In almost all of the Iditarod races, at least one dog death has occurred. The first race is reported to have resulted in the deaths of 15 to 19 dogs. In 1997, the Anchorage Daily News reported that "at least 107 (dogs) have died." In the years since that report, 35 more dogs have died in the Iditarod, bringing the grand total of dogs who have died in the Iditarod to at least 142. There is no official count of dog deaths available for the race's early years and this count relies only on a reported number of deaths.
of death during the last ten years have included strangulation in towlines,
internal hemorrhaging after being gouged by a sled, liver injury, heart
failure, and pneumonia. "Sudden death" and "external myopathy," a condition
in which a dog's muscles and organs deteriorate during extreme or prolonged
exercise, have also been blamed. In 1985 a musher kicked his dog to death.
The 1975 Iditarod winner, Jerry Riley, was banned for life in 1990 after
being accused of striking his dog with a snow hook (a large, sharp and
heavy metal claw). In 1996 Rick Swenson's dog died while he mushed his
team through waist-deep water and ice.
How many dogs die after the race?
The Iditarod Trail Committee does not release information about dogs who die after the race.
How many dogs have died or have been injured while training for the Iditarod?
simply do not know how many dogs die or are injured during their intensive
and grueling training for the race. Most mushers train their dogs in the
remote areas of rural Alaska; consequently, their activities cannot be
monitored. As part of their training, many mushers force their dogs to
pull very heavy loads, which can cause hip and spine injuries.
Some injuries and disorders that occur during the race include spinal injuries, bone fractures, sore and cut paws, ruptured tendon sheaths, torn muscles, sore joints, dehydration, stress and diarrhea. Intestinal infections occur when mushers feed their dogs food contaminated with Salmonella bacteria. When temperatures rise, dog food dropped off and left outside during the race often spoils. On average, 50% of the dogs who start the race cannot make it across the finish line.
Injuries and Sickness for more information.
The Iditarod violates accepted standards regarding animal cruelty as is shown by the laws of 38 states and the District of Columbia. These 38 states and the District of Columbia have animal anti-cruelty laws that say "overdriving" and "overworking" an animal is animal cruelty. The California law is typical:
The dog deaths and injuries in the Iditarod show that these dogs are "overworked" and "overdriven." If the Iditarod occurred in any of these 38 states or the District of Columbia, it would be illegal under the animal cruelty laws. Unfortunately, the State of Alaska's animal anti-cruelty law does not say that "overdriving" and "overworking" an animal is animal cruelty.
Iditarod Trail Committee promotes the Iditarod as a commemoration of the
1925 Anchorage to Nome diphtheria serum delivery. However, the race actually
celebrates the memory of musher Leonhard Seppala. The Iditarod was patterned
after the All-Alaskan Sweepstakes which were races held in the early 1900s.
The Iditarod was not patterned after the serum delivery.
thousands of dollars in prizes are awarded to the winning mushers. The
largest prize is given to the musher whose team crosses the finish line
first. However, prize money is also given to teams who first reach certain
points along the trail. Mushers who are hired to be in corporate advertisements
receive substantial financial benefits, as do mushers who reap royalties
from the sales of books they write or the speeches they give. These corporations
turn their face away from the cruelties the dogs are forced to endure.
the 2000 race winner, hopes to profit from breeding his lead dog:
Craig Medred, Anchorage Daily News, March 14, 2000
According to the Iditarod website, the current speed record for the race
was set by Martin Buser in 2002 at 8 days, 22 hours and 46 minutes. In
the first Iditarod in 1973, the speed record was set by Dick Wilmarth
at 20 days and 49 minutes.
Iditarod Trail Committee website said the average kennel budget is approximately
$50, 000 a year and the cost of running the Iditarod is $10,000, including
entry fee, dog food for the race, dog supplies, musher supplies and freight.
The Humane Society of the United States says, "With the annual cost of putting together a competitive Iditarod team estimated at up to $60,000, very few native Alaskans are able to participate."
According to AP Sports Friday (May 28, 1999), "The race is turning a profit
and the purse this year (1999) was more than $500,000 - the biggest ever."
The Iditarod Dog Sled Race has led to an increase in the number of husky dog kennels in Alaska. In these kennels, many dogs are treated cruelly. Many kennels have more than 100 dogs. Some have as many as 200 dogs. None of the kennels is inspected or supervised by the State of Alaska. Mushers raise many dogs hoping that a few will be strong enough to run in the race.
is a common practice among mushers. The Iditarod mushers breed many dogs,
hoping to get a few who will be fast enough to race. According to an article
in the Anchorage Daily News, "Killing unwanted sled-dog puppies is part
of doing business" (October 6, 1991), most of the mushers cull by shooting
their dogs in the head. An animal who is not properly restrained when
the musher shoots may suffer an agonizing death. Mushers also cull dogs
who are injured in the Iditarod, old but otherwise healthy dogs, or any
dog who is not wanted for any reason. Musher Lorraine Temple said, "They
(the big racing outfits) can't keep a dog who's a mile an hour too slow"
(Currents, Fall, 1999).
In many kennels, dogs spend their entire lives outside chained up to their dog house. In these musher's kennels, a dog can have a chain as short as four feet long. In 1997, the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) determined that the permanent tethering of dogs, as the primary means of enclosure, was inhumane and not in the animals' best interests. The permanent chaining of dogs is prohibited in all cases where federal law applies.
1) A dog who is permanently tethered is forced to urinate and defecate where he sleeps, which conflicts with his natural instinct to eliminate away from his living area.
2) Because the chained dog is always close to his own fecal material, he can easily catch deadly parasitical diseases by stepping in or sniffing his own waste. The ground within the dog's chained area may have a high concentration of parasite larvae.
3) Even if the fecal matter is picked up, the area where the dog can move about becomes hard-packed dirt that carries the stench of animal waste. The odor and the waste attract flies which bite the dog's ears, often causing serious bloody wounds and permanent tissue damage.
Continuous chaining psychologically damages dogs and makes many of them
Some dogs are tethered to exercise wheels as part of their pre-race training. There is a picture of one of these wheels on this page. Because the dogs run at varying speeds, the slower runners are pulled along by the neck, which causes injuries. Dogs who are tired or ill are forced to run. The number of injuries from the exercise wheel goes unreported.
Some mushers live in towns that have no veterinarians, so that their dogs must be transported great distances to receive veterinary care. Mushers who live in small towns where there are no roads and no veterinarians have to fly their dogs in small airplanes hundreds of miles to obtain treatment. Do you think the many dogs who live in kennels far from veterinarians and animal hospitals receive adequate veterinary care, or any care at all?
These dogs are never given the opportunity to run free even in a fenced in area. Many of them drink water from hard-to reach rusty cans that are bolted to their doghouses and are rarely cleaned or disinfected.
All of the dogs, even those who are injured, old or arthritic are kept outside in the winter when the average daily minimum temperatures range from -24 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. It is painful for these dogs to be in such intense cold. Some dogs are never bathed, and nothing is done to help them cool off no matter how hot it gets. In the summer, the only shade they get is inside their dirty doghouse, or under their doghouse if they are lucky enough to have one that is raised off the ground.
kennels have few employees, so that each dog gets little attention. These
dogs are unhappy prisoners with no chance of parole.
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