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When I lived in Alaska, the annual “Iditarod” sled dog race ran right past my office window in downtown Anchorage. It is a major commercial event for the state: the winning mushers earn cash prizes and become Alaskan celebrities. For the dogs, however, the 1,000 mile race means days of suffering and, for some, even death. On March 1, 2014, the Iditarod begins and teams of dogs will be forced to pull a sled over miles across the Alaskan wilderness, often running at a grueling pace of up to 100 miles per day for seven to ten straight days.

Dogs love to run. Anyone who shares life with a canine companion knows this, and some breeds are especially athletic. My own dog, Eve, is my hiking companion and can easily wear out other dogs while racing for a stick or a ball, over and over again, even at twelve years of age. But nobody throws a dog’s ball 1,000 miles before yelling fetch! From the Iditarod website:

A race covering 1000 miles of the roughest, most beautiful terrain Mother Nature has to offer. She throws jagged mountain ranges, frozen river, dense forest, desolate tundra and miles of windswept coast at the mushers and their dog teams. Add to that temperatures far below zero, winds that can cause a complete loss of visibility, the hazards of overflow, long hours of darkness and treacherous climbs and side hills, and you have the Iditarod.

The race is supposed to be a recreation of a historic event: the rushing of a diphtheria vaccine by sled to Nome in 1925 during an epidemic. During that actual, life-saving mission, the vaccine was carried not by a single dog team but by relay. It was understood that it made no sense to run dogs so far. Today, the event has become a corporate-sponsored money-maker – each participant pays an entry fee of more than $3,000, and winnings of up to $650,000 are shared among the top thirty.

The Iditarod puts animals’ lives at risk. Big game animals like elk and moose, who get in the way of the race, may be killed. Injured or “dropped” dogs are left alone at checkpoints with their paperwork, four pounds of dog food, and a chain. All dogs remain tethered at all times. “Rule 42″ regarding an “expired dog” states that “all dog deaths are regrettable, but there are some that may be considered unpreventable.”


The Cruelty Behind Sled Dog RacesColorado Department of Agriculture
 

In some states, dog sledding conditions might be considered criminally cruel. California’s cruelty law makes it a crime to inflict “needless suffering” or “unnecessary cruelty” upon an animal, particularly by overworking an animal. Violations can result in up to three years in prison and fines of up to $20,000. However, Alaska’s cruelty law conveniently “does not apply to generally accepted dog mushing or pulling contests or practices.” The industry itself defines “generally accepted” practices, and protects itself from meaningful scrutiny.

Since the race began decades ago, more than 140 dogs have died during the event—from heart attacks, pneumonia, muscle deterioration, dehydration, diarrhea, and spine injuries. They are impaled on sleds, drowned, or accidentally strangled. According to the Sled Dog Action Coalition, during the off-season, the dogs are crowded into small kennels with no state management or oversight. Many are tethered on short chains at all times, unable to play, forced to sit, stand, and lie in the same small area in which they eat and defecate. When the dogs are no longer profitable, they are destroyed.

And it’s not just the Iditarod. “Sled dogs” are treated cruelly in other states as well – on the trail, and off. Last month, CNN reported a story of a Colorado sled dog operator charged with animal cruelty when investigations revealed starving, sick, and constantly tethered dogs left out in the cold. The owner has been charged with eight counts of animal cruelty.

Please take action to help ALDF speak out for sled dogs by asking the corporate sponsors of events like the Iditarod to withdraw their support. Take action here.

Image source: Frank Kovalchek / Flickr

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77 comments on “The Cruelty Behind Sled Dog Races”

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felicia
3 Years Ago

bad


Reply
Cindy Savoroski
3 Years Ago

I agree with Rosa.


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Cindy Savoroski
3 Years Ago

I hate that Iditarod. Such a selfish race.


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Annie Reeves
3 Years Ago

I wonder if we could get this much argument activity about the coaches and athletes who participate in the Olympics!


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Megan 'Hykes' Ritterpusch
3 Years Ago

This kind of thing is what alienates rational people. I work with horses and dogs. There are many who truly love the jobs they do. They get excited when they see the gear. They are bred to able to do the jobs they do. Sled racing is NOT cruel. Actually meet a sled dog and you'd know this.


Reply
Anne Cath. Jensen
3 Years Ago


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Heather Doncaster
3 Years Ago

Lol, Rosa. This is where some extreme angry animal activists lose people. By getting angry at them without truly knowing. It causes more harm than good, as you shut the other people down. Stop being angry. Go volunteer at a humane society, or zoo. (Ps, I am also volunteer coordinator for the Alaska Zoo) ;) I am fighting the good fight for animals who truly need our attention. ;)


Reply
Heather Doncaster
3 Years Ago

Oh, and not ignorant at all. I am, in fact, a science teacher. Also, if you truly want to save the world, don't resort to name calling. It just raises people's defenses. ;)


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Heather Doncaster
3 Years Ago

Rosa. Talk to me after living in Alaska for 10 years. ;) Gooooo Iditarod!! (Ps, if you knew me, you would know I would DIE for an animal. ANY animal. I have been a veggie for 17 years, and actively save any, and all creatures. Next time, think twice before commenting on things you truly know nothing about.) Have a great day, go animals! :)


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Jen Sund - Orr
3 Years Ago

I personally know mushers and sled dogs. They all love what they do and the dogs do have a choice. If the dog is not in the mood to run the musher sees that and doesn't make them participate. Some of the dogs I have known actually get upset if they miss a day of running because conditions r just too bad. Yes just like with everything else in the world there r some idiots out there that don't properly take care of their animals, but don't accuse all mushers of abuse. I love animals and am completely against cruelty but you have it wrong on this one.


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