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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

From 15 April 2002 Issue

Dogs in pain prompt small-kennel musher to give up the Iditarod

By Paula Dobbyn And Craig Medred
TY: Staff
(Published: April 1, 2002)
Anchorage Daily News

ON THE IDITAROD TRAIL -- Like any extreme sport, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race pushes limits -- both human and canine. The 1,100-mile wilderness trail from Anchorage to Nome poses life-threatening obstacles to mushers and dog teams, including rugged terrain, bitter cold, bone-chilling winds, moose and buffalo encounters and mind-numbing exhaustion, to name a few.

John Bramante, who finished 48th this year, has concluded the Iditarod is just not worth the punishment. The Kasilof physician and father of two won't run the race again, he said, because of the wear and tear it inflicted on his dogs.

"It's hard to watch the dogs go through what they do and feel comfortable," the 38-year-old musher said during a rest stop at McGrath, midway through the March race.

While massaging tired muscles, tending to bloody paws and treating a case of penile frostbite suffered by one of his lead dogs, Bramante said he was fighting the urge to scratch.

"It's a fallacy to think that the dogs aren't hurting," said Bramante.

Most mushers would agree dogs sometimes hurt during the Iditarod, but they note that pain is an inherent fact of all endurance sports. The tricky part comes in drawing a line between what constitutes tough and what constitutes cruel.

Most race veterinarians argue that well-intentioned overfeeding and under exercising of pampered house dogs is far worse than Iditarod-related injuries.

"I see more abuse and mistreatment in pet dogs," said veterinarian Mike Gascolgne after examining teams at the Finger Lake checkpoint. "These dogs are healthy and they love their job."

From Brisbane, Australia, Gascolgne specializes in treating greyhounds.

Most Iditarod mushers pride themselves on the care and attention they give their dogs and say a well-trained and looked-after team can handle the thousand-plus-mile journey with minimal problems.

Bramante, however, questions how many mushers are up to the challenge of
providing top-notch dog care while maintaining a competitive Iditarod pace.  He wonders about mushers who say their dogs don't experience hardship.

"They delude themselves," he said.

Bramante emphasized repeatedly that his feelings about the Iditarod are his own.  He underscored that he is not passing judgment on how other mushers run the race.

"We all have our own sensibilities," Bramante said. "You just have to decide for yourself."

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