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On Greyhound Racing and the Iditarod

This year, there were three reported dog deaths in the Iditarod, often called the "Ihurtadog" (there could’ve been more that were unreported, as has happened in the past). Last year there were four reported deaths, which is slightly above the average of two-three reported deaths per Iditarod.

Here are the notices from the Iditarod website:

A three year old female named Kate, in the team of Ramy Brooks, died this morning on the trail between White Mountain and Safety. A necropsy will now be conducted by a board certified pathologist to make every attempt to determine the cause of death.

– Iditarod Advisories, March 14, 2007

A three year old male named "Thong" in the team of Matt Hayashida, died this morning on the trail between Koyuk and Elim.

A gross necropsy was performed on "Thong" a three year old male in the team of Matt Hayashida. Preliminary indications showed that Thong expired as a result of acute pneumonia. Further studies including histopathology and cultures will be conducted.

– Iditarod Advisories, March 14, 2007

Snickers, a six and a half year old female in the team of Karen Ramstead, died at approximately 11 p.m. on Sunday night in the checkpoint of Grayling. Ramstead, of Perryvale, Alberta, Canada, arrived there at 4:06 pm on Sunday with a team of 14 dogs. A gross necropsy will be iniated in an attempt to determine the cause of death.

– Iditarod Advisory, March 12, 2007

The Iditarod Trail Committee doesn’t release information about dogs who die after the race, and mushers certainly don’t record information about dogs who have died during the grueling training, or the dogs who are killed ("culled") because they aren’t good enough.

People have e-mailed me asking why such cruelty is legal, and the answer is: the State of Alaska’s animal cruelty law doesn’t include "overdriving" and "overworking" an animal as cruel. Even here in South Florida, where the inhumane "sport" of greyhound racing is legal, the Iditarod wouldn’t be. I’m sure there are significant economic interests that keep the law the way it is, and keep the dogs dying for the tourist and other funds the Iditarod (and to a much lesser extent, the Yukon Quest) bring to Alaska.

Greyhound racing and the Iditarod have three things in common:

  1. We can abolish them by legislation (or by changing the current laws, in the case of Alaska).
  2. We can run them out of business by putting pressure on companies that sponsor them.
  3. We can educate everyone we know about the realities of these cruel "sports" and urge them not to spend a penny supporting them. So if there is poker at your local greyhound track, and you’re against racing, playing poker at the track keeps it alive. THAT’S WHY THEY HAVE IT THERE! Activities (usually gambling) of all kinds are being added to tracks to prop up an otherwise dying industry. And as a result, thousands of dogs die per year. And as much as you want to go on that Alaskan cruise, refrain–and let the cruiseline and the State know that you’re refraining–until the Iditarod is dead.

Remember that when you boycott, you must let the company/state/"sport" know that you’re boycotting and why. This puts more pressure on them than contributing to some vague kind of dip in business. It gives them information they can work with (e.g., my customers don’t approve of activities that kill dogs, so if I want them back, I should factor that tidbit into my business plan).

Visit the Sled Dog Action Committee and the Sled Dog Watchdog Coalition (from which I took the above photo) for more.

16 Comments Post a comment
  1. Anonymusher #

    To be fair, also visit Karen Ramstead's website – Ramstead dropped out of the Iditarod after her dog, Snickers, died this year. Below is a letter she posted on her site:

    "Just a short note to let you all know that the team and I accompanied Snickers body back to Anchorage on Monday evening. She was in a lovely little casket that Skip in Grayling made for her. It was lined with straw and hand-lettered on the top was her name, with a heart above the 'i'. I was deeply moved by the thoughtfulness. I have actually been very moved by the huge outpouring of sympathy that Mark and I have received through phone calls and emails. Although the burden of this loss is great, it is helped when you know you do not carry it alone.

    The loss of Snickers was unexpected and shocking. My heart aches so deeply that I'm still not prepared to sit down and put the story on 'paper'. I do wish however, for everyone to know that it seems Snickers died from a bleeding ulcer. A team of 4 incredible vets (Dr. Justine Lee, Dr. Turner Lewis, and the Dr. Mikes) worked for hours on her. The lengths they went to in the middle of the wilds of Alaska were simply amazing and included a dog to dog blood transfusion off of her brother, Crunchie (who was so cooperative and calm it was spooky).
    I know that everything possible was done to try and save our little lead dog – and we will forever be grateful for that.

    I was also very touched by the compassion and genuine sympathy from the Iditarod volunteers and the residents of Grayling. They made a horrible time somewhat more bearable. And warm thanks to fellow mushers Cindy Gallea and Bryan Mills. Cindy graciously offered her skills to help hold off veins during Snickers transfusion – and Bryan Mills, in a move so kind it makes my heart ache, offered to travel to Nome with me should I decide to stay in the Race, so I wouldn't have to be alone.

