The Iditarod

How can you compare the awful things Michael Vick did with a race like the Iditarod, where the dogs are well-conditioned and trained for the event?

Tell me how this sounds to you.

From the Humane Society . . .

Iditarod dogs are raised outdoors, in harsh northern weather conditions, in dog yards where they often are tethered on short chains with as many as 200 other dogs — despite the fact that the U.S. Department of Agriculture opposes this as a primary method of confinement for dogs.

With Vick, we’re talking about 50 some-odd dogs.

Accurate records have not been kept, but estimates are that around 130 dogs have died during Iditarod competition. No records are available from the race’s early years.

From the Humane Society:

Causes of death during the last decade have included strangulation in towlines, internal hemorrhaging after being gouged by a sled, liver injury from collision, heart failure, and pneumonia. “Sudden death” and “exertional myopathy,” a condition in which a dog’s muscles and organs deteriorate during extreme or prolonged exercise, have also been blamed.

Noted by the Anchorage Daily News as the musher who “led the transformation of the Iditarod from a leisurely 16-day race to a 10-day hotly contested event,” five-time Iditarod winner Rick Swenson was disqualified from the 1996 race after a dog died while he mushed his team through waist-deep overflow, a combination of water and frozen slush pooled on the surface of a frozen river. In 1985, a musher was disqualified after he kicked his dog and the animal died. The 1975 winner, Jerry Riley, was banned for life in 1990 after being accused of striking a dog with a snow hook.

Many more, however, have been killed before they got to the race. The dog-killings reported in Vick’s indictment for dogs who wouldn’t fight? It’s a well-known practice among sled-dog trainers. It even has a name: “Culling.”

It’s the method by which weak pups and dogs are removed from the rest of the training group. The most widely used method is by shooting them in the head. But court documents show that one musher bludgeoned 14 dogs with an axe handle and buried two alive with the other carcasses. Musher John Cooper, in an article for the Anchorage Daily News magazine, admitted to getting rid of weak pups by putting them into a bag and tossing it in a creek. Another musher told that paper that the culling takes place when pups reach about 12 weeks old. Tom Classen, a retired Air Force Colonel and Alaska resident for 30 years, confirmed for USA Today columnist Jon Saraceno dog beatings, starvings and even skinnings — to make mittens.

From the Denver Post in 2006:

“Dan MacEachen, owner of the Krabloonik sled-dog center in Snowmass Village for 31 years, said several dogs have been shot with a .22-caliber rifle and buried in a pit where feces from about 250 dogs are deposited. The exact number of animals that have been shot is in dispute, but a former employee said it has been as many as 30 in one year.”

Now. I’m not a flaming animal rights activist. And I’m not trying to gloss over what Vick has done. I’m only saying that what happens in this race is just as wrong as what Vick and his cohorts did.

In some ways, it is worse, because it happens on a larger scale and is supported by major corporations in the north and, to some degree, by the media.

But not all media.

Jim Rome calls this the “annual I-killed-a-dog sled race. . . . I hope I never get to the place where beating dogs to death is a good sport.”

Saraceno, columnist for USA Today, says it is “no more than dog abuse.”

They’re right.

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16 thoughts on “The Iditarod

  1. Mr. Crawford, as I mentioned in my comment to your “article”, you could have alienated far more of your readers if you had compared dog fighting to horse racing rather than the Iditarod.Honestly, I’m still having trouble understanding why you included this ill advised comparison. Since your article provided no new insights to the problems facing the Atlanta Falcons and their rookie coach, I can only assume this was a desperate attempt to get a “rise” out of your readership.

  2. I still STRONGLY disagree with this comparison (and for the record, I think you were a good UL beat writer and are a decent op-ed columnist.) Do your homework, man – abuse of sled dogs is generally a myth – an occasional musher is an abuser but so is the occassional suburban pet owner. Abuse of fighting dogs is the standard. In my military travels, I have had the occassion to go to Alaska and visit with competitive mushers and their dogs. I had the same pre-bias as you obviously have prior to my visit but quickly discovered that those dogs love to mush as much as my dog likes to chase a ball or catch a Frisbee.A few notable discrepancies between the “Sports” of mushing and fighting dogs:1. Fighters are known to steal pets from residential backyards in order to use them as “bait dogs.” Mushers do not.2. Fighters, apparently especially at Bad Newz kennels, purposefully kill dogs that perform poorly often by torturing them to death. Mushers do not, despite your obscure, 30-yr old isolated incident. 3. Mushers stop the competitiion at pre-determined points in order to have the health and well-being of their dogs checked by vets. Fighters do not. 4. At the biggest factor here: Fighting dogs is ILLEGAL. Mushing dogs is legal.In short, to compare what Bad Newz Kenels and Vick allegedly did to what goes on in the Iditarod appears to be apples and, well, maybe rocks. I encourage you to do more research before making such comparisons in the future.Thomas Walker

  3. I still STRONGLY disagree with this comparison (and for the record, I think you were a good UL beat writer and are a decent op-ed columnist.) Do your homework, man – abuse of sled dogs is generally a myth – an occasional musher is an abuser but so is the occassional suburban pet owner. Abuse of fighting dogs is the standard. In my military travels, I have had the occassion to go to Alaska and visit with competitive mushers and their dogs. I had the same pre-bias as you obviously have prior to my visit but quickly discovered that those dogs love to mush as much as my dog likes to chase a ball or catch a Frisbee.A few notable discrepancies between the “Sports” of mushing and fighting dogs:1. Fighters are known to steal pets from residential backyards in order to use them as “bait dogs.” Mushers do not.2. Fighters, apparently especially at Bad Newz kennels, purposefully kill dogs that perform poorly often by torturing them to death. Mushers do not, despite your obscure, isolated incidents. 3. Mushers stop the competitiion at pre-determined points in order to have the health and well-being of their dogs checked by vets. Fighters do not. 4. At the biggest factor here: Fighting dogs is ILLEGAL. Mushing dogs is legal.In short, to compare what Bad Newz Kenels and Vick allegedly did to what goes on in the Iditarod appears to be apples and, well, maybe rocks. I encourage you to do more research before making such comparisons in the future.Thomas Walker

  4. I am a competative musher with 25 dogs. I get extremely mad when I hear that “All mushing dogs are Abused.” My dogs live on a 10 foot chain that goes 360 turn.Most pet dogs don’t get that.. They all get free run time every day in the yard with myself and my 3 children to supervise them and play fetch. If it is too cold outside for those that may have shorter hair or my retired..they come inside..I run my dogs 2 hrs rest 20 min then go another 2hrs. I think more education needs to go out there..NOT ALL MUSHERS ARE BAD..I treat my dogs are like children, you have to nuture them mentally, emotionally and psychologically. The only time you should use force with a dog is if there is dog fight which happens from time to time. and NO I DON’T USE A WHIP, or SHOCK collars. If my dogs don’t want to run they stay home. They have bad days too, just like US.

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