Articles and interviews about the Iditarod

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…

Happy to see this race is over

by Jim Rome
Fox Sports
March 14, 2001

Good news: The annual I-killed-a-dog-sled race is over. That means that all of the dogs who managed to make it through another year without getting beaten to death on the frozen tundra of Alaska have another 12 months to breathe easy.

Legendary animal whacker Doug Swingley won the race, again to complete the three-peat. It was his fourth title overall. This guy is the Michael Jordan of dog sled killing, errr, racing. And he says this one was especially meaningful to him because there were six other former champions in the field. Read more…

Iditarod’s bone of contention repels some marketers

by Bruce Horovitz
USA Today
March 2, 2001

The Iditarod dog sled race has become a public-relations minefield.

Organizers of the grueling 1,150-mile race across Alaska have raised a record $2 million this year in sponsorship support for the race, which begins Saturday.

But animal-rights groups are stepping up their condemnation of the 2-week-long race. And corporate image guru John Lister warns that sponsors may need to rethink strategy.

“There is a fairly strong degree of risk in attaching large, national brands to that kind of event,” he says. Read more…

Iditarod no more than dog abuse

by Jon Saraceno
USA Today
March 5, 2001

Margery Glickman’s intent wasn’t to become a crusader when she made that fateful summertime trip to Alaska nearly three years ago. Vacationing with her two teenage boys, she wanted to explore and enjoy the awe-inspiring beauty of our 49th state.

Instead, she was horrified. “I saw something that was very disturbing to me — and I was angry,” she says.

Today, she remains an advocate for our four-legged friends who cannot express their agony and distress, at least not in human terms. “I’m not a professional animal-rights activist,” Glickman says. “I continue to be persistent because I continue to be outraged.” Read more…

Iditarod, hailed as greatest dog race? Call it grotesque shame, animal abuse

by Greg Cote
Miami Herald
March 5, 2002

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 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 latest race commenced Saturday. 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…

Iditarod dog deaths unjustifiable

by George Diaz
Orlando Sentinel
March 5, 2000

The unofficial death count is 114, though the numbers lie because it isn’t possible to follow all the bloody paw prints of innocent animals that have died in the name of this barbaric “sport.”

They have been strangled in towlines, gouged by sleds, suffered liver injury, heart failure, pneumonia and “external myopathy,” a condition in which a dog’s muscles and organs deteriorate during extreme or prolonged exercise.

A previous race winner was banned in 1990 after accusations that he struck a dog with a snow hook. In 1985, a woman musher (dog sled driver) watched the race from the sidelines after a moose stomped on her team of dogs. Read more…

Iditarod’s claim to shame: dead dogs

by Jim Reeves
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
March 1, 2003

Today is the day when the dogs begin to die.

The annual I-Killed-A-Dog Race starts today in Alaska.

That Arlington’s Randy Chappel is among the 65 mushers who will drive a team of dogs 1,150 miles — about the distance between New York and Orlando or Fort Worth and Cleveland — brings the story home even more poignantly.

The real question is not who will win this year’s Iditarod. The question is this: How many dogs will die to make it happen? Read more…

On your mark, set… let the cruelty begin

by Jon Saraceno
USA Today
March 3, 2000

Tom Classen has lived outside the “lower 48” for more than 40 years. The retired 81-year-old Air Force colonel has long enjoyed the inspiring beauty of his state, where themes of outdoor adventure and rugged individualism dominate.

This is the weekend he dreads.

This is the time of year when he hangs his head in shame at the ugliness of some of his fellow Alaskans. Classen suffers, but not in silence. “God,” he pleads, “we’ve got to stop this damn killing.”

He is angry. I felt the same way last summer when, vacationing in Alaska, I was forced to listen to Susan Butcher’s propaganda about the Iditarod. The champion musher trotted out her puppies in a well-rehearsed pretense designed to whitewash the bloodshed of what I call the “Ihurtadog.” Read more…

This barbaric race serves no purpose

by David Whitley
Orlando Sentinel
March 16, 2003

I’ll admit, I know as much about dogsled racing as I do theoretical physics. But you don’t have to be Stephen Hawking to realize the Iditarod should have run its course years ago.

This year’s race ended last Thursday and Friday. For all we know, sleds may still be straggling in. Which shows you how ridiculous the race is.

