Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Last week, Christina and Steve made a huge leap - we left the girls in the care of their Nana Rose and Grammie Ellen, and went on a work trip to Anchorage, Alaska.
Although we really did do a lot of work, we got some fun in, too. In the picture above, we are at the ceremonial start of the Iditarod. It was great - cold, but great! This is how the dogs travel when they're not racing:
Here are two dogs we called Clara and Elena (we might have missed those girls, just a LOT). They looked kind of like we thought sled dogs would look.
These dogs did not. They were from the team out of Scotland. It turns out that Huskies are rarely used for sled racing, and that dogs are bred as mixed breeds for qualities to help them in the race.

The prevailing outfits at the Iditarod were Patagonia, North Face, and many variations on fleece and ski jackets. But, we also did find many people who were using fur to great effect (more on this in a minute).
Steve takes a break from watching the dogs (there were 71 teams taking off, at two-minute intervals - it took hours!) to cuddle up with a friendly local. That guy might have been after Steve's coffee:
Another team, heading out of town!
The Iditarod is just part of the Fur Rondy - it started almost 90 years ago as a time for people to come together to trade as well as to engage in winter sports competition (including the traditional Blanket Toss). A big part of the weekend was (and is) the fur auction.

People were SERIOUS about their furs. These were not "odd men out" we were taking pictures of - these were people serious about headgear, and there were many of them.
You've got to see the back of them for full effect, though.
Something about all of that fur was contagious, we have to say. We went in there staunch in our combined opinion that we were not people who supported the fur trade. And after 15 minutes were were about to bid on a silver fox pelt. We held back, but truly did question our nearly automatic aversion to fur, when we do in fact eat meat and wear leather. And in Alaska, it was clear that the fur was only one way in which the entire animal was used. Still, in the end, we decided to focus on eating versus wearing, and ate a tremendous amount of yummy seafood. Christina had crab every single day, and Steve sometimes joined, and sometimes went for halibut or salmon or chowder - we'll leave you with an image of one meal among the many, many delicious ones we shared:

Great seafood, an amazing dogsled race, adult company and conversation for days on end, samplings of fantastic beers (one especially good one called Beam Boch that gets aged in a cask for Jim Beam!), professional involvement and satisfaction - and not all of that combined compared to our joy at the little voices that when we arrived home proclaimed "I missed you, so much!" We missed you, too, Clara and Elena!

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Sled Dog Action Coalition said...

For the dogs, the Iditarod is a bottomless pit of suffering. Six dogs died in the 2009 Iditarod, including two dogs on Dr. Lou Packer's team who froze to death in the brutally cold winds. What happens to the dogs during the race includes death, paralysis, frostbite (where it hurts the most!), bleeding ulcers, bloody diarrhea, lung damage, pneumonia, ruptured discs, viral diseases, broken bones, torn muscles and tendons and sprains. At least 142 dogs have died in the race.

During training runs, Iditarod dogs have been killed by moose, snowmachines, and various motor vehicles, including a semi tractor and an ATV. They have died from drowning, heart attacks and being strangled in harnesses. Dogs have also been injured while training. They have been gashed, quilled by porcupines, bitten in dog fights, and had broken bones, and torn muscles and tendons. Most dog deaths and injuries during training aren't even reported.

On average, 52 percent of the dogs who start the race do not make it across the finish line. According to a report published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, of those who do finish, 81 percent have lung damage. A report published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine said that 61 percent of the dogs who complete the Iditarod have ulcers versus zero percent pre-race.

Iditarod dog kennels are puppy mills. Mushers breed large numbers of dogs and routinely kill unwanted ones, including puppies. Many dogs who are permanently disabled in the Iditarod, or who are unwanted for any reason, including those who have outlived their usefulness, are killed with a shot to the head, dragged, drowned or clubbed to death. "Dogs are clubbed with baseball bats and if they don't pull are dragged to death in harnesses......" wrote former Iditarod dog handler Mike Cranford in an article for Alaska's Bush Blade Newspaper.

Dog beatings and whippings are common. During the 2007 Iditarod, eyewitnesses reported that musher Ramy Brooks kicked, punched and beat his dogs with a ski pole and a chain. Jim Welch says in his book Speed Mushing Manual, "Nagging a dog team is cruel and ineffective...A training device such as a whip is not cruel at all but is effective." "It is a common training device in use among dog mushers..."

Jon Saraceno wrote in his March 3, 2000 column in USA Today, "He [Colonel Tom Classen] confirmed dog beatings and far worse. Like starving dogs to maintain their most advantageous racing weight. Skinning them to make mittens.. Or dragging them to their death."

During the race, veterinarians do not give the dogs physical exams at every checkpoint. Mushers speed through many checkpoints, so the dogs get the briefest visual checks, if that. Instead of pulling sick dogs from the race, veterinarians frequently give them massive doses of antibiotics to keep them running. The Iditarod's chief veterinarian, Stu Nelson, is an employee of the Iditarod Trail Committee. They are the ones who sign his paycheck. So, do you expect that he's going to say anything negative about the Iditarod?

Most Iditarod dogs are forced to live at the end of a chain when they aren't hauling people around. It has been reported that dogs who don't make the main team are never taken off-chain. Chained dogs have been attacked by wolves, bears and other animals. Old and arthritic dogs suffer terrible pain in the blistering cold.

The Iditarod, with all the evils associated with it, has become a synonym for exploitation. The race imposes torture no dog should be forced to endure.

Margery Glickman
Sled Dog Action Coalition,

Christina, Steve, Clara and Elena said...

While I feel pretty sure that this got spammed on here because of an automatic search for the term "Iditarod" I'm going to leave it up as a piece of information for people to take or leave, or research further on their own. While I think some of what was posted is accurate (there are in fact some injuries and fatalities) I have my own opinions on whether these are significantly different than other races involving humans and other animals. Clearly, I saw only one very public part of this race, but what I saw was collaboration and excitement between mushers and dogs, and a great deal of community support.