    That's one of the things about Iditarod, it often strips you bare and shows you for what you really are – and in the case of the folks in Grayling it showed what remarkable people they all really are.

    I would also like to thank all of you that have stepped forward wishing to donate money to Mark and I in Snickers name. We are grateful and touched by your kindness and desire to 'do something'. Mark and I have spoken – and have decided that all the money raised in honor of Snickers will be gathered and donated in her memory to studies on ulcers in working sled dogs. I have already been in touch with ISDVMA vets to find an appropriate group to put the funds to use. We will keep you all posted on what is raised and where it is donated.

    Again, heartfelt thanks from both Mark and I.


    March 18, 2007
  2. The death of Snickers was entirely preventable. If mushers want to prevent bleeding ulcers and other injuries, life-threatening and otherwise, that are a result of extreme stress, they should stop mushing. Period.

    March 19, 2007
  3. taters friend #

    Have you ever been to Alaska? Have you ever seen how the dogs react if they are left behind or do not run? Have you ever seen how Susan Butcher treated here dogs or felt about her dogs? I have, I worked with Susan back in the early 90's before she fell ill to leukemia. Her dogs were her family, she loved them and they love to run, they were bred to run, a working dog.

    Are they a mushers/people who mistreat the animails, yes. Just as there are people, especially in this state(florida), who get huskies, malemutes, and other working dogs and let them go stir crazy in the house or apartment(but that isnt cruel). Or the parents in all the fifty states who treat their children far worse than the mushers treat the dogs. All of the mushers that I have had the pleasure of meeting have treated their dogs very well.

    And this eighty year old retired air force guy who talk about whipping the dogs. To him I say try and hold a sled dog, even a young one, when they see the sled. They will pull you through the snow to run, you actually have to lift them off of their front paws because they want to run and if you dont they will pull. The dogs that are left behind when out on a run howl, bark, and cry because they want to be running as well.

    So should we stop these dogs from running? maybe we should euthanize all of them, such as the animal activist want to do with Knut(the baby polar bear in berlin) because it is wrong to raise them in captivity and coddle them.

    Or maybe we should climb out of Hoity-toity neighborhoods and fly up and look around, then when we are done looking at that we should drive into some of the inner city neighborhoods(here your property tax bill is larger than most of the rents for a year), and take a look at how these people are living(in a lot of cases worse than the dogs). Maybe we should look at professional sports and the number of children who die from using steroids and pushing themselves too hard trying to become one of these professional athletes. Then we should also look at peoples pets, cats and dogs, and see how many deaths are caused by mistreatment of animals that dont even get a chance to run.

    Susan Butcher: My relationship is extremely close. They are my friends, my family, and my workmates. They get my attention around the clock. They are of total importance to me because — certainly during those years that I lived alone — they were often my only friends. Now I have my husband and a few young people working for me, but the dogs are still often my closest friends. And then they are my livelihood.
    The most important thing about my job, I believe, is to train my dogs to have a "trust-and-be-trusted" relationship. This starts with me working with the puppies, training them to always trust that I will never ask them to go any further or faster than they are capable of; and yet, everyday, in some way, I will challenge them perhaps to go a little bit farther than they know they are capable of doing. However, if they show me they are not capable of something, I'm there to comfort and praise them, to give them whatever they need. If they do accomplish it, I'm there to praise them. I do this sometimes by just letting the puppies run loose, and sometimes the dog team. That trust is fairly easy to give to them.

    Once you have seen with your own eyes the dogs, their lives, and their drive to run(and not just browsed a few web pages and picked up on a few key points of others(and only presented one side of the story)) then tell me the blanket statement about mushing is true.

    Yes this post is scattered and probably not grammatically correct.

    March 20, 2007
  4. I'm afraid you have missed the point entirely. I adopted two retired greyhounds. They love to run. But I would never, ever make them run when I wanted them to, especially for a distance that they would never run by choice in a short period of time. And to attempt to profit from them is unconscionable. It is morally unjustifiable.

    The Iditarod is pointless.

    I don't care if the dogs live in their own condos with a 24/7 concierge; that's immaterial. Of course, it doesn't help the mushers' cause that dogs die every year because of the extreme stress of the Iditarod. I guess they're just collateral damage to you. For the most part, the dogs aren't dying because the mushers are beating them (although they have in the past)–the mushers are killing them indirectly, through the extreme stress of the race.

    There's simply no other way to look at it. There aren't two sides. There are facts.

