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Dog Killing – The Alaska Iditarod Race Controversy

The Alaska Iditarod race held each year in March sparks controversy over the treatment of the dogs. It is a popular event that is intended to commemorate Alaska’s culture and heritage of Alaskan Huskies pulling sleds through mountainous and rough terrain. Mushing was a means of travel in Alaska in the early years with a team of sled dogs pulling a sled with a driver on board.

The route taken for the race is based on the year it is run. Even numbered years, the routes goes from Anchorage to Ruby. This is the northern route. In uneven numbered years, the route is run from Anchorage to Unalakleet, the southern route. The distance of the race is around 1,200 miles and is the longest dog sled race in the world.

The first Iditarod was held in 1973 and reportedly 15 to 19 dogs died during this race. It is estimated that approximately 130 dogs have died since the early days of the race, when there was no official count taken of the number of deaths. Thus, the exact amount of dog deaths during the early years is not exactly known.

The last ten years have shown deaths resulting from strangulation in towlines, internal hemorrhaging, liver injury, heart failure and pneumonia. Also, included as a reason for some deaths is a deterioration of the dog’s muscles and organs during extreme exercise. There have been incidences of racers kicking their dogs to death, striking them with sharp objects and mushing the dogs through dangerous deep water and ice.

During the race, dogs sustain injuries to the spine, bone fractures, sore paws, torn muscles, sore joints, dehydration and diarrhea. About half the dogs who start the race are not able to make it to the finish line.

In training the dogs for the race, it is reported some dogs are injured or die from the grueling paces they are put through. The training is done in remote areas of Alaska and many dogs are forced to pull extremely heavy loads. The strain of pulling these loads can cause hip and spine injuries.

The mushers are also criticized for culling the dogs. They are accused of killing any puppies or dogs that do not meet the standard of a good race dog.

Along the race trail, there are around twenty checkpoints with a veterinarian on duty to provide medical care for the dogs. These checkpoints serve as rest areas for both the dogs and the musher. The dogs are fed and allowed to rest at these checkpoints and any dog that is sick or injured is left off at the checkpoint.

The veterinarians who care for the dogs at the checkpoints defend the treatment of the animals, saying many untruths are told about the dogs running themselves to death. They claim the number of dog deaths is normal when you consider you are talking about 1,000 dogs, so three to five deaths out of 1,000 dogs is not an alarming figure. Kennels that house 1,000 dogs can expect around 3 deaths in a two week period.

Almost all mushers are members of several animal care groups that promote responsible care and humane treatment of the dogs. They say the stories of dogs and whips could not be further from the truth. They are out and out exaggerations and cause protest from animal rights activists.

Mushers love their dogs and contend that the Alaskan Huskies’ instinct is to run and pull sleds. This is what they were bred for, the same as bird dogs who instinctively hunt birds. The Huskies have been used for generations in Alaska to pull sleds, so it is easy for them, whereas it would be very difficult for some other breed of dog. Pulling a one ton sled from a dead stop is what one Husky is capable of doing. Endurance is the Husky’s strong point.


January 16, 2009 Posted by | Animal Controversies | , , , , | 2 Comments