Debunking Iditarod Myths – Part 2:
There is a lot of literature decrying the Iditarod as an inhumane race that kills dogs. Those who want the race to end are disseminating information that can be misleading at best and inaccurate at worst.
I have worked at a dog sledding operation for the past three years. The company, Grizzle-T Dog & Sled Works is open to the public and conducts tours for guests. We encourage people to come and meet the sled dogs and to see how excited they are to do what they do. This year Kris Hoffman, owner of Grizzle-T will be racing in the Iditarod and I look to him to show the world how a musher who cares for and loves his dogs runs this race.
The following is a continuation of some of the most popular myths surrounding the Iditarod.
Iditarod Myths – Part 2:
1. Sled dogs live in isolation. At our kennel, sled dogs are able to play with and snuggle the dogs next to them. They are paired with compatible dogs and there is definitely a pack sensibility, which can be heard as one howl becomes an entire chorus of howls.
2. Dogs are starved to reach race weight. This is counter-productive. A hungry dog will not be able to run as well as a well-fed dog. In fact, in winter the dogs are fed up to 10,000 calories a day when they are racing to ensure they have the nutrients they need. Their diet consists of raw meat as well as kibble for a balanced diet.
3. Sled dogs are too skinny. We are used to seeing housedogs that don’t get enough exercise. Sled dogs are athletes. They are all muscle. When people meet my sled dog, who is a housedog, they always comment on how skinny she is. She eats as much as she wants every day, but she also gets 2-3 hours of exercise every day and runs off leash. She is fit.
4. Sled dogs don’t get daily attention. They do. These dogs are fed, given water twice a day and run. They end up getting more attention than a housedog that sits alone for 8-10 hours a day or more while their owners work.
5. Dogs get lost during the Iditarod. All dogs are chipped so if they slip out of their collar or get lose they can be tracked.
6. Dogs are forced to run too fast. Race times have diminished from 11 days to 8 days. What people don’t realize is that the time was reduced to just over 9 days in 1999. In the last 11 years race times have only decreased by about 3 hours.
7. Tying a dog to a line breeds aggression. This may be the case in residential areas because the leashed dog sees free dogs and becomes aggressive in order to get the free animals to move out of their territory. With sled dogs, they are all in same boat; they are all tied up until they get to run. All of our dogs are friendly to people and very loving. As for tying dogs to a line, a leash is a line and studies also prove that dogs on a leash are more aggressive than dogs who are allowed to run free.
8. Pregnant dogs are forced to run in the Iditarod. This myth comes from reports of dogs who are bred right before the race. This myth is similar to saying that a woman who is a week pregnant should not undergo any type of strenuous exercise. Most women do not even know they are pregnant for the first month or two of their term. They are perfectly capable of undergoing rigorous exercise until later in their pregnancy.
9. Puppies are forced to run even though their bodies are still developing. Mushers are racing dogs between 18 months and 2 years old. The most recent studies on dog development believe that the first two years of a dogs’ life are equivalent to 24 human years, meaning these dogs are actually in their athletic prime between 18 months to 2 years old.
10. Sick dogs are forced to run. Sometimes dogs pick up kennel cough from bedding on the same hay as other dogs in the race. I have a sled dog who was not sick a day in her life for the two years I had her and worked at the dog sledding kennel. However, as soon as she was introduced to a dog park in Santa Fe, she wound up with kennel cough within two months. During the time she had kennel cough, she didn’t slow down at all. She had just as much energy as before the cough and ran just as far and just as fast.
What many people who are anti-Iditarod don’t realize is that most people who work with sled dogs love for and care for their dogs. The people who abuse their dogs end up in the limelight because society is far more interested in gory details than in positive stories. The Iditarod is a race, which when run responsibly, is a way for these animals, the sled dogs to fulfill their athletic abilities and for mushers to bond with their dogs in a way most pet owners can’t comprehend.