax, shoots ones left alive:

“Iditarod musher Frank Winkler was charged Friday with animal cruelty for bludgeoning 14 sled-dog puppies with an ax handle, although he said in an interview earlier this month that he reluctantly shot them. After a neighbor reported hearing puppies whimpering in the night, an animal-control officer visited Winkler’s trailer Sept. 7 and found the battered puppies piled in a crate in the back of his pickup. Two were barely alive and the rest were dead.

One of the live pups ‘was crying and was cold, clammy, wet, bloody and showed clinical signs of shock,’ Assistant District Attorney Mindy McQueen wrote in a charging document. The other was half-buried in the pile of dead pups. Both live dogs had crushed skulls and were later killed by animal-control officers.”

– Marilee Enge, Anchorage Daily News, September 21, 1991

“The small pups were only a week old, [Frank] Winkler said. The older pups ranged from 5 to 10 weeks old, he said.”

– Don Hunter, Anchorage Daily News, December 7, 1991

“Winkler tries to kill some of his puppies by hitting them with the blunt end of an ax. He doesn’t hit all of them hard enough to immediately kill them.

He tries to shoot some others with a borrowed .22-caliber rifle, but trying to hold down a puppy while cradling a rifle is no easy task. Winkler has to be careful to avoid shooting himself. He is lucky in that he succeeds. He is unlucky in that the shots only wounded some of the puppies.

Two live. Winkler, unaware of this, throws them into a box in back of his truck with the corpses of their brothers and sisters. He goes home. The dying puppies whimper while Winkler sleeps. A neighbor hears the whimpering.”

– Craig Medred, Anchorage Daily News, April 20, 1992

“He [Frank Winkler] said he understood it was common practice to weed out unwanted or undesirable dogs. He said he couldn’t afford to have the pups put to sleep.”

– David Hulen, Los Angeles Times, February 17, 1992

Dan MacEachen shoots unwanted dogs:

“MacEachen has run Alaska’s Iditarod – at 1,150 miles, the world’s premier dog-sled race – seven times.”

– Gwen Florio, Rocky Mountain News, April 6, 2005

“Unwanted dogs at one of the largest tourist sled-dog operations in the country are shot in the back of the head and buried in a pit filled with excrement…”

“Dan MacEachen, owner of the Krabloonik sled-dog center in Snowmass Village for 31 years, said several dogs have been shot with a .22-caliber rifle and buried in a pit where feces from about 250 dogs are deposited. The exact number of animals that have been shot is in dispute, but a former employee said it has been as many as 30 in one year.”

– Thomas Watkins, Denver Post, April 6, 2005

“Dan MacEachen, who acknowledged that he shot and killed old or injured Alaskan huskies – and some younger dogs that didn’t take to pulling sleds – with a .22-caliber rifle, faced heavy criticism after his method of destroying the animals came to light this week.”

– Steve Lipsher, Denver Post, April 7, 2005

Mushers unable to find homes for unwanted dogs:

“Who out there is dumb enough to believe that some musher living in the middle of nowhere is ‘able to find good homes for the dogs?”

– Craig Medred, Anchorage Daily News, March 5, 1993

Killing dogs is part of sled dog industry:

“Killing unwanted sled-dog puppies is part of doing business, many Alaska mushers say.”

Anchorage Daily News, October 6, 1991

“[Brad] Muir admits euthanizing dogs is an unavoidable part of the dog sled industry.”

– Brad Muir is a musher who has been raising sled dogs for 11 years.
– CTV.com, February 4, 2011

Culling or killing puppies:

“[Musher] Plettner said she checks her dogs at 5 weeks old for size, appetite and aggressiveness. Then she tries to work with ones that need improvement, testing the pups weekly until they are about 12 weeks old. After she rates the dogs on feet, coat, digestive system, angulation of legs, drive and smarts, she culls.”

Anchorage Daily News, October 6, 1991

“Pups culled at birth are picked according to size and vitality. Experts can judge angulation in the very young by feeling leg and shoulder bones. You can also compare bone structure and leg and neck length and cull on the basis of whether you want heavier or lighter dogs.”

– Collins, Miki and Julie Collins. Dog Driver: A Guide for the Serious Musher, Loveland: Alpine Publications, 1991

Mushers getting rid of dogs who run a mile an hour too slow:

“They [the big racing outfits] can’t keep a dog who’s a mile an hour too slow.”

– Musher Lorraine Temple, Currents Magazine, Fall 1999

Dogs culled for “the sake of the team:”

“You might need to cull a dog for the sake of your team. Even an outstanding dog might not fit in.”

– Collins, Miki and Julie Collins. Dog Driver: A Guide for the Serious Musher, Loveland: Alpine Publications, 1991

Iditarod mushers have clubbed unwanted sled dogs to death with baseball bats.

Iditarod mushers have clubbed unwanted sled dogs to death with baseball bats.

