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.
A possum, alive and struggling, her baby still clinging to her back, is tied to the lure arm along the rail. Behind the starting gate a dozen or so greyhounds wait, their eyes fixed straight ahead, their lean and muscular bodies taut with anticipation. The lure arm begins to move along the rail. As it passes the gate, a buzzer sounds. The gate doors fly open and the dogs explode onto the track at breakneck speed. After several laps, the lure arm slows to a halt. The baby possum is nowhere to be seen, having been hurled off somewhere along the track, her brains dashed out on the hard earth or perhaps trampled to death. The mother possum is still alive but limp; her spinal cord has been snapped in half. She squeals. “It’s crying,” someone says. “It’s lost its baby.” The track owner chuckles and removes the dying animal from the armature.
This grisly scene is from a segment on the current affairs program, Four Corners, which aired not long ago on Australian television. The program included graphic footage, including the scene above, filmed secretly by animal activists that revealed the use of live animals including possums, rabbits, piglets, and kittens, in training racing greyhounds in three Australian states, Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria. The practice is called live baiting, and it is not only bloodthirsty, it is illegal. The program included interviews with a number of leading greyhound trainers and track owners who denied the existence of live baiting, but there it was on film, and many of those doing the denying were shown to be involved in the bloody practice.
The public and political reaction to the revelations was swift and widespread. At least one major corporate sponsor has withdrawn its support of greyhound racing in Australia. In Queensland, 13 trainers are under investigation. In New South Wales, the board of Greyhound Racing and a former Justice of the High Court of Australia was appointed to lead a review of the greyhound racing industry in that state. Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, have launched inquiries of their own. Incredibly, at least one prominent politician has directed his criticism not at the trainers but at the activists who trespassed to record the damning footage.
This heinous practice of live baiting is illegal in the United States, too, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening right here at home. In 2002, one Arizona greyhound breeder lost his state license when racing commission officials found 180 rabbits on his property. A Texas breeder had his license revoked when authorities came into possession of video showing him baiting greyhounds with live rabbits on his farm. The breeder was initially charged with cruelty to animals, but his case was dismissed by a judicial system that typically protects those who profit from animal cruelty. It’s an outrage.
A 2011 FBI investigation into live baiting at a major breeding farm in West Virginia was not pursued to completion. Instead, the man who recorded video exposing the live baiting and other abuses at the farm was sentenced to six months in prison. The sadistic criminals involved in this terrible cruelty will do everything in their power to cover up these horrific crimes.
“Bait” animals are not the only victims of the dog racing industry. Greyhounds themselves — naturally gentle dogs — are often kept in brutal and deplorable living conditions. Live baiters taunt and incite their dogs to chase, attack, and ultimately kill small animals. When the tired and used up greyhounds can no longer run fast, they’re killed.
There has been some progress. In 40 states, commercial dog racing is now illegal. But in seven states – Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Texas, and West Virginia – greyhound racing remains legal and operational. And for the poor animals forced to run, deadly.
In February 2015, the greyhound advocacy group GREY2K USA and the ASPCA released the first-ever national report on greyhound racing in the United States. The detailed report chronicles thousands of injuries and hundreds of deaths of greyhounds in those seven states. The report was mailed to state lawmakers and opinion leaders to urge them to bring an end to this inherently cruel “sport.” The report revealed that greyhounds injured while racing between 2008 and 2014 numbered close to 12,000. Injuries included severed toes, broken legs, spinal cord paralysis, broken necks, heatstroke, electrocution, and cardiac arrest. Additionally, 16 racing greyhounds in Alabama and Florida tested positive for cocaine in their bloodstream.
There is hope for greyhounds. Since 1991, 41 dog tracks have closed or discontinued live racing, and the greyhound racing industry has seen a sharp financial decline. Over the past decade, gambling on dog racing has dropped 66%. But we cannot afford to wait – in the first half of 2018, 163 greyhounds were injured on American dog tracks and 53 were killed during a race.
Let us work together to put an end to greyhound racing in the United States. Here’s how you can help:
Do not patronize greyhound races, bet on greyhound races, or support those states that host greyhound racing.
If you live in one the seven states where greyhound racing is still in operation contact your state legislators and insist they act now to put an end to this cruel competition. If you live in the Sunshine State, know that 12 of the 18 dog tracks still in operation in the United States are located in Florida.
Join with the fine organizations who are already working to end greyhound racing by educating the public and pressing for legislation. GREY2K USA is devoted to this cause.
At individual tracks all over the country, the moment that racing season is over, hundreds of dogs are immediately in need of placement. Thankfully, there are greyhound rescue groups that go to the tracks and rescue as many as possible. Several rescue organizations even fly their own planes around the country and to Mexico to save greyhounds from being killed. Until greyhound racing is banned altogether, at least we can insure that fewer retired greyhounds will be put to death by finding good homes for these gentle, low-maintenance, family-friendly animals.
Peace for ALL the animals with whom we share the planet!