Despite 3 deaths, Iditarod likely to continue
“Two dogs died in the name of sport this week, and this time it wasn’t Michael Vick’s fault.”
So begins an Associated Press commentary by national sports columnist Tim Dahlberg that recounts the final hours of Dizzy and Grasshopper, two members of musher Lou Packer’s team. The two were among three dogs that died in this year’s Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
“Listen to race supporters and they’ll tell you that, unlike Vick’s dogs, 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…”
On the other hand, Dahlberg wrote, “They don’t have a problem with chaining up big packs of dogs and running them to within an inch of their life for sport. They accept the fact that the Iditarod is a part of the state’s heritage, and its biggest sporting event. A lot of us in the Lower 48, though, just don’t get it.”
He goes on to ask the question on the minds of many animal right activists: “How many dog deaths are reasonable? How many more must die before the fun is finally sucked out of the sport?”
Packer, a doctor, got lost on the trail. By the time searchers found him, he was leading his team, minus Dizzy and Grasshopper.
“I think those two guys probably froze to death in the high winds,” Packer told the Anchorage Daily News. “I didn’t think it possible.”
The Dahlberg column quotes California veterinarian Barbara Hodges at length. She has written a letter on behalf of the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association to Iditarod sponsors like Exxon Mobil Corp. and Wells Fargo, asking them to withdraw their support from the race.
Studies, she says, show long-distance sled dogs have abnormal lung changes due to prolonged heavy breathing, gastric ulcers from the stress of racing, and arthritis and other injuries.
Dahlberg points out that race organizers, cognizant of the critics, now employ a team of veterinarians to keep the dogs healthy, give them checkups at key points in the race, and do autopsies for cause of death.
(About 140 dogs have died in the race since it began, according to organizations that consider the race inhumane. For a better idea of how they see the race, check out this comment on one of our earlier Iditarod entries.)
Dahlberg doesn’t come right out and call for an end to the treasured Alaska tradition. But he does at least bring up the possibility, and presents a side of the story that looks beyond the “sport” and the coveted revenue it brings in.
Not bad for a sports writer.
Posted by John Woestendiek March 19th, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: alaska, animals, arthritis, associated press, barbara hodges, column, columnist, commentary, damage, deaths, dogs, exxon mobil corp., health, humane, humane society, iditarod, lungs, race, sled dogs, sponsors, sports, stress, tradition, ulcers, wells fargo