Victims of cold, fatigue and greed

by Bob Padecky
Santa Rosa Press Democrat
March 20, 2004

A dog is there for the taking. He can’t talk back. He can’t say, stop, you’re killing me, you’re treating me like a dog. Six years ago, Margery Glickman happened upon a couple of hundred dogs that, if they could have spoken, would have said just that.

Glickman was vacationing in Alaska. She came for the scenery but saw instead a “dog farm.” Animals were tethered to stakes by chains, belligerent in their confinement, drinking filthy water, sitting, as she said, “in their own fecal matter.” This was a breeding place for the Iditarod. Glickman was perplexed.

Even back home in Miami, Glickman had heard of the Iditarod. It was a 1,149-mile dog sled race in the middle of winter across Alaska. Designed to commemorate the diphtheria run that saved lives in 1925, the Iditarod had become romantic legend, courageous mushers crossing forests, rivers, tundra and mountain ranges with enthusiastic canines. What glory! Ah, but where was the glory in this?

“I was appalled,” she said.

Glickman had never been an activist in her life. She was a first-grade teacher. She was a mom. She was in Alaska to relax. Problem was, she couldn’t.

“Of 300 dogs on a dog farm,” Glickman said, “five might be judged good enough to run in the Iditarod. The rest? Most of them would be culled.”

They would be killed, by clubs, by gunshot, by being dragged to death in harness. Some were skinned for parkas and mittens. Her indignation grew in direct proportion to her curiosity. Glickman found dogs working on exercise wheels, like hamsters. She found dogs with muscle tears, raw paws, hypothermia, dislocated joints, penile frostbite, fluid in legs and lungs.

The 32nd running of the Iditarod concludes this weekend, and though records weren’t kept for the first 10 years of the race, Glickman now has counted 122 dogs who have died during the last 22 years. She was not alone in her disgust.
“With a buildup of lactic acid and other chemicals from muscle degradation as a result of extreme exercise,” said Dr. Paula Kislak, President of the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights, “toxicity in the liver and kidneys may not cause death for days or weeks after a race.”

So the 122 confirmed deaths?

“Adding the dogs who were culled, died in training and died after the race from complications,” Dr. Kislak said, “the number is in the thousands. That is obscene. The race only is run for entertainment and to make money.”

Greed is not confined to professional baseball players. The economic impact to Anchorage alone is estimated at $5 million. The Iditarod is a money-maker. Glickman, 56, has launched Sled Dog Action Coalition, a nonprofit volunteer-only organization. She has been so successful, sponsors like Pizza Hut, Pfizer and Costco have dropped out. She has received death threats, enough of them so that she doesn’t go to Alaska.

“It is unconscionable,” Glickman said. “They (mushers) say they love their dogs, but they don’t love their dogs. It is an act of barbarism. It is a shameless, bloody business.”

In the Iditarod, dogs are a car tire that goes flat. Just get another one. Except a car tire was never named Lassie or Ol’ Yeller. A car tire never welcomed you home at night. A car tire never took the edge off feeling lonely. A car tire never played with the kids, and a kid never cried when the car tire died.

If a dog is man’s best friend, this is not how you treat your best friend. You don’t push him so hard he can’t even exhale to vomit but instead chokes on it while falling down.

And as he watches his dog writhe on the ground, what can the musher possibly say that would even remotely make this sight worthwhile?