This article is reprinted with the permission of the document’s author, Dagny McKinley.

Dagny McKinley spent three years working for Grizzle-T Dog & Sled Works in Steamboat Springs, CO. Grizzle-T promotes healthy and loving treatment of sled dogs. McKinley is a published author and photographer and her book, Wild Hearts: Dog Sledding the Rockies explores the life of a sled dog and celebrates the bond between man/woman and dog that is like no other.

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Debunking Iditarod Myths: Part 1

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 animals runs this race.

The following are some of the most popular myths surrounding the Iditarod.

Iditarod Myths:

1. Sled dogs are forced to run. You cannot force a dog to run. If a dog doesn’t want to run they will lie down and there is nothing you can do to get the dog back up. Anyone who has seen a team get hooked up knows the problem is not getting the dogs to run, the problem is getting them to stop. These animals love what they do. Their excitement when they see the harnesses and sleds come out is palpable.

2. It’s cruel to make a sled dog team of 16 dogs pull a sled weighing 400 to 450 pounds. While that sounds like a lot of weight, it breaks down to roughly 25 pounds per animal. These dogs are far stronger than I will ever be (they are the strongest draft animals on earth pound for pound) and I have carried a pack weighing 40 pounds on a 105 pound frame for 13 days, 10 hours a day minimum with one 24 hour rest. At the end, my body felt great.

3. Mushers abuse their dogs. Granted, some mushers have and do inflict abuse upon their animals and this needs to end. Unfortunately the majority of mushers who treat their dogs well are not mentioned in the news because it is not sensational enough. Most mushers have a very tight relationship with their dogs and consider them family.

4. It is not possible to bond with 100 or more dogs. I worked with 120 dogs for three years. I know every dog’s name and when I worked there I spent time out of every day petting the dogs and bonding with them. When you are surrounded by that many dogs, you don’t have favorites; you learn to love each dogs for his or her own individual personality. It is not only possible to bond with more than 100 dogs, it is easy.

5. Dogs are not given names. Every one of the dogs I worked with has a name and I would be happy to introduce you to them some day.

6. Sled dogs are culled. We did not cull dogs at our dog sledding operation. This is not common practice for all mushers.

7. It is cruel to make a dog pull people for our pleasure. This is similar to saying it is cruel to make a horse carry a person. These dogs are work dogs, meaning they need to have a job to do or they can become restless and self-destructive. They actually like their job unlike many humans.

8. The temperatures are too cold for the dogs. These dogs live outside year-round. They are similar to wolves and we would not presume that wolves need to be housed during the winter. They have lived in freezing temperatures since sled dogs first lived with man.

9. These dogs do not get proper care. These dogs get their nails clipped, get rabies vaccinations, get de-wormed regularly, brushed when they need it fed every day and loved. Wild animals do not need to get their teeth cleaned or be bathed.

10. Sled dogs would be better off as house pets. These dogs need to run long distances, which is why huskies have a reputation for running away from home. Most home owners think that a 20 minute walk twice a day is sufficient exercise. Sled dogs need several hours of exercise every day. They are pack animals and need the company of other dogs.

Debunking Iditarod Myths: Part 2 for more information on sled dogs and the Iditarod.

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.

Dagny McKinley spent three years working for Grizzle-T Dog & Sled Works in Steamboat Springs, CO. Grizzle-T promotes healthy and loving treatment of sled dogs. McKinley is a published author and photographer and her book, Wild Hearts: Dog Sledding the Rockies explores the life of a sled dog and celebrates the bond between man/woman and dog that is like no other.

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Don’t miss the opportunity to view this YouTube video.

Click the link below to view an interview of Jodi Bailey, a rookie in the 2011 Yukon Quest.  The video was conducted during a 36 hour mandatory rest stop.  Jodi will also be running as a rookie in the 2011 Iditarod.

Dropped Dog Care

by Stuart Nelson, Jr., DVM

I have often been asked about dogs that are dropped from the race. Long-distance sled dog races, such as the Iditarod, require mushers to finish with only those dogs who started the race. Although none may be added to the team after the start, they can be dropped at any checkpoint and for any reason. A maximum of sixteen dogs may start in an Iditarod team, and at least five are required to be in harness to officially finish. Reasons for dropping dogs are numerous. Attitude problems, fatigue, illness, immaturity, injury, being “in heat,” lack of speed and musher strategy, are the more common ones.

