Weeks before I left for my first voyage to Alaska, my sister, a huge animal activist, posted pictures of dead huskies on my Facebook wall. She told me I was cruel for supporting such a terrible tradition and that if I was really a dog lover, I would not volunteer for the Iditarod.
To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect so that’s why I went there myself to see it firsthand. I’d like to dispel some of the myths that are commonly shared amongst lower 48-ers with my own opinions. Granted, I only was there for a week, but I’m not an armchair activist. There are many people who have their own opinion and have never even seen a sled dog race. I am by no means an expert, but I think I can share my experiences.
The race of “1,049 miles” is very tough and hard to endure for both mushers and their dogs. But it’s equally challenging to get into as well – they don’t just let anyone in. Mushers who compete in this race pay a hefty entrance fee and must have raced hundreds of miles previously before one can even be considered. So these dogs and their people are above adequately prepared.
While I can’t say I love their living conditions (I have included pictures of kennels), each dog gets its own house, food bowl and place to do its business. That’s a heck of a lot better than dogs down here in some cases.
And they LOVE running. These dogs are bred to do it. Their hearts can be three times bigger than a normal dog. They are genetically modified to handle this kind of endurance challenge.
This year a dog died at the Iditarod. He was no longer racing, dropped off to be taken care of volunteers. Unfortunately due to terrible weather, he was buried under snow while he was sleeping. The dogs were checked on at least every 3 hours. It was absolutely unfortunate, but also a cry for more volunteers. If you’d like to apply, please let me know and I can help you fill out the forms. We need you.
Also, two dogs got loose. One of them was Newton Marshall’s dog, Mae, who received national focus as people all over Alaska looked for the dog. It has been brought up that in future years, dogs will wear GPS trackers. Currently the mushers have GPS trackers on their sleds; this is a relatively new technology for them.
I hope that this clears up a few common misconceptions about sled dog racing. I will post more about the Iditarod in the coming weeks.