Dogs Dying In The Iditarod

Friday, March 20, 2009

Animal cruelty in the name of sport and entertainment is nothing new. From illegal cock fighting and dog fighting (ahem, Michael Vick) to horse racing, innocent animals perish, and the line between acceptable and cruel is often not as clear-cut as we would like.

As it turns out, the Iditarod race is one of those instances. From its storied origin as a race to deliver diphtheria serum to the isolated town of Nome, the race has been romanticized in popular culture in the form of childrens' books and movies, like Balto. However, since its establishment as a competitive sporting event in 1973, there has been criticism from animal rights organizations that the exposure to extreme conditions for extended periods of time amounts to animal abuse.

In the 2009 race which occured just last week, three huskies, two on the team of Lou Packer, died in temperatures 45 below zero that threatened the life of the musher as well. Is it right for humans to expose animals to life-threatening conditions that lead to regular fatalaties?

Listen to race supporters and they'll tell you that...the 5-year-old huskies died doing what they loved. Read the official Iditarod Web site and you'll find out that sled dogs are pampered and loved by their masters.

Barbara Hodges, a veterinarian from California, disagrees:

[Hodges has] seen the studies that show sled dogs have abnormal lung changes due to prolonged heavy breathing, gastric ulcers from the stress of racing, and arthritis and other injuries that leave them crippled if they are fortunate to live long. "We believe that this particular race compromises the health and welfare of the canine participants," Hodges said. "The race would violate animal cruelty laws against overworking or overdriving dogs in 38 states and the District of Columbia. Of course, Alaska has no such law."

It's unlikely that Alaska will ever develop such a law, either. For most Alaskans, the Iditarod holds great cultural significance, and it's not going anywhere anytime soon. Controversy has led to some positive changes, including veterinarian examinations of dogs at certain checkpoints.

Despite this, the trend of dog deaths continues: the total for this year's race is now six, and at least three perished in each of the 2006-2008 races.

Ultimately, the question comes down to how many dog fatalaties is acceptable for something that is important to humans. This sickens me, I don't think even one dog death should be tolerated.

Source: Dogs are dying, and it's not Michael Vick's fault


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