Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Iditarod Dogs

September 1. We took a tour from the lodge near Denali State Park to see a Iditarod racer training with his dogs. As people who once owned a Siberian husky, we much enjoyed seeing the dogs and hearing his talk.

The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race begins every March and travels across Alaska for more than 1,100 miles. The musher we talked to, Bill Hall, has done the race for years, alternating with his wife. Now that she no longer does the race, he is free to do it each year. It is a huge commitment of time and money. He trains the dogs twice every day, and participating in the race itself takes thousands of dollars. I guess it gets into your blood.

The lady who gave us the ride to the tour was a friend of Bill’s and an interesting person. Back in the early 1960’s when she was a very little girl, her family moved from the States to Alaska to homestead. It was just wilderness then, and even now is pretty remote. They got 160 acres in return, and had to build a home and start a farm. Hard life, but she stayed and her mom still lives on the original site.

It was really interesting learning about how Bill prepares for and conducts the race, and how he takes care of the dogs during this arduous event. Clearly he does not sleep much during the two weeks or so of the race. Here are some photos from seeing the beautiful sled dogs.

The Alaskan huskies wait eagerly to start pulling.

It was a warm day, and the dogs panted to cool themselves.

Bill Hall is fit and trim at age 65 or so, and ready to get back out on the Iditarod Trail this coming March.

How do you train huskies without snow? They seemed to adapt well to pulling this four-wheeler.

He gave the dogs a water break partway through their run, and they seemed to enjoy it.

When we arrived at his home, the dogs who had been left behind went nuts but eventually calmed down.

Some the Iditarod race numbers from Bill and his wife. Men and women compete equally, and there is only one winner. Susan Butcher, the first woman to win this race, died from leukemia in 2006.


  1. That is just amazing what those people and the dogs do!!!

  2. For the dogs, the Iditarod is a bottomless pit of suffering. What happens to the dogs during the race includes death, paralysis, frostbite (where it hurts the most!), bleeding ulcers, bloody diarrhea, lung damage, pneumonia, ruptured discs, viral diseases, broken bones, torn muscles and tendons and sprains. At least 142 dogs have died in the Iditarod, including two dogs on Dr. Lou Packer's team who froze to death in the brutally cold winds.

    During training runs, Iditarod dogs have been killed by moose, snowmachines, and various motor vehicles, including a semi tractor and an ATV. They have died from drowning, heart attacks and being strangled in harnesses. Dogs have also been injured while training. They have been gashed, quilled by porcupines, bitten in dog fights, and had broken bones, and torn muscles and tendons. Most dog deaths and injuries during training aren't even reported.

    Iditarod dog kennels are puppy mills. Mushers breed large numbers of dogs and routinely kill unwanted ones, including puppies. Many dogs who are permanently disabled in the Iditarod, or who are unwanted for any reason, including those who have outlived their usefulness, are killed with a shot to the head, dragged, drowned or clubbed to death. "Dogs are clubbed with baseball bats and if they don't pull are dragged to death in harnesses......" wrote former Iditarod dog handler Mike Cranford in an article for Alaska's Bush Blade Newspaper.

    Dog beatings and whippings are common. During the 2007 Iditarod, eyewitnesses reported that musher Ramy Brooks kicked, punched and beat his dogs with a ski pole and a chain. Jim Welch says in his book Speed Mushing Manual, "Nagging a dog team is cruel and ineffective...A training device such as a whip is not cruel at all but is effective." "It is a common training device in use among dog mushers..."

    Jon Saraceno wrote in his March 3, 2000 column in USA Today, "He [Colonel Tom Classen] confirmed dog beatings and far worse. Like starving dogs to maintain their most advantageous racing weight. Skinning them to make mittens.. Or dragging them to their death."

    During the race, veterinarians do not give the dogs physical exams at every checkpoint. Mushers speed through many checkpoints, so the dogs get the briefest visual checks, if that. Instead of pulling sick dogs from the race, veterinarians frequently give them massive doses of antibiotics to keep them running. The Iditarod's chief veterinarian, Stu Nelson, is an employee of the Iditarod Trail Committee. They are the ones who sign his paycheck. So, do you expect that he's going to say anything negative about the Iditarod?

    The Iditarod, with all the evils associated with it, has become a synonym for exploitation. The race imposes torture no dog should be forced to endure.

    Margery Glickman
    Sled Dog Action Coalition,

  3. On your visit, you saw how much these dogs love to pull and how they are cared for! It is too bad that Margery felt the need to share her agenda on your blog. I'd like to encourage you to remove Margery Glickman's comments from your blog.
    Here is a resource that has factual information about the race.

  4. Margery and Ringo - thank you for the comments. Normally, my blog is only about my hikes, but I am branching out a bit because of my recent trip to Alaska, describing different experiences there that I had.

    I have only rarely removed comments - if they are strictly a sales ad, like one posted for shoes a couple of times, or if they say anything obscene. So I am going to leave the comments up and you both have provided information / links that can be used to review information. I know I am interested in learning more. I have heard of dogs on occasion dying during the race. I would think and hope that most mushers would treat their dogs well - my impression was that the man we talked to and who demonstrated his dogs did. They seemed to have genuine affection for him. That being said, animal abuse world wide is a huge problem. Thanks again to both of you for your comments. Art