The Iditarod Begins!

ididarod1 The Iditarod Begins!ididarod2 The Iditarod Begins!The annual Iditarod race (the 38th) begins in Alaska tomorrow (Saturday). The whole thing began back in 1925 in snowy Alaska where a Husky named Balto led a dogsled team across 600 miles of ice and snow to deliver diphtheria serum to Nome, AK, where an epidemic was underway. The man driving the sled became snow blind, so the dog led the team all by himself with the wind blowing 80 mph and the temperature 50 degrees below zero. The route later became the route for the Iditarod Trail International Sled Dog Race. Just in case you’re really interested, there’s a statue to Balto in Central Park, NY.
   There’s a field of 71 mushers (56 men, 15 women) who’ll be leaving Anchorage and heading with their dog teams for Nome, 1112 miles away. This year –as in all even years, the teams will be taking the Northern Route, although both routes are part of the Iditarod National Historical Trail which was used in the early years for all winter travel. Back in the day, besides emergency supplies of medicine, dog sleds delivered the mail, the preacher, the groceries and hauled out gold and furs all the way to Anchorage or Fairbanks.
   The teams average 16 dogs, and in case you’re wondering, the temperature this morning in Anchorage, is 28 degrees. In Nome, it’s around 3 degrees; with the windchill, -19.
   Fastest winning time was in 2002, when MARTIN BUSER got all the way in 8 days, 22 hours and 46 minutes. Last year’s winner, LANCE MACKEY, took a bit over nine days to finish. Larry, who was Lance’s nine-year-old lead dog, retired last year after eight Iditarods (seven with Lance) and earning the coveted Golden Harness Award.
   Top mushers this year include Lance, JEFF KING, KEN ANDERSON, PAUL GEBHARDT (all from the USA), HANS GATT (Canada), Martin Buser and MITCH SEAVEY (both from the USA as well). MARSHALL NEWTON is also entered –he’s from Jamaica!

  • Margery Glickman

    For the dogs, the Iditarod is a bottomless pit of suffering. Six dogs died in the 2009 Iditarod, including two dogs on Dr. Lou Packer’s team who froze to death in the brutally cold winds. What happens to the dogs during the race includes death, paralysis, frostbite (where it hurts the most!), bleeding ulcers, bloody diarrhea, lung damage, pneumonia, ruptured discs, viral diseases, broken bones, torn muscles and tendons and sprains. At least 142 dogs have died in the race.

    During training runs, Iditarod dogs have been killed by moose, snowmachines, and various motor vehicles, including a semi tractor and an ATV. They have died from drowning, heart attacks and being strangled in harnesses. Dogs have also been injured while training. They have been gashed, quilled by porcupines, bitten in dog fights, and had broken bones, and torn muscles and tendons. Most dog deaths and injuries during training aren’t even reported.

    On average, 52 percent of the dogs who start the race do not make it across the finish line. According to a report published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, of those who do finish, 81 percent have lung damage. A report published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine said that 61 percent of the dogs who complete the Iditarod have ulcers versus zero percent pre-race.

    Iditarod dog kennels are puppy mills. Mushers breed large numbers of dogs and routinely kill unwanted ones, including puppies. Many dogs who are permanently disabled in the Iditarod, or who are unwanted for any reason, including those who have outlived their usefulness, are killed with a shot to the head, dragged, drowned or clubbed to death. “Dogs are clubbed with baseball bats and if they don’t pull are dragged to death in harnesses……” wrote former Iditarod dog handler Mike Cranford in an article for Alaska’s Bush Blade Newspaper.

    Dog beatings and whippings are common. During the 2007 Iditarod, eyewitnesses reported that musher Ramy Brooks kicked, punched and beat his dogs with a ski pole and a chain. Jim Welch says in his book Speed Mushing Manual, “Nagging a dog team is cruel and ineffective…A training device such as a whip is not cruel at all but is effective.” “It is a common training device in use among dog mushers…”

    Jon Saraceno wrote in his March 3, 2000 column in USA Today, “He [Colonel Tom Classen] confirmed dog beatings and far worse. Like starving dogs to maintain their most advantageous racing weight. Skinning them to make mittens.. Or dragging them to their death.”

    During the race, veterinarians do not give the dogs physical exams at every checkpoint. Mushers speed through many checkpoints, so the dogs get the briefest visual checks, if that. Instead of pulling sick dogs from the race, veterinarians frequently give them massive doses of antibiotics to keep them running. The Iditarod’s chief veterinarian, Stu Nelson, is an employee of the Iditarod Trail Committee. They are the ones who sign his paycheck. So, do you expect that he’s going to say anything negative about the Iditarod?

    Most Iditarod dogs are forced to live at the end of a chain when they aren’t hauling people around. It has been reported that dogs who don’t make the main team are never taken off-chain. Chained dogs have been attacked by wolves, bears and other animals. Old and arthritic dogs suffer terrible pain in the blistering cold.

    The Iditarod, with all the evils associated with it, has become a synonym for exploitation. The race imposes torture no dog should be forced to endure.

    Margery Glickman
    Sled Dog Action Coalition,

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