The Iditarod on 12,000 calories a day

Extreme cold in Alaska makes the race even more challenging – and dangerous

Rick Casillo dog racingGuest essay by Paul Driessen

This winter’s record Midwestern freeze made any outdoor activity a real challenge. It also made us appreciate modern housing, heating, transportation and hydrocarbons – and what our frontline troops have endured in the Aleutians, Korea and Afghanistan. I’ve been in minus 20-50 F weather, and it is brutal. 

The nasty weather reminded me of the Iditarod racers and spirited sled dogs I met last summer in Alaska. Trekking 1,100 miles from Anchorage to Nome, across Sam McGee’s wilderness in the dead of winter in nine to twelve days, is not for faint-hearted humans or canines. It’s equivalent to jogging from Chicago to Tampa or from Washington, DC to Kansas City – with temperatures ranging from a “balmy” 10 or 20 degrees F (-7 to -12 C) above to a bone-rattling and deadly minus 50 (-46 C) or lower for the entire trip.

It helps explain why far more people have reached the summit of Mt. Everest than have finished the annual Iditarod race.

 

This difference: some 4,000 to Everest’s peak versus around 900 individual dogsledders, many of whom are the same hardy men and women racing year after year. About 2,550 dog teams of 16 dogs each have competed since Dorothy Page and Joe Redington, Sr. launched the Iditarod dogsled race in 1973.

Rick Swenson has entered the race 33 times and won it five times, logging more than 82,000 miles in training and racing. DeeDee Jonrowe has started 27 races and finished 25, including 2003 when she began three weeks after finishing chemotherapy for breast cancer! (Go here for still more Iditarod trivia.)

“The coldest I’ve ever been in during the Iditarod was minus 60, and I actually camped out on the trail that night with the dogs,” Rick Casillo told me. “It’s by far the coldest I have ever been. I went to sleep after taking care of the dogs, woke up two hours later and was starting to get hypothermic. I had to get out of my bag and get moving fast. When you’re dealing with temperatures like that, there is no room for error. You have to plan and execute each step perfectly.” Jack London’s “To build a fire” comes to mind.

Rick and his wife Jennifer operate Battle Dawgs Racing, Aurora Heli-Expeditions and the Knik River Lodge west of Palmer. But Battle Dawgs is not just their dog kennel. By partnering with Alaska’s Healing Hearts, they’ve made it a wounded veterans rehabilitation program that enables military personnel and their families and loved ones to experience wild Alaska, restore their souls, and meet kindred spirits through hunting, fishing, mushing, flying, hiking and snowmobiling.

James Hastings, director of operations for AHH and a retired U.S. Army veteran, says their goal with Battle Dawgs is to have a year-round camp with cabins and facilities that can accommodate warriors in wheel chairs. Adds Jennifer, an Air Force veteran and reservist, aircraft mechanic and chopper pilot: “For a wounded veteran, the true battle often begins when they get home.” That’s why the dogs are important. “The healing capabilities of canines are legendary,” Rick says. “You can’t spend time with these men and women, and not want to help out by offering them some life changing experiences.”

Some of warriors will actually be members of Rick’s “pit crew” during dog races. One will be on his sled for the “ceremonial” portion of the 2014 Iditarod, from Anchorage to Eagle River, where the teams regroup and start the actual race. Few can imagine what goes into this race.

Pre-season racing is like pre-season football, Rick says. “You use it to gauge younger dogs and give them valuable racing experience. I’m looking for attitude, recovery time, eating habits, drive and desire. These dogs are all born to run, but I need dogs that can do these runs over and over, willingly and happily.” Usually he spots these characteristics by opening day, but sometimes there are surprises.

“The toughest situation I was ever in was easily in 2007 when I was going up the Alaska Range from Rainey Pass,” Rick recalls. “The temperature was minus 30, with 40 mph winds – making it feel like minus 71 – and we were climbing in a complete whiteout. My goggles froze up solid and were useless. I was forced to take them off. Minutes later, frostbite set in on my nose, cheeks and eyelids. Sometimes I had to walk in front of the team to find the trail. All of a sudden, an 18-month-old dog started demanding to be up front, leading. Normally I would never rely on a young dog in a situation like that, but Grisman was jumping five feet in the air, howling to go. So I gave him a chance. Once I put Gris in lead, he never balked once. Not only did he take us up and over the range. He continued to be one of best dogs in that race and went on to be the best dog I have ever run.”

That experience underscores what are perhaps the six most important factors in Iditarod racing. (1) Bond and trust. “If you don’t have the dogs’ trust, you have nothing,” Rick emphasizes. (2) Mental and physical toughness, for dogs and musher alike. By the end of the race, each musher is tired, battered and cut up – attesting to the difficulty of the trail and weather, and to the need to just keep going, no matter what. (3) Logistics. More on that in a minute. (4-6) “Dog care, dog care, dog care. As the dogs go, you go.”