Unwanted dogs clubbed or dragged to death:

“On-going cruelty is the law of many dog lots. Dogs are clubbed with baseball bats and if they don’t pull dragged to death in harness. (Imagine being dragged by your neck-line at 15 miles per hour while suffering a major heart-attack!)….”

– Mike Cranford, Two Rivers, Alaska
The Bush Blade Newspaper, serving Cook Inlet and Bush Alaska, March, 2000, website article

Famous musher bred 300 dogs to get 5 good ones:

“On a recent TV documentary and typical of many [mushers], a famous Iditarod musher stated that she bred 300 dogs to get 5 good ones!”

“…Help stop the culling and killing.”

– Ethel D. Christensen Alaska SPCA Executive Director
– The Alaska S.P.C.A. website April, 2001

Unwanted dogs are killed:

“‘I’m definitely going to have to cull some dogs. There’s no way we can keep them,’ he [Charlie Campbell] said.”

“The culling won’t start until the mushing season begins and he and his wife can assess each dog. ‘We’re going to have to be ruthless about who we keep.'”

– Joel Gay, Anchorage Daily News, September 30, 2002

Competitive dog mushing is built on dead dogs:

“Competitive dog mushing is built on dead dogs, from the time slow-looking puppies are culled to the moment some overbred, undersized racing hound expires of overexertion.”

– Mike Doogan, Anchorage Daily News, April, 1994

“‘Competitive kennels, or even kennels that may not be competitive but aspire to be, often breed more dogs than they’re actually going to be able to keep, afford to keep and pay for the vet bills, the food and all the other associated costs,’ [Frank] Turner told CBC News in a recent pre-race interview.

‘If you added up the numbers, there’s no way all those other puppies or young dogs are going to be sold or given away to homes. We’re just breeding too many dogs.’

The Yukon Quest should admit that culling is part of the competitive racing world and take measures to discourage it, he said.”

– Frank Turner is a musher
– Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Feb. 9, 2007

“When I was active in the mushing community, other mushers were open with me about the fact that larger Iditarod kennels frequently disposed of dogs by shooting them, drowning them or setting them loose to fend for themselves in the wilderness. This was especially true in Alaska, they said, where veterinarians were often hours away. They often used the phrase ‘Bullets are cheaper.’ And they noted that it’s more practical for mushers in remote parts of Alaska to do it themselves.”

– Ashley Keith, former musher and Iditarod kennel employee who now rescues and rehabilitates abused sled dogs
– Email to the Sled Dog Action Coalition, April 28, 2007

“The nature of the large scale racing sled dog operation I worked at was something like a concentrated farming operation. The dogs in the yard were exclusively of commercial value, for racing and the associated tourism industry.

I was told dogs are sent to a ‘special place’ which was code for they are shot. There are dozens of dogs bred each season, I observed about three dozen puppies, in a large kennel of over 100 dogs when I was working as a dog handler. Not all of these puppies would be chosen to race or operate as sled dogs during the tourist season, or be sold as racing puppies.”

– Jane Stevens, email sent to the Sled Dog Action Coalition on March 28, 2011
– Jane Stevens was a dog handler for a top 10 Iditarod musher.

Dead dogs thrown into pits:

“At one musher’s dog lot, I stumbled across a pit of dead dogs. I asked another handler who had been working there for a while: Do you reckon he’s killed a hundred dogs? He laughed and said it was closer to a thousand and that the cabin I was living in was built on a big pit of dead dogs.”

– Mike Cranford, Iditarod dog handler, letter to the Sled Dog Action Coalition, 2012

“I worked in an Iditarod kennel where the dog waste was put in the same pit where they dumped their dead dogs.”

– Ashley Keith, former musher and Iditarod kennel employee who now rescues and rehabilitates abused sled dogs.
– Email to the Sled Dog Action Coalition, June 20, 2011

Brutal dog killings like these could happen in an Iditarod kennels:

“[Robert] Fawcett says he asked one veterinarian to put down the dogs for him, but the vet refused to kill 100 healthy dogs. So on April 21 and 23 of 2010, he took a gun and a knife and brutally slaughtered them, in plain view of 200 other tethered dogs.

By the time he’d killed 15 dogs, the rest were starting to panic. This made it harder to get a clean shot on every dog, and as a consequence, the report states, “he wounded but did not kill one dog, ‘Suzie.’ Suzie was the mother of (Fawcett’s) family’s pet dog, ‘Bumble.’ He had to chase Suzie through the yard because the horrific noise she made when wounded caused him to drop the leash. Although she had the left side of her cheek blown off and her eye hanging out, he was unable to catch her.

Fawcett went and got a gun with a scope and shot her when she lay down with a group of other dogs, who attacked him when he went to retrieve her body. He also realized that, when shooting Suzie, he’d also wounded another dog, Poker, not slated for death, who was ‘one of his favorites.’ Poker suffered for 15 minutes before dying.

