Text RACE to 73822 to tell Jack Daniels to stop supporting this abusive race
i think light n brief sledding is ok but many work these poor beautiful dogs to death!..I couldn’t let them sleep outside in the cold either, they would be in the tent with me..lol..I wish they could get rescued..I would love to save one!
Counterpoint – The idea that sled dogs are “forced” to run is fallacy.
I have been working with and running sled dogs in various aspects of the sport for a number of years and got into it because I love the dogs and the sheer delight they have for running in harness. I am always disappointed when it is misrepresented, which does happen from time to time. The Iditarod specifically has been targeted in this instance, although it’s only one of numerous races – albeit the one that is most commercialized and therefore in the public eye more.
Some days I’m content to let the misconceptions be and ignore them, secure in the knowledge that I am striving to take the best care possible for my dogs and give them a well-rounded, happy life with lots of attention, playtime, and mental and physical enrichment. Other days the misconceptions get to me and, being a musher who loves her dogs dearly and knows the amount of work and dedication that goes into a sled dog team, I just get overly frustrated and have to say something.
Today is one of the latter days.
Training sled dogs to run a marathon race is a matter of both dogs and conditioning. The dogs are huskies with both the genetic desire and the physical capability to run for long distances – and to do so happily. They have a thick double-coat like a wolf and, like their wild cousins, thrive in subzero Winters.
Conditioning starts with small training runs and gradually builds up miles so that the dogs don’t have difficulty running these longer distances. Last Winter the team was running 40-milers but this Fall we didn’t start with that. We didn’t even start with a 20-miler. Could they do it? Sure, but it would take a toll physically on them since they wouldn’t be conditioned to routinely run that distance. That would be working them too hard. So we started small, doing 3-mile runs with frequent breaks. After that we built up to 5-milers, then 7-milers, then 9. We did two back-to-back 9-milers this weekend and are now taking a few days break before our first 12-miler of the season.
As the dogs become more conditioned and in shape, doing 100-150-mile races in January and February will be no hardship for them. I’m not training for anything like the Iditarod this year (my race team, at eight dogs, is half the size of an Iditarod team) but those mushers who are have their own training and conditioning program to make sure their dogs are fit enough to run a mushing marathon like that.
In addition to a complete physical exam, any dog that is entered in the Iditarod must be microchipped, undergo an EKG as well as have blood drawn for a CBC, full chemistry and electrolyte panel before being allowed to race. This is more screening than the average “pet” dog undergoes before a surgical proceedure. The race’s veterinary crew is stationed at checkpoints along the trail during the race itself – and this hold true for any modern sled dog race, not just the Iditarod. Mushers are required to have a vet book with exam information on each dog in the team with them at all times in every mid-distance race I have been to and, at many races (including the Iditarod), this book must be signed before the team can leave a checkpoint.
Ironically, in the PETA video from the original post, there is actually footage of either mushers or veterinarians checking the health of the dogs. It’s not something someone unfamiliar with sled dogs would pick up on because you wouldn’t even know to look for it, but it definitely made me do a double-take since it’s so contradictory to the message the video clip is trying to push.
And I’m not just talking about the clip where we see a musher putting a protective coat on their dog.
The two things that really stand out to me are actually after the dog-jacket clip. First we see someone extending a forelimb of a dog.
This is something we do a lot, both on sled dogs and on any patient where we want to check flexion and range of motion. With sled dogs, it’s very important to make sure they have good range of motion and that their legs aren’t painful when extended or flexed – especially after a rest.
In the very next clip, there’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment where the musher or veterinarian lifts up a dog’s lip and checks the gum. This is a common method of checking hydration by making sure the gums do not appear tacky, and you can check CRT (Capilary Refill Time) by pressing on the gums and seeing how quickly the pink color returns. Checking the color of the gums is also important as abnormal coloration could be indicitive of a problem.
Veterinary care in all walks of life has improved over the past decades, and sled dog racing is no exception. Understanding of conditioning and the physiology of working dogs has lead to massive improvements in the Iditarod, whereas in the early 1970s when the race began, knowledge of distance racing was scant and resulted in a high number of dog fatalities – especially in the first two years of the race.
There’s a general rule of thumb in sled dog racing that you rest your team for approximately the same length of time you run them, so they are able to recuperate and continue. Every musher’s philosophy and schedule is a bit different of course and each race is different. The Iditarod requires designated amounts of rest time at certain checkpoints but most of it is left up to the musher and team since some might choose to rest at a checkpoint but others prefer to camp along the trail as it’s quieter for the dogs. This is why the amount of “required” rest (ie. rest at checkpoints) seems low.
In addition, I feel the need to include some comments from the musher whose dogs did not eat their food at a checkpoint. In an open letter to the filmmaker whose footage is used in the PETA clip, he stated:
“My dogs didn’t eat literally the one time when they were filmed in Rainy pass. Because it was warm. And they literally ate 15000 calories 5 hours previous and snacks 2 hours previous. Do you show that? No. Matt filmed me feeding once the whole Iditarod! Now I know why. Dogs don’t eat sometimes. Even house pets.”
It’s also worth noting that the Rainy Pass checkpoint is less than two hundred miles into the Iditarod, teams usually reach it on the second day of the race. No team has been racing for nine days when they reach that checkpoint.
Once again, i feel the need to reiterate: PETA IS NOT A RELIABLE SOURCE OF INFORMATION.