The annual Iditarod death race kicks off today in Wasilla, Alaska. Up to half the dogs who start the race won’t finish it. Dogs are forced to run tethered together and pulling heavy sleds and a human “musher” over hundreds of miles of frozen terrain through biting winds, and subzero temperatures. Teams often race through blizzards causing whiteout conditions, sub-zero temperatures and gale-force winds which can cause the wind chill to reach −100 °F (−73 °C). Dogs suffer exhaustion, exposure, illness, and injury. If you love dogs – or honorable sports – the Iditarod is an ignominious disgrace.
During the 2020 race, more than 220 dogs did not make it to the finish line. One musher forced his dogs to continue the race even after all of them reportedly vomited, one was injured in a fight with another dog, and three got frostbite. He finally stopped racing at mile 852 when his dogs simply couldn’t run any farther. Another musher, already the subject of a recent investigation that found that dogs were chained up, denied veterinary care, and even killed during training, reportedly threw a dog down and pinned her muzzle to the ground while on the race’s livestream. He previously admitted to beating, depriving, and neglecting dogs. Still another, who chains his dogs to wooden boxes in the snow at his kennel (a common practice for mushers), left behind four dogs he pushed beyond the breaking point during the race.
Of the 150 dogs who have died in the Iditarod since it began in 1973, most died of aspiration pneumonia, caused by inhaling their own vomit. Many more have died during the off-season while chained up outside in subzero temperatures or were killed because they weren’t considered fast enough.
In response to growing awareness among consumers of the race’s record of cruelty and abuse, many major companies, including ExxonMobil, Chrysler, Alaska Airlines, Coca-Cola, Jack Daniel’s, State Farm, and Wells Fargo, have dropped their sponsorships of the race.
If you’re planning a trip or cruise to Alaska, please don’t buy any packages or excursions that include dog-sled rides or visits to dog kennels. Ask your friends and family not to, either.
Learn more about the abuse of dogs in the Iditarod by watching the outstanding documentary film, Sled Dogs, which shines a spotlight on the dogs who are forced to run until their bodies break down or are killed if they don’t measure up. Sled Dogs is available now on Prime Video and Plex.