What are the Iditarod facts. There are some that would like to tell you that they have the facts. I would like to tell you that I have the facts.
The real fact is that most people that take an activist role don't have many facts at all. There is a prime activist that will tell you that she has the facts. But when confronted, she backs into her own site claiming to have the facts. A famous columnist claims to have the facts. But as far as anyone can tell, he has never even seen a working dog in harness. Even his paper claims that it is just the columnists "Opinion". If it is an opionion, how can it be a fact?
In all, there are plenty of people who are outraged that a competitive sled dog is "Forced" to run, and is under the impression that hundreds die in every sled dog race, not just the Iditarod. That mushers take out their whips, and beat their dogs so that they run. What the facts are is that some dogs do die, but to say that they are forced to run is clearly made by someone who does not have the facts at all.
Millions of people own one of the many breeds of dogs that fall into the category of "Husky". The common breed is the Siberian Husky, but there is also the Alaskan Malamute, the Samoyed, and the non-AKC recognized Alaskan Husky. It is the Alaskan Husky that is most often used as the racing "Sled Dog". This breed is often mixed with one or more of the other Northern breeds, as well as breeds more common to the dog owner.
What most, if not all, of these owners will tell you, is that NOBODY can MAKE these dogs do anything! They do have a high energy, and a perpensity to run. I know, because I am an owner of 4 Siberian Huskies. One is an absolute couch potatoe, and getting her to move off the couch, is like getting the Republicans and Democrats to agree on the budget. On the other hand, one of the others loves to run, and if she doesn't get a dose of running, she will make your life miserable with the pestering that can be compared to a child wanting desperately to go to Disneyland. At the same time, when she is done running, she is done! Hopefully this can be timed to be at our destination, because there is one of two options: wait till she is ready again, or carry her to the destination. DeeDee Jonrowe learned this lesson as her team of dogs decided that they were done along the Yukon River, where she was running in second place, but found herself dropping out. If mushers could make their dogs run, then a second place finish is certainly motivation for making that happen. And as their lives, and the lives of their teams depends on keeping the dogs motivated, MAKING them run just doesn't work! I wouldn't want to be in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness, many miles from civilization with a team that was done.
The next point is that dogs die in the race. Hey, dogs die when they are not in the race! A question that I have asked, and yet to have answered is "How many dogs die in the two week period of the Iditarod in the Humane Society that is closest to this majority critic?" And remember, it is the Alaska Humane Society that is being quoted by this critic as being against the race. Last year (2002), I was interested, and decided to check with my local Humane Society to see how many unwanted dogs were destroyed during the race. Though I got the answer, the most disturbing result came from a Siberian Husky rescuer in New York State.
The 2002 race started on the 2nd of March, and two Siberian Huskies (yes, just like some of the dogs that ran the race) showed up as strays in a New York Shelter. They were scared, and unable to tell the shelter where they came from or if they just got loose from their owners. On the 6th of March, just 3 days later, they were destroyed, without their owners, and definitely not doing anything that their breed is known for. And yes, during the race one dog also died on that trail between Anchorage and Nome.
I don't mean to belittle the death of the Iditarod racing dog, but as one who knows Siberian Huskies, I know that he was doing something with his owner that at least his breeding wanted him to do. These two dogs in New York didn't even get that chance. I don't know about you, but I would much prefer going down with some sort of purpose, instead of just being discarded. And where were these people who claim to be interested in the welfare of dogs when these two so desperately needed them?
Does the prime activist get involved in saving these discarded dogs? Well, in a word NO! It is far easier to sit in the warmth of a home in Florida and criticize a race many thousand of miles away that you know nothing about, than to take a stand in your own backyard to save the thousands of dogs that will be destroyed within 50 miles of her home EVERY year. Or to write a column in a tower in a large city claiming abuse is happening where there is absolutely no knowlege of the people or animals that are participating, while just mere blocks away two dogs that would love to be a part of a team are just discarded.
What this all shows is that critics just really don't have the facts, but are feeding on the emotions of those who would buy into these "facts". I will give them the benifit of the doubt, and even say that they are well intentioned. But then again, if they really have the interest of dogs in mind, why are they not helping the ones that are in their own neighborhood?
I am amazed at what kind of atheletes these dogs are. And the teams that are doing the best, are the ones that don't have any problems. In the past 5 years, dog deaths have occured in the trailing teams. One would think that efforts would be best spent looking at the teams that are doing poorly, but again, critics choose to pick on those that set records with their teams.
Do these critics really want to understand these canine atheletes? Maybe they should go to Nome at the finish and see how many of the teams start getting depressed because they are done (think this is crazy, just ask anyone who as been there - these dogs really want to run). Of course, you would never see these critics there, because they are several thousand miles away, maybe basking in the sun on a Florida beach with their dog curled by their side, and wondering what kind of dog would want to run 1000 miles in the snow, because their non-sporting breed never would.
Oh, and how many dogs in my local humane society were destroyed? Of the 683 dogs that took residence between March 2nd and March 16th, 174 were destroyed. This is more than 10 a day. 1024 dogs took to the starting line in Anchorage with their owners on the 2nd of March, and when it was over 1023 of them were still alive and with their owners. How many are still around? I guess I don't really know, but I suspect that at least 90% of them are. How many of those 683 do you think are still alive? The Sleddog Action Coalition's website has a notice by the Humane Society of the US claiming that 119 dogs have died running the Iditarod in the 30 years it has been running. That is 119 dogs out of close to 30,000! Yet in the 2 weeks of just one race, the same Humane society destroyed more dogs in a significanly smaller sampling. I think I like the Iditarod odds much better.