Other View: The Iditarod is true March madness
Even the most energetic dog wouldn’t choose to run 100 miles a day while pulling a heavy sled through some of the worst conditions on the planet.
Running a marathon and finishing it is a remarkable accomplishment. But imagine running four marathons a day for 10 days straight. Throw in biting winds, blinding snowstorms and sub-zero temperatures. Unfathomable, isn’t it? Yet that’s exactly what dogs used in the Iditarod are forced to endure. Many don’t make it to the finish line alive.
No records were kept of dog deaths in the Iditarod’s early days, but the Anchorage Daily News reported that “as many as 34 dogs died in the first two races.” Since then, at least 116 more have died during the events. The number of those who die during training or while chained outside is impossible to estimate. Kennel operators and breeders aren’t required to report how many dogs die at their facilities. Before last year’s race even began, multiple dogs were injured and one was killed during training.
Even the most energetic dog wouldn’t choose to run 100 miles a day while pulling a heavy sled through some of the worst conditions on the planet. Along the 1,000-mile route, dogs’ feet are torn apart by ice and rocks. Many pull muscles, incur stress fractures or become sick with diarrhea, dehydration, intestinal viruses or bleeding stomach ulcers. Aspiration pneumonia — which can develop after dogs inhale their own vomit — is the No. 1 cause of death on the trail. Rule 42 of the official Iditarod rules says that some deaths may be considered “unpreventable.”
Mushers appear to be oblivious to the misery the dogs endure. Last year’s winner shared a disturbing video during the race of dogs covered in snow and ice in the blistering wind with, as he described it, their faces “totally entrenched in snow” and their eyes “all frozen shut.” One musher lamented that chipping frozen urine off the dogs’ penises was an unpleasant but necessary task. While dogs pull and pull, mushers can ride and sleep. Mushers have tested positive for methamphetamine and marijuana. Dogs have tested positive for opioids.
Life off the trail is equally grim. The vast majority of dogs spend their seemingly interminable days tethered on short chains with only barrels or dilapidated doghouses for shelter. Most kennels are never inspected by any regulatory agency. Dogs who aren’t fast runners or who simply can’t run for days on end are discarded like defective equipment. Dogs used in sledding have been shot, bludgeoned to death or abandoned to starve, or their throats have been slit.
The Iditarod isn’t about honoring Alaskan culture or tradition. It’s about money and unearned bragging rights. How can anyone justly take pride in an event that causes so much suffering and death?
Jennifer O’Connor is a senior writer with the PETA Foundation.
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