Animal cruelty has given me a change of heart on dog sporting competitions

By Norman Chad, Washington Post, June 25, 2017

I love dogs – Toni will tell you I don’t need a wife by my side, I just need a Weimaraner – and every year, my favorite column to write is a canine diary from the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race or the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

However, I will never pen either of those columns again and apologize to readers – particularly Iditarod-wise – for my poor judgment.

The thing is, I get along with dogs better than with people; they are more dependable and less deceitful. And in writing a weekly humor column – well, in theory it’s a humor column – I’ve always relished the annual opportunity to look for laughs from a dog’s perspective.

But in searching for the funny, I lost sight of the facts:

Sled dog racing is cruel, unusual and unacceptable punishment for the animals.

The Iditarod is a rugged 1,000-mile trek over nine days. Only about 50 percent of the dogs reach the finish line, and since its inception in 1973, at least 150 dogs have died in the race.

Short of perishing, Iditarod dogs suffer horrifically along the trail – diarrhea, bleeding ulcers, lung damage, pneumonia, ruptured discs, viral diseases, broken bones, torn muscles and frostbite.

It’s 2015—time to pack up the Iditarod

By Jake Flanagin, March 11, 2015

Saturday, Mar. 7, marked the start of the 2015 Iditarod—officially known as Iditarod, the Last Great Race on Earth®—an annual dogsled race stretching approximately 1,100 miles between the Alaskan cities of Anchorage and Nome.

Though first organized (in an abridged version) in 1967 as part of centennial celebrations of the Alaska Purchase, the world-famous race takes inspiration from the state’s early twentieth-century overland dogsled mail-routes. The Iditarod Trail was once used to ferry correspondence and supplies between the Alaskan coast and inland mining camps, though it is perhaps most fondly remembered for its role in combating the diphtheria epidemic of 1925. Due to a shortage of airplane pilots—who by that time had begun to supplant dogsled drivers, or “mushers”—medicine had to be sent to the remote northwest village of Nome via dog teams in the ostensibly impassable height of winter.

Known historically as “the Great Race of Mercy,” the event precipitated a recreational dogsledding renaissance, thanks in part to the heroism of Balto. The lead dog of the first team to reach Nome was later immortalized by the 1995 Universal Pictures animated classic. In honor of Balto’s musher, Leonhard Seppala, the Iditarod was initially called the Iditarod Trail Seppala Memorial Race. Balto himself is memorialized by a bronze statue in New York City’s Central Park.

An employee at a dogsledding tourist attraction in Whistler, British Columbia, slaughtered 100 dogs when told to ‘downsize the kennel.’ Today, the Iditarod consists of more than 100 recreational mushers and their teams of up to 16 dogs. The course crosses two mountain ranges, runs along the Yukon River, and over the frozen Norton Sound. Though the route is as unpredictable and obstacle-bound as it was in 1925, it operates within a framework of thoroughly modern regulations and amenities: demarcated trails, mandatory rest stops, checkpoints with dog food, a team of on-call veterinarians, and corporate sponsorships, to name a few. What was once a necessary mode of trade and cargo-shipment has become, in no uncertain terms, a commercial sporting event.

But this commercialization also raises some thorny ethical questions. Horse- and greyhound-racing, though still widely practiced, are generally more publicly maligned than valorized. Meanwhile mushers, in the public consciousness, are just as theoretically heroic today as they were in 1925, though the stakes have shrunk to nil. Perhaps more importantly, how how does competitive dogsledding differ, essentially speaking, from any other exploitative form of animal-based entertainment? And, in that light, should it be summarily abolished?

One of the problems endemic to dogsledding stems from an excess of breeding stock. What to do with canines who are past racing age? It is endemic in the sense that there are fewer clear solutions than in other forms of animal racing. Ex-racer greyhounds, temperament-wise, typically do well in adoptive homes and has become a rather fashionable cause, to boot. There are a large number of horse sanctuaries across the United States devoted to caring for retired racehorses—many of which are still able to breed post-career. This lends retired racehorses a certain economic appeal that sledding dogs lack. Read more…

March madness…

By Mary Hicks
Buffalo Bulletin
March 19, 2014

Alaskan Dallas Seavey wins 2014 Iditarod sled dog race in record time … won $50,000 and a new truck. I wonder what his lead dog won … hmmm.

The Iditarod claims more bad press. I felt terrible about missing the Bulletin deadline, my first in over 40 years … sorry! Anyway, this will be my last column about the Iditarod. I’ll let the big boys handle the bad news from now on.

An interview by Greg Cote of the Miami Herald quotes, “The dogs are running again, in many cases running until they drop, in some cases running until they die.

“The 30th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is underway (actually, the race was over two weeks ago) in Alaska to see which team can trek 1,100 miles the fastest. (last year’s) winner made it in nine days. The bizarre competition involves 65 ‘mushers,’” drivers along for the ride as their slaves – 16 dog teams, at least at the start – do the hard labor, at times encouraged by their masters’ whips.

“It is March madness of a too literal sort.

“Dogs die; it is a matter of how many. The Iditarod toll was 117 deaths as the last race commenced Saturday (almost three weeks ago). The real figure is higher because casualties from the early years are not known. The figure excludes dogs who perish in training, or who later die as a result of the sanctioned torture.” Read more…

“Ihurtadog” is 1,100 miles of frenzied lunacy

By Jon Saraceno
Thrive Sports
March 11, 2014

The media incessantly glorify and glamorize the Iditarod, the annual march of misery through the Alaskan wilderness that concludes this week, as some sort of quixotic celebration between man and dog. Frankly, it embarrasses me that the Fifth Estate is so easily snowed under by an avalanche of romanticized lies.

In this idealized, overwrought piece of fiction that otherwise goes by the name poppycock, the supposedly egalitarian partnership of man and canine challenges the Iditarod’s frozen hell and dale of tundra and spruce forests.

Mercenary organizers dreamily call the frigid nightmare “The Last Great Race on Earth.” I continue to call it the “Ihurtadog.”

Man’s best friend need not search for enemies as long as the Iditarod is in business. Read more…

Grueling Iditarod not even fit for dogs

by Jon Saraceno
USA Today

Imagine, for a moment, that you are a natural-born runner with unbridled endurance, strength and spirit. You would run yourself to death, if allowed.

Imagine your coach signing you up for a marathon in the Alaskan hinterland. He ships you to the race in a wooden box with an opening only large enough for your snout.

Imagine running more than 1,000 miles or roughly the equivalent from Boston to St. Louis. Imagine trudging for almost two weeks over frozen terrain, jagged rocks, stumps and divots at subzero temperatures, often in the middle of the night. Your feet are raw, cracked and bloody despite wearing “booties.” When you protest, your coach hands you Super Glue to affix a patch of moleskin to your oozing sores. Read more…