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7 Reasons Why the Iditarod Is Idita-Wrong

7 Reasons Why the Iditarod Is Idita-Wrong

The Iditarod  is billed as “The Last Great Race,” but it might more aptly be called “Alaska’s disgrace.” Imagine running four marathons a day for 10 days straight. Throw in biting winds, blinding snowstorms, and subzero temperatures. Forcing dogs to live in misery and to run until they drop is indefensible. Dogs are companions, not living snowmobiles.

That’s exactly what dogs in the Iditarod will be forced to endure.


Here are seven reasons why it’s high time the huskies were given the next two weeks off:

1.      The race is too damned long. Dogs pull heavy sleds through some of the worst weather conditions on the planet for about 1,000 miles, roughly the same distance as from New York City to Orlando, Fla. Mushers ride, eat, and sleep while their dogs labor. The official Iditarod rules require that the dogs be provided with a total of only 40 hours of rest—even though the race can take up to two weeks.

2.      The Iditarod hurts. Dogs’ feet get bruised and bloodied, are cut by ice and rocks, and just plain wear out because of the vast distances that they cover. Many dogs also suffer from pulled muscles, stress fractures, ruptured discs, diarrhea, dehydration, intestinal viruses, or bleeding stomach ulcers.

3.      Mushers are bullies. Many mushers have been caught beating their dogs  and have even recommended beatings in memoirs and training manuals. Witnesses saw veteran musher Ramy Brooks  beat and kick his dogs during the 2007 race after the dogs lay down on an ice field and refused to go any farther. One of the dogs later died.

4.      Dogs die nearly every year. More than 140 dogs have died in the Iditarod since records started being kept (a tally that doesn’t include those who die in training or after the race ends). Dogs have been asphyxiated after being buried in snow, strangled by tow lines, trampled by moose, and hit by snowmobiles and sleds, as well as freezing to death and collapsing from “sled dog myopathy” (literally being run to death). Rule 42 of the official Iditarod rules blithely acknowledges that some deaths may be considered “unpreventable.”

5.      Even the survivors lose. On average, more than half the dogs who start the race don’t make it across the finish line, and 81 percent of those who do finish have lung damage, according to a report published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. Another study, published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, found that more than half the dogs who finish the Iditarod have gastric ulcers, which the study’s authors believe are caused by “sustained strenuous exercise.” Dogs suffering from ulcers may bleed or choke to death after regurgitating and then inhaling their own vomit.

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6.      A life in chains. Life for dogs off the trail is equally grim. The vast majority of dogs used in sledding spend all their time when they aren’t “training” on short chains surrounded by mud with only overturned barrels or dilapidated doghouses for shelter. They rarely ever hear a kind word or receive a gentle touch.

7.      If they can’t run, they die. Dogs who aren’t fast runners or who simply don’t want to run at top speed all day are treated like defective equipment. Some simply are abandoned and left to starve. Others are shot or bludgeoned to death. The “lucky” ones are left at animal shelters, which are already overburdened.


Jennifer O’Connor