Debunking Iditarod Myths by Dagny McKinley
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.
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:
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.
Filed under: Healthy Dogs Research, Iditarod Information |