That day Fawcett says he slaughtered 55 dogs. He had to wrap his arms in foam to protect himself from the frenzied attacks of the dogs when he tried to handle them. He had to wrestle the dogs to the ground and stand on them before he killed them — in his words — ‘execution style.’

In the report, he described ‘a guttural sound he had never heard before from the dogs and fear in their eyes.’ Two days later, he did it again. This time, he said, it was worse. One dog, Nora, had been shot 20 minutes before but was still crawling around in the mass grave he had dug for the dogs.”

– Robert Fawcett is a manager of a sled dog tour company in Whistler Canada.
– Christie Keith, San Francisco Chronicle, February 10, 2011

“His [Robert Fawcett] memory of the final 15 dogs is fuzzy. Some he shot cleanly, others he had to chase. In some cases, it was simply easier to get behind the dogs and slit their throats and let them bleed out. By the end he was covered in blood.”

– Robert Fawcett is a manager of a sled dog tour company in Whistler Canada.
– Report by Allan Wotherspoon, Review Officer, Review Division, Review Decision, Review Reference #R0119660, Canada, January 25, 2011.

AVMA does not recommend routine euthanasia by gunshot:

“Gunshot should not be used for routine euthanasia of animals…”

– 2000 Report of the American Veterinary Medical Association Panel on Euthanasia

AVMA says only people skilled and trained in using firearms should kill by gunshot:

“A properly placed gunshot can cause immediate insensibility and humane death. In some circumstances, a gunshot may be the only practical method of euthanasia. Shooting should only be performed by highly skilled personnel trained in the use of firearms and only in jurisdictions that allow for legal firearm use.”

– AVMA Guidelines on Euthanasia, June, 2007, AVMA website

[From the Sled Dog Action Coalition: How many mushers are “highly skilled” and “trained” in the use of firearms?]

Agents and Methods of Euthanasia:

Species Acceptable Conditionally acceptable
Dog Barbiturates, inhalant anesthetics, CO, potassium chloride in conjunction with general anesthesia N2, Ar, penetrating captive bolt, electrocution

– From 2000 Report of the AVMA Panel on Euthanasia
– Dr. James B. Nichols, University of Vermont, Office of Animal Care Management website

Some Iditarod dogs skinned for their fur

Dogs skinned for parka ruffs and mittens

“….As a dog handler myself, I rescued two old Iditarod stars before their owner ended their fame with a shot to the brain. Culling unwanted dogs is an on-going mushers’ practice and one racer had numerous pits full of dead dogs from puppies to oldsters— some skinned for parka ruffs and mittens!”

– Mike Cranford, Two Rivers, Alaska
The Bush Blade Newspaper, serving Cook Inlet and Bush Alaska, March, 2000, website article

Dogs skinned to make hats and mittens:

“At one Iditarod and Yukon Quest veteran kennel, there was a dog who wasn’t very fast. Like many sled dogs, he lived on a short chain with nothing but a cruddy dog house and a rusty food bowl for company.

Sometimes, he was whipped in harness with pine branches or “bumped” with the all terrain vehicle he and his teammates were pulling (meaning the mushers hooked him up closest to the machine and then sped up to hit his backside). His owners didn’t care much for him, as he was not the best worker and was also neutered – thus he had no value as a breeding animal. His owners often talked about shooting him if he didn’t shape up.

One day, I was told that I had to accompany this dog to the veterinarian to “see what happened to dogs that didn’t make the cut.” Without a physical examination or owner counseling, this dog was simply euthanized because he was too slow. He was perfectly healthy, and indeed could have made a great team dog on a recreational team.

The dogs body was taken back to the mushers’ home and placed in a larger freezer (where meat for dog food was stored). I was then shown a pair of mittens that were made from a previous sled dog who wasn’t fast enough. I was told that it’s important to kill them (sled dogs) when they are young, because their pelts (fur coats) are in better condition and will make better garments.”

– Ashley Keith, former musher and Iditarod kennel employee who now rescues and rehabilitates abused sled dogs
– Email to the Sled Dog Action Coalition, April 30, 2008

“He (Colonel Tom Classen) confirmed dog beatings and far worse. Like starving dogs to maintain their optimum racing weight. Skinning them to make mittens.”

– Tom Classen is a retired Air Force colonel and Alaskan resident for over 40 years
– Jon Saraceno, USA Today, March 3, 2000

Actress Sylvia Miles wore pelt from dead Iditarod dog:

“Spruced up like an Ewok princess, thespian beauty Sylvia Miles bundled up in luxurious skins for a NYC premiere on Monday. Clad in Davy Crockett headgear, a cotton candy mane, the pelt from an Alaskan Iditarod sled dog…. “

– TMZ.com, December 12, 2007
– TMZ.com is a joint venture between Telepictures Productions and AOL