The race typically consists of over 1,000 canine participants along an 1,100+ mile trail, during a two week period. Obviously, we must be prepared to address almost any possible medical condition, just as with any other large population over time.

An elaborate system has been established to care for and transport dropped dogs so that they can safely return to their home kennels. Preparations begin long before the race start. Local Contact Forms are completed for each team. Persons serving as “local contacts” for a musher must be located within one hour of Anchorage. These individuals are responsible for picking up dropped dogs for a given musher after the animals arrive back from the trail.

Dog Care Agreement Forms are also completed prior to the race and specify which veterinary clinic a particular musher’s dogs should be taken to in the event of the need for medical treatment.

During the race, mushers must complete a Dropped Dog Form before releasing a canine from competition. An explanation of the reason(s) for dropping is requested along with the mushers name and dog identification. Typically, if an illness or injury is present, a veterinarian has already examined the animal. In the event that this has not taken place, an examination is performed as soon as possible. Any previous relevant medications administered and current treatments are also recorded on the form, in addition to the name(s) of the veterinarian(s) completing the exam.

Also indicated on the Dropped Dog Form is the “condition status.” Although rare, dogs with potentially life-threatening conditions are designated “Red.” This status receives the highest level of priority, and every effort is made to stabilize the animal and immediately arrange for an air evacuation to a well-equipped medical facility. Dogs undergoing treatment for anything of a lesser nature are designated as “Blue” and depart on the next routine flight. All remaining dogs are officially considered to be “White” and will be flown out in an orderly fashion.

The Dropped Dog Forms are completed in quadruplicate. The bottom copy goes to the checker for documentation of dropped dog numbers. The top two copies leave a checkpoint with the appropriate dog, with one going to dropped dog personnel in Anchorage and the other traveling home with the animal. The third copy remains with the last veterinarian to leave the checkpoint.

All dropped dogs from the east side of the Alaska Range are flown back to Anchorage via small airplanes provided by the Iditarod Air Force. McGrath serves as a hub for checkpoints in the interior. Typically, the “Air Force” flies dogs from smaller interior checkpoints to McGrath, where commercial carriers (Northern Air Cargo and PenAir) then transport them back to Anchorage. Unalakleet serves as a coastal hub with the same protocol. Dropped dogs from the last two to three coastal checkpoints will move to Nome, where they are usually reunited with their teams and flown back with them on Alaska Airlines.

As hub locations, McGrath, Unalakleet and Nome have appropriately larger numbers of dropped dog personnel. At each of these, veterinarians are present to evaluate and re-evaluate dropped dogs moving through the system. The final examination by Iditarod veterinarians occurs when each animal returns to Anchorage, prior to being released.

In conclusion, it is critical that mushers, sponsors, veterinarians and lay personnel work as a team for the best possible animal care. Dropped dog management is an important part of our commitment to this goal.

* Article from by Dr.  Nelson

Meet Dr. Davis and learn about the Super Dogs!  Sled Dogs!

Click here! to read the full article.

Sled dogs are incredible athletes!  Some call them ‘Super Dogs.”  From the interesting article from a study: Athleticism of Alaskan huskies is superior to most other mammals

How do they do it? New research suggests the canines are superior to most other mammals, including humans, in at least three key areas: They are unusually adept at adapting to exercise, they have superior aerobic capacity and are unusually efficient in using food as fuel.

Read the rest of the article that explains FACT:  Sled Dogs are Super Dogs!   Click here!

“Michael Davis, a professor at Oklahoma State University’s Center for Veterinary Health Sciences, and his team have been studying Iditarod-racing dogs for 10 years”  The above link provides information on the findings from the research.

How can sled dogs run a hundred or more miles in a day, day after day and finish a race such as Iditarod?

Why is it that humans don’t have the ability to do this?

It’s all about science!

Read more at this link!

Read an interesting article:

“Huson was interested in studying the genetics behind performance in her beloved animals. For this study, Huson visited eight kennels—four that specialize in distance races like the Iditarod, and four that specialize in sprints, races of 5 to 50 kilometers that last only a few hours. All of them use Alaskan sled dogs. Huson, who trained as a veterinary technician before graduate school, drew blood from a total of 199 dogs—”easier than trimming toenails,” she says—and she or someone at the kennel ran each dog and scored its speed, endurance, and work ethic (i.e., how much of the run it was actively pulling as opposed to letting its teammates do the work)  *From the article at the above link!  Read the entire article at the above link.