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The Iditarod’s grim toll on dogs

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The Iditarod’s grim toll on dogs

[Ed. Note: Take action here - Cruelty to Alaska’s Sled Dogs in the Iditarod. This year's Iditarod began on March 2. As of this morning, March 5, only day three, 74 dogs have been dropped.  A total of 1040 dogs started the race (65 mushers x 16 dogs).]

By Jennifer O'Connor, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)
March 2013

Alaska’s Iditarod dog-sled race may be on its last legs. Warmer weather has forced several qualifying events to be postponed, rerouted or canceled. Some mushers are now breeding dogs with thinner coats. One admitted that for the dogs, running on hard ground devoid of snow is “like running on a cheese grater.” Dogs forced to participate in the grueling Iditarod must run more than 100 miles a day for 10 to 12 days straight over some of the most difficult terrain on the planet. For them, the end of this cruel race cannot come soon enough.
 
Mushers ride, eat and sleep while the dogs pull and pull and pull. The official Iditarod rules require only that the dogs be provided 40 hours of rest—in total—even though the race can take up to two weeks.  On average, three dogs die in every Iditarod. Rule 42 of the Iditarod rules blithely dismisses some deaths as "unpreventable." Among the dead dogs is 3-year-old Kate, who was allegedly beaten and kicked because she sat down and refused to get up.
 
But dogs who die during the Iditarod are a drop in the bucket compared to the overall death toll. It’s no secret that mushers have little use for dogs who just aren’t inclined to bring them glory. Breeders and commercial sled operations treat dogs like disposable inventory.
 
At least 100 dogs were shot and stabbed and buried in a pit at a dog-sledding operation in Whistler, British Columbia, after business slowed down. Some of the dogs, maimed and bleeding, tried to crawl their way out of the pile. The man responsible for the carnage was given probation, no jail time and a $1,500 fine. It’s legal to shoot dogs to death.
 
Krabloonik Kennels, the largest tourist dog-sledding operation in the United States, routinely shot “surplus” dogs in the back of the head and buried the bodies in a fecal-filled hole workers called the “s**t  pit.” The practice was only stopped due to pubic outcry. 
 
What’s unthinkable is that those dogs were the “lucky” ones. Racers and commercial sled operators typically keep dogs tethered to plastic barrels, metal oil drums or dilapidated doghouses. Dogs are never brought inside, and they are fed slop, often just dumped on the ground. They can never enjoy any of the pleasures that make a dog’s life worthwhile. Their entire worlds are measured in a few square feet of urine-soaked, fecal-packed dirt.
 
Since pastimes often morph into problems, many mushers tire of the chores, particularly when the dogs fail to bring them recognition or riches. Because dogs are frequently kept in isolated locations and are not inspected by any regulatory agency, there’s no way of knowing how many dogs have starved or frozen to death. But multiple cases that have come to light are consistent: dogs abandoned to die slow, agonizing deaths. How many Alaskan and Canadian backcountries are filled with skeletons attached to chains?
 
It’s 2013—why isn’t dog sledding in the history books? For now, the Iditarod is being kept alive by tourists who want an “authentic” experience and by some teachers who have their students “adopt” a musher, but the event’s days are numbered. If Iditarod officials won’t do the right thing and end this cruel and deadly race, Mother Nature just might do it for them.