Iditarod Mushers Kill Thousands of Dogs

Dogs are hauling sleds behind them in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race as I type. Pictures abound of the dogs appearing to be joyously running free (well, in chains and harnesses, actually). The truth about their lives is rather different.

Race conditions are extreme, as the Iditarod’s official website acknowledges: “jagged mountain ranges, frozen river, dense forest, desolate tundra and miles of windswept coast…temperatures far below zero, winds that can cause a complete loss of visibility, the hazards of overflow, long hours of darkness and treacherous climbs and side hills.”

The dogs run over 100 miles a day in the 1,150 mile race. Iditarod dogs burn about 5,000 calories a day — 350 percent more than cyclists in the Tour de France.

Veterinarians stationed at checkpoints check the dogs’ health, but the results are never made public. Some mushers run right through the checkpoint, skipping the vet exam.

The 2010 and 2011 Iditarods were notable because no dogs died during these races. The Sled Dog Action Coalition reports that at least 142 dogs have died in the Iditarod in recent years.

Deaths are the norm, and not just in the Iditarod. In just one week this year, four dogs died in three races, the Anchorage Daily news reported. Two of them died of pulmonary edema. Running a marathon can cause the same condition in people, suggesting that it may well have been the race that killed the dogs.

Animal advocates argue that the Iditarod can injure dogs in many other ways, according to Discovery Network: “hypothermia, pneumonia, lung damage, exhaustion, dehydration, diarrhea, stomach ulcers, and stress.”

Life at home is no better for these dogs. They often don’t get the veterinary care they need because it is too expensive. Ashley Keith, a former musher-turned-rescuer, says that “it is cheaper to just let the dog die.” More valuable dogs are more likely to get treatment.

Dogs are chained up and neglected for months off-season. They are “often tethered to short chains to plastic doghouses or ramshackle sheds, living on small patches of dirt amid their own urine and feces,” PETA has found.

Most of them don’t even have names, much less emotional bonds with or attention from any people.

Mushers in-breed dogs to try to produce the best runners, according to musher Rick Swenson. Veterinarians like Dr. Jon Rappaport say that inbred animals have more health problems and infant mortality, grow more slowly, and are smaller than other dogs. They are more susceptible to problems with their immune systems and physical defects. Vet Info notes that inbred dogs are also more likely to have behavioral problems, perhaps related to their generally lower intelligence.

But none of that poses much of a problem for mushers, because they just “cull” dogs who don’t make the cut, according to Swenson. Yes, that means kill. Mushers kill thousands of dogs. “There is no sense wasting good dog food and your time on a dog that isn’t fast enough to keep up,” he writes. Dog handler Mike Cranford wrote that dead dogs are sometimes skinned for their fur and sometimes fed to other dogs. They are sometimes found frozen to the ground where they are chained.

Both during and outside of the race, drastically low temperatures take a toll on the dogs. Frostbite is common on their ears, tails, penises, scrotums, nipples and vulvas.

Some mushers devocalize their dogs, a cruel procedure that causes dogs lasting suffering. Some cut the animals’ canine teeth, a painful mutilation that is performed without any anesthetic. The remains of the teeth are susceptible to infection and can cause lasting pain.

Pictures of mushers hugging their dogs are nice P.R. for the race, but they are not representative of these dogs’ lives.


Related Stories:

California Landlords Can’t Require Pet Mutilation

The Iditarod’s Trail of Dog Deaths

The Truth Behind Sled Dog Racing


Sue H.
.4 years ago

sad, signed the petition

Ann offline
Ann L4 years ago

So very sad. These dogs cold have been found a home with other. Petition signed.

Elke H.
Elke H4 years ago

I have never cared for that particular "sport." If they want to cross the frozen countryside, they should do it on their own power. Whenever someone says "the dogs love it," I wonder. It is an ego trip at the expense of animals that have no choice. And if they do express their choice, they are killed off.
It's crazy, what are those people thinking?

ER C4 years ago

I signed it !!!!!!!!!!!!

.4 years ago

put a stop to this PLEASE!thank you for sharing

Diane L.
Diane L4 years ago

"Diane the article stated that thousands of dogs have been culled that didn't make the grade before the race ever is run".............John S., I know what the article says, and read the TITLE............"Iditarod Mushers KILL THOUSANDS of dogs"'s unfactual and misleading. Apparently the writer is taking the word "culling" to literally mean KILLING, and that is not true. When someone breeds two dogs of a sled dog breed and hope to get a litter that all will become MUSHERS, that's just what it is...........breed and HOPE for the best, but it doesn't necessarily turn out that of a litter of 9 puppies, all 9 will have the physical attributes OR the disposition (heart, desire) to make it. It's the same with race horses. I guess you've never guessed that those who aren't deemed "worthy enough" might be given away or sold at nominal fees for those who want such a breed, but don't necessarily want to race? A good Iditarod "prospect" might be worth thousands of dollars (assuming it is for sale or not merely part of a family), and of the 9 puppies bred, maybe 3 or 4 will be given away or sold for a small amount. Both my daughter's SH's were bought for much less than a potential Iditarod dog would be sold for..

Ken H.
Ken H4 years ago

@ Tricia H......Do we really need to go this low???? I think its great so many of you care about dogs but i think you are really pointing your fingers in the wrong direction here.Its not a horrible race,the dogs are trained most of the months for racing,most of the dogs are cared for,dog deaths have gone way is a way of life for these dogs,overall in most of the conditions the dogs love it........the mushers train with their dogs,they spend time with them.....thats a hell of alot more then you can say for many pet owners out there.

Tricia Hamilton
Tricia Hamilton4 years ago

The people who do this aren't even worth the skins they are in. SHAME ON YOU WHITE TRASH!!

Sylvia J.
sylvia jones4 years ago

What's the difference, is 136 hundred deaths okay? How many is too many or just enough? The whole argument is nuts. The sport is hard on the animals, period.

John S.
John S4 years ago

Diane the article stated that thousands of dogs have been culled that didn't make the grade before the race ever is run. They breed the dogs to run and if they don't have what it takes the owners aren't going to waste their money on feeding and taking care of the dogs. Perhaps you should read the article more carefully. The article did not state that 1000's have died while in the race.