    And yes, we should look at all the things you mentioned. Are you? What are you doing to make the world a better place? I know what I do each day, and my conscience is crystal clear. My actions are aligned with my beliefs. Animals aren't ours to use or abuse. Period.

    March 20, 2007
  5. Anonymusher #

    The mushing community is much bigger than a lot of people realize. It isn't confined to Alaska and Canada – there are mushers in all parts of the world and the number of them is fast increasing. A lot of people are learning how to run their "pet" dogs with a bike or scooter.

    Stomach ulcers aren't always caused by stress as was once believed. In fact, most ulcers aren't. More research needs to be done so they can be prevented. That's why Karen Ramstead, in memory of Snickers, is trying to drum up support for ulcer research.

    Interestingly, wild dogs have been known to make long journeys on their own. It isn't entirely unnatural. For sled dogs, it's an instinct.

    Yes, there ARE two sides to this. If there weren't, we would not be having this debate.

    March 20, 2007
  6. taters friend #

    I am afraid you have missed my point, but first, "I don't care if the dogs live in their own condos with a 24/7 concierge; that's immaterial.", immaterial, the treatment of dogs(ill have to do some research and repost, overweight,and lack of excersise probably kills more dogs than the Iditarod
    )is very material. As for making them run(yes there are some bad mushers, as with everything in this world) but have you ever tried to stop a sled full of dogs???? They don't want to stop…look at the braking system.. I have been on numerous multi hour sled rides where the dogs had no intention of stopping when I was done, and if they don't want to run, you can't make them.
    As for me thinking that
    "I guess they're just collateral damage to you"
    I guess all of the dogs Euthanized by peta is just collateral damage to you. Was it the only option?

    I agree the prize paid has drawn some unethical mushers, however this is not the majority.
    Please before you tell me there is not two sides to this, see it for yourself, and also the use of statistics from 1966 to the present can be very misleading.
    Take a look:

    March 20, 2007
  7. Okay, one more time . . .

    I do not believe animals are ours to use. (So the treatment of the dogs is "immaterial" to that belief. Not immaterial in the scope of the universe. Get it?)

    And I am not a PETA member and only give to no-kill shelters and adopt rescue dogs.

    If you have to defend anything and argue it isn't cruel, the odds are it is, and someone has something to gain from its continued existence.

    March 20, 2007
  8. Anonymusher #

    So what do I have to gain from the continued existence of mushing? You should try it out and see for yourself – there are a lot of tour operations that would be glad to let you run a team of dogs.

    I defend mushing against claims of cruelty in the same way you defend yourself against claims of supporting PETA's killing of dogs. I'm glad you adopt rescued dogs. Did you know there are mushers whose teams are made up entirely of rescues?

    March 21, 2007
  9. holier-than-thow #

    I do not believe animals are ours to use. (So the treatment of the dogs is "immaterial" to that belief. Not immaterial in the scope of the universe. Get it?)
    OWN A PET???????

    Adult dogs and cats are not children, and puppies and kittens are not human. People do not "train" dogs or cats to make them good dogs or cats. All dogs and cats are good dogs and cats. People "train" them to make them adapt to captivity, for their human owner's benefit. We should not be "training" them to make them "human-like". If one is not happy with their natural dog or cat nature, one should not have cats or dogs in the house.

    Dogs and cats "have to" be "trained" not to mess everywhere only because they are denied the freedom to go outside when they want to. No animal builds a room, locks himself inside, and then thinks "now what?…where will I piss and shit?…oh yes….the kind humans will train me." No, that is not how it happens. It is us who lock animals inside, and then think we are kind to them because we have to train them to do what we want them to do, and to do their mess where we want them to do it, when in actual fact they would rather do it outside if they could.
    So, like prison inmates who cannot do their things where they want, we "have to train" them to do it where WE want. That's how far pet animals are denied their freedom…they cannot even shit when, how and where they want!
    A state of bondage, so far from doing violence to the law of nature, develops and perfects it; and that, in that state (the Negro) enjoys the greatest amount of happiness, and arrives at the greatest degree of perfection, of which his nature is capable".

    R.R.Cobb, An Inquiry into the Law of Negro Slavery in the United States of America, 1858.

    At this point, you might claim that the analogy does not apply, because dogs need humans. This depends on the way you look at it. The only difference is that in the case of dogs, we have manipulated a species to fit to our wants, making the species dependent on us. This would be the ultimate dream of a slave-master, and in actual fact, several methods were applied to demoralise slaves so as to make them docile and so that they resign themselves to that situation (like taking away their children, separating families etc). So this makes dogs the ideal slaves, slaves whom we have made resigned to their situation.
    Humans assign "purpose" to suit their wants or desires. In actual fact, no one has any other purpose other than self-preservation.
    Slave owners used to believe that abolitionists were too radical and that the abolition of slavery would be catastrophic for the planet. Look it up…you'll see it is true. Of course, it transpired that this was just an unfounded excuse to justify injustice.