There were 64 teams entered. When the talent discrepancy is so bad a team can finish two days behind the winner, it’s not a real sport — NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament excluded, of course. Read more…

What Iditarod Does To Dogs Is True March Madness

by Jeff Jacobs
Hartford Courant
March 18, 2004

Jonathan XII, a 3-year-old white Siberian Husky who loves to be petted, lives a comfortable lifestyle at an unidentified location 20 minutes from the UConn campus. The shroud of secrecy is necessary, his handler Karen Landwehr said, to prevent merry pranksters from Rhode Island and other rival schools from kidnapping the mascot of our state university.

Personally, I’m not buying the explanation.

I’m convinced Jonathan, the noble heir to a tradition that dates to 1934, is being hidden so he is not drafted into the annual war against dogs. Surely you’ve heard of the 1,100-mile death march from Anchorage to Nome. It’s the grotesque spectacle that alternately bills itself as Alaska’s great race and the world’s premier dog-sled race. Read more…

As death toll of dogs rises, so does Iditarod’s insanity

by Jon Saraceno
USA Today
March 15, 2004

I’m all for mutiny. Dog mutiny, that is.

When it comes to the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race, how do we get more of our furry friends to lie down on the job? If they belonged to a union, there would be a strike every March when the 1,100-mile marathon of dog misery is propelled by more than 1,000 members through the treacherous Alaskan wilderness.

In that labor dispute, I would be all for the stressed-to-the-max dogs. They are overworked and underpaid. The money and the glory go to management — in this case, mushers and their sponsors.

Why does Alaska permit the “Ihurtadog?” Read more…

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? Read more…

Bill Maher’s interview with Alaska’s Governor Frank Murkowski

Real Time with Bill Maher, March 18, 2005, Episode #55
HBO broadcast transcript

MAHER: I know you love your state and you’ll probably love whatever goes on up there, but I’m a member – a board member – of the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals—[applause]—okay, okay, wait, wait, wait. What about stopping that Iditarod? Because I think you’ve already made your point that if you hit an animal, it will run. [laughter]

MURKOWSKI: That’s right.

MAHER: Don’t you think it’s cruel to the dogs?

MURKOWSKI: [overlapping] And if you—

MAHER: Governor?

MURKOWSKI: And you know, you go out to Santa Anita and watch the races, and you get a big kick out of betting on the races. Do you think that’s cruel to the horse?

MAHER: I do.

MURKOWSKI: Or are the thoroughbreds bred – are they bred just like our dogs are bred?

MAHER: [overlapping] But that’s only – but that’s only a two—but that’s only a two-minute race. This one is like 6,000 miles. [laughter] Read more…

Dogs shouldn’t be tools for entertainment

By Tom Grady
Star News
March 29, 2006

I recently wrote a column for the sports section of the Star-News that focused on the Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Race. I’d like to expand on the theme here.

The animal lovers among us don’t like to see dogs or any animals forced to the limit for the entertainment of humans. In my view, dog fighting, greyhound racing and dog sled racing all fall under the same category, although dog fighting is especially cruel and separated at the top the list.

Maybe I’m not getting the full picture on sled racing, but I’ve seen the videos of dogs tied to short chains near tiny, crude doghouses and I’ve read stories about tragedies along the race course.

They have been bred for the so-called sport, and I’m sure their handlers would defend the practice by telling us they enjoy it. But can we really imagine that the dogs love the struggle that sometimes kills a fellow member of the team?

Do they really enjoy being tied up on a short chain for many hours at a time while they wait for the next race or the next training run? The answer is a definitive no – no matter what propaganda or spin might be presented. Read more…

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. Read more…

Tough lives for man’s best friend

By John M. Crisp
Scripps Howard News Service
August 20, 2007

If you have any doubts about the despicable nature of the allegations against Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, you can dispel them by Googling a term like “dogfighting” and perusing the pictures and stories that pop up; any reasonably civilized human being will be disgusted.

On the other hand, as Paul Campos of Scripps Howard News Service pointed out recently, those of us who are not vegetarians might feel a little uncomfortable with the intensity of the condemnation of Vick. After all, the neatly arrayed, cellophaned slabs of red meat that we find in the supermarkets don’t come out of a machine. They’re the end product of a process that requires confinement, killing, dismemberment and, often, considerable misery. Read more…