Iditarod race maddest part of March

by Dave McGrath
The Badger Herald
Thursday, March 15, 2007

With the NCAA tournament about to get underway and the anticipation and excitement of the best four days in sports just around the corner, it can be difficult to see the big picture at times. While the Big Dance is about to get underway, the true madness of March just finished.

Some Huskies are missing.

No, I’m not talking about the Connecticut Huskies, who missed both the NCAA and NIT tournaments for the first time since shoes became fashionable.

What I’m talking about is the Iditarod, maybe the cruelest celebrated sporting event in America.

Every year, a bunch of yahoos and foreign “professionals” travel to Alaska to partake in a sled race with a pack of 16 or so dogs dragging a sled, the musher and supplies over 1,150 grueling miles in eight to 15 days. Yeah, 1,150 miles in as little as eight days, which averages out to about 140 miles a day, or on the high end, “just” 70 miles. This is done all in the name of tradition, commemorating the 1925 serum run, where relays of dog teams delivered much needed diphtheria serum from Anchorage to Nome.

In that relay, no dog ran more than 92 miles, so to say that the Iditarod is something of an exaggeration is like calling Britney Spears’ locks just slightly trimmed.

Now, being the proud owner of a 2-year-old, rambunctious Labrador myself, I find this to be nothing short of appalling.

It would be sickening enough to have these animals drag these so-called “sportsmen” — much like Hitler was a peace monger — around in 50-60 degree weather. No such luck for the poor hounds, which are forced to do said dragging in often sub-zero temperatures, blizzards and howling winds. On second thought, that might be the animals howling.

In 1997, the Anchorage Daily News reported that at least 107 dogs had died in the running of the Iditarod, and since that time at least 23 dog deaths are on record, meaning at least 130 dogs have been literally driven into the ground in the name of this sport.

It isn’t as if the rest of the dogs are fine, either. On average, half of the dogs that start the grievous gauntlet are unable to finish due to complications such as spinal injuries, bone fractures, sore and cut paws, ruptured tendon sheaths, torn muscles, sore joints, dehydration, stress and diarrhea.

Sounds like fun, huh?

And that is just in the big event. Mushers often have dozens of dogs around training, hoping to pull out a strong team from among them. Culling — aka killing — unwanted or useless animals is common practice.

Those who take part in the race say that it is a tradition and that the dogs love running. If this race is a tradition, it goes alongside such pastimes as sacrificing your first child and throwing Christians to lions. Just because it is a tradition doesn’t make it less atrocious.

As for the dogs loving it, I’m sure that all dogs enjoy a good run and exercise. My pup is never happier than when she is sprinting outside for an hour or so chasing objects — animate or otherwise — that dare capture her attention.

In fact, I bet she’d love to run a mile or two, maybe even five on a cool day if some water were around.

But 1,150 in a week? I’m pretty sure she’d just as soon chew on a spinach-flavored rawhide.

Just yesterday, Lance Mackey became the third member of his family to win the Iditarod. He was trumpeted as “Incredible” Jeff Mackey, the cancer survivor. I find it unthinkable that somebody so lucky to be alive would spend his time torturing and abusing canines just to win a race. Now that’s incredible.

The Iditarod calls itself “The Last Great Race on Earth.” If that’s the case, let all “great races” be extinct.