    March 22, 2007
  10. holier-than-thow #

    The only difference is that I am not only talking about "suffering" here. I am speaking of rights violations. So while we can stop wild animal rights violations by stopping hunting and the destruction of habitat, in the case of pets (which means animals captive in our homes), as long as they exist, their rights would be violated, even if no one is "cruel" towards them.

    My point is that humans breeding animals is the start of most animal abuse. Stop all human breeding of all animals and most animal abuse immediately disappears. The property status of animals is what brings about most animal abuse.

    The question to ask is this: Is it worth losing any pleasure to us from pet companionship if this means ending most animal abuse? My unreserved unswer is YES. Remember that it's the property status of animals which allows us to breed animals. Take away their property status, and you take away our "right" to breed animals.

    March 22, 2007
  11. Anonymous #

    The University of Cornell did a study on pet obesity. They found that 48% more dogs die from obesity in one year than dog abuse. Animal athletes live 18% longer than just a normal everyday healthy pets. How does that jive with you people? Maybe you activist need to wake up and see what you are doing to your own pets. Dogs love work. There actions will speak louder than your untruthful words ever will. When a activist from "Florida" starts something like this, well…. this person is obviously missing something in life. Mary Ph.D If you truly have a Ph.D you should know better than to have such a closed mind.

    March 23, 2007
  12. Anonymusher #

    In response to holier-than-thow:

    As anti-mushers are so fond of saying SLED DOGS ARE NOT PETS! They are much, much more.

    Read the history of the Siberian Husky. In the Summer, villages let all of their dogs loose to fend for themselves like wolves. They didn't run away like escaped slaves, they returned to the villages.

    A similar thing happened in the Iditarod trail this year. One musher's dog got loose (the musher dropped out of the race to look for her) and fended for herself for 11 days. Finally, looking "none the worse for wear," she walked out of some woods and right up to some of the people who were looking for her. What slave would do that?

    March 23, 2007
  13. Anonymous #


    You are so off the wall your words would make any normal person laugh. Animal domestication is as old as our human race. This is proven both religiously and scientifically. There is absolutely no debate about it. Domestication has helped our race grow to what it is today. It has help stop the spread of zoonosis diseases, Rabies, Leptospirosis, ect.. Your own ignorance is creating pointless debate for something many of our own kind have died from. Perhaps you want our country to turn into a third world country were you have to watch your back from getting bit by a wild dog, or suffer a horrible death from a disease that you got from an animal bite. For those who think hunting is wrong, well grow up a little. You would not even be here right now creating this pointless debate if it was not for hunting and growth of our human race from eating meat from animals.

    March 23, 2007
  14. Anonymusher: Dogs who are being vivisected often still seek the approval of the people torturing them. Domesticated dogs seek the approval of their people, often regardless of how they are treated. That doesn't mean the slave analogy doesn't hold up, as we breed animals for our purposes. We take the freedom of their natural lives away from them for our own use (and often abuse and often profit).

    The dog situation is sort of dicey in that though we shouldn't have them as pets, we have created a dire situation for them by being irresponsible through breeding and not neutering and spaying. I believe we are morally obligated to do something in the short term (maybe a generation) to help them by giving homeless dogs (and particularly dogs who were made to work on someone else's schedule) good, loving homes and by not breeding them. I hope for the day that they are no longer considered our property, and we HAVE NO RIGHT to OWN them. But that day is long off, and I believe that, for now, owning (that is what it is) a rescue dog is a viable, helpful option for the dogs, given they are owned by people with good intentions (and there's the rub–I wouldn't trust most people I know to give my greyhounds the quality of life–including way more exercise than most Americans give their dogs–that I am committed to giving them). In my opinion, most people don't meet their dog's needs sufficiently, particularly their needs for exercise and stimulation. But that's another topic.

    March 24, 2007
  15. Anonymusher #

    Most Huskies like to please their owners but, even more, like to please themselves! I rarely see one try to seek my approval about anything, it's just "me me me". They are such a funny breed – I don't know what I would do without them in my life. Selfish? Maybe. However, I have pretty much adapted my life to fit them – who "owns" who is not terribly clear…

    Exercising dogs very relevent. I have zero experience with Greyhounds but I do know what you mean about the exercise factor, as Huskies are also high-energy dogs. They want to run and pull. They take naturally to sledding. Most pets do not get enough exercise, so mushing is a good way to change that.

    March 24, 2007

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