Yesterday I received an email from Sled Dog Action asking me to please stop supporting the ‘cruel’ sport of the Iditarod. This is a topic that is very close to my heart as I worked for three years at a dog sled touring operation. The email says that the mushers are cruel and routinely beat their dogs, that dogs are not checked for health at checkpoints, etc.
My boss, Kris Hoffman will be racing the Iditarod this year with dogs I have known since birth. There is a running joke at the kennel that Kris doesn’t need to have children with his new wife, Sara because he already has over 100 kids; the dogs. These dogs are his children and I consider each of these dogs to be my friends. These dogs are never starved as Sled Dog Action would have you believe because starving dogs don’t have the energy to run. These dogs live to run. Many people think sled dogs look too thin, but they forget, these dogs exercise every day and are in top athletic shape. These are not house dogs and as a society, we are too used to seeing obese dogs or heavy dogs and that is unhealthy. The sled dogs at Grizzle-T can live up to 20 years old because they are in such good shape.
Take for example Honeycut. Honeycut is a shy dog who prefers the company of dogs to humans. He often hides under his home when we come around to feed him and will come out only for the briefest love with a select few people. But when it comes time to run and the harnesses are brought out, Honeycut will climb on my lap and give me kisses so he can run. It is clear these dogs love to run.
As mentioned in previous posts, sled dogs have a unique metabolism. Their efficiency at metabolizing food is unparalleled. The food they eat goes directly to their muscles, not only allowing them to run long distances, but to be in better physical shape at the end of a long race than they started out. Dogs are not humans, they do not metabolize food the way we do. They are built for distance running.
Tom is also a musher from our area and has twice raced in the Iditarod and will be going back next year. He won the award, given by other mushers, for the love and caring he gave his dogs. Tom talked about how extensive the vet check-ups were at each checkpoint and how cautious the vets were with the dogs to make sure they were in good health. No one wants a sick or injured dog to run. It isn’t beneficial for anyone. During Tom’s second year, some of his dog picked up a cough or virus that had been going around. He didn’t even try to finish the race. He turned his dogs around and went back to the previous checkpoint so his dogs could be shipped back to Anchorage where they could be taken care of.
Mushers, I believe, are a lot like dog owners. There are some good ones and there are some cruel ones. We do not cull or kill dogs that are not race dogs. Grizzle-T Dog and Sled Works has a touring operation where we have dogs that are 12 years old and still running. If we feel a dog still wants to run, but doesn’t have the stamina for our two hour tours, we sell the dogs to people who run shorter trails or personal mushers. Puppies that aren’t interested in pulling are either sold or given away, not killed.
While there have been unsavory practices surrounding some mushers, there have also been unsavory practices surrounding many dog owners. The stories of personal dog owners aren’t usually publicized, but unfortunately dogs are beaten every day. Some dogs are left alone for 8 to 10 hours without being able to go to the bathroom and when they are let out, they are on a six foot leash and never given the chance to just run and get the exercise they need.
I support the Iditarod because this is what these dogs were born to do: Run. It is what they love and Iditarod naysayers need only spend time with some of these incredible, beautiful athletes to see this.