Of the Yukon Quest, the Iditarod, and Dead Dogs
National Public Radio’s All Things Considered (02/23/07) reminded me that it’s dog racing season. No, not greyhound racing. There’s no season for that; it’s year-round horror. I’m talking about the Iditarod, which is next week, and the Yukon Quest, which began on February 10th and is also a 1,000+ mile "adventure" for teams of dogs who are made to race to the point of exhaustion and even death.
"The Yukon Quest: For Real Mushers Only" initially makes the Yukon Quest sound like a glorious romp in the Alaskan and Canadian wilderness. But then you hear that the goal, for many, "is simply to finish," and that 25% of the competitors dropped out in the first week. Oh, and that the race has few checkpoints and hospitality houses. "Many nights are spent alone in the wild, with racers and dogs fending for themselves." That’s not adventure–that’s irresponsible.
Forcing dogs to run over 1,000 miles is, as you might imagine, dangerous (and sometimes fatal) for them. Some of the consequences, other than death, are: paralysis, penile frostbite, bleeding ulcers, bloody diarrhea, broken bones, pneumonia, torn muscles and tendons, vomiting, hypothermia, viral diseases, torn footpads, ruptured disks, sprains and lung damage. Remember the vomiting one–that’ll take on even greater importance in a moment.
The American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine reported that, of the dogs who finish the Iditarod, 81% have lung damage. The Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine reported that 61% of the dogs who finish have ulcers, and 0% had ulcers before the race.
Racing defenders often say "The dogs are doing what they love; they love to run." Yes, they do. But forcing them to run when you want them to run, and allowing them to stop when you decide it’s time, is entirely different from allowing them their own control over their bodies and their schedules. Sometimes my greyhounds simply don’t want to run. And sometimes they could run for 10 minutes, nonstop (a long time for a greyhound). It’s unthinkable to me to make them run on my schedule. That would be cruel. And to make any dog run for over 1,000 miles is pure torture. And if they don’t perform or train well–greyhounds and sled dogs alike–are "culled." Killed.
And then there’s the dying that can occur during the race. Two dogs have already died in this year’s Yukon Quest, one of whom choked on her own vomit. "Its demise was likely a combination of extreme stress and the high speed of the team, impairing her ability to breath or expel the vomit." Two dogs also died in 2002 in the Yukon Quest, one after getting caught in a tangle, and one just dropped dead.
Please go to sleddogwatchdog.com to learn about the media campaigns designed to paint the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod as fun, safe adventures. The Sled Dog Action Coalition (specifically for the Iditarod) is helpful as well. Racing dogs is about one thing only: attempting to profit from them. Is that what you do to your "best friend?"