For UPS and Amazon, logistics are vital. “Brown” even has a jingle about logistics, and Amazon.com hires numerous veterans because of their logistical skills. But for the military and Iditarod racers, logistics mean the difference between success and failure, life or death. “We’re on our own out there,” Rick told me. “No cell phones, no communications. Careful planning and preparation are critical.”

Each dog burns 12,000 calories a day during the Iditarod, Rick points out. That’s what Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps reportedly consumes on racing days. Rick’s dogs eat a combination of beef, horse, fish and chicken; beef fat and turkey and chicken skins; tripe and high-grade dry dog food; salmon oil and natural supplements. They wear booties to protect their feet from the cold and bruising.

Mushers are required to carry a sleeping bag, ax, snow shoes, extra dog booties, a veterinary care book, a dog food cooker and sufficient food for the dogs, in their sleds at all times. So they are hauling about 60 pounds of food and gear in sleds similar to what Inupiaq and Yup’ik Natives used for centuries. For each musher, some 3,000 pairs of booties and 2,000 pounds of food and personal gear are divided up and airlifted by volunteer flyers two weeks before the race to each of 20 check points along the route.

“We cover 125 to 150 miles a day. Our average runs are 60 miles, followed by a four-to-five-hour break to eat, rest, massage and care for the dogs – and then we do it again, and again, until we reach Nome,” Rick explains. Mushers are also required to shut down completely for two 8-hour and one 24-hour rest periods. Tough hills, rocks, swollen creeks, high winds, frigid temperatures, storms, whiteout conditions, accidents and injuries to dogs or mushers, and other adventures can slow that pace down. But somehow they need to make it to the next check point, where volunteer veterinarians examine the dogs and they can replenish their supplies. More volunteers fly any injured dogs from the nearest checkpoint back to Eagle River, where Hiland Mountain Correctional Center inmates care for them until the mushers finish the race.

The hard training and careful preparation pay off. Rick has entered and finished four Iditarod races and is now preparing for his fifth. He’s also competed in many other dogsled races. This year he plans to run at a slower pace that requires less exertion and less rest – and results in less fatigue and healthier dogs that can chew up miles. That’s a bit different from a musher who “ran” all 188 miles to Rohn with minimal breaks in the first race of the 2013-14 season. It will be fascinating to watch all the mushers’ strategies in action.

They’re all straining, sweating and freezing for the $50,000 first place prize – and smaller cash prizes for the next 30 top finishers, plus the joys and thrills of just being in this premier race. But competing in the Iditarod costs $30,000 or more in fees, supplies, dog care, preparation, training and prelims.

So follow Rick Casillo on BattleDawgsRacing.com and all the mushers, preparations, history and thrills of this amazing race at Iditarod.com. Buy some gear and DVDs. Support your favorite mushers and dogs with donations or by volunteering. And watch the race on television. It starts March 1 – and now you know enough to really understand and appreciate “the last great race,” the Iditarod.

_______________

Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow, author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power – Black death, and a huge fan of Rick Casillo, Battle Dawgs and all they do.

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80 thoughts on “The Iditarod on 12,000 calories a day

  1. A New England native, in college I was swim team in winter and rugby in the following season laughably referred to as spring. Over the holidays the pool was unheated. We would exit the building in t-shirts and single digit temperatures. The varsity table would shudder under the weight of 3000 (food) calorie meals. It wasn’t the workout, it was the heat regulation. Anecdote. This doesn’t even begin to track the energy inputs of keeping humans alive in a colder climate. If we are headed for even slightly colder global temps then we best be prepared for an unprecedented demand on energy.

  2. What a difference between these people and Professor Chris(tmas) Turkey.

    “We cover 125 to 150 miles a day. Our average runs are 60 miles”

    That is incredible. I ride and drive horses and fifty miles in a carriage on a nice day can be exhausting and takes a lot of conditioning for the animals. I have also ridden and driven in weather down to minus 30F – BRUTAL.

    My best wishes to all these people.

  3. ***more like menacing to Maddison!

    20 Jan: Guardian: Antarctica Live: Antarctic ice: ***beautiful and unpredictable
    In Antarctica, ice is always moving, breaking, melting, re-freezing, flowing. Glaciers can cut through thousands of metres of rock, given time. And the way ice interacts with wind and water around the continent means that it is at the heart of everything that happens here – something we found to our cost
    Posted by Alok Jha, Southern Ocean Monday 20 January 2014 23.37 EST
    The Aurora Australis has been sailing through the Southern Ocean since the middle of last week and, at some point over the weekend, we left behind the last of the ice. It has been part of the daily scenery of our expedition for more than a month, ever since we crossed into the Antarctic Circle…
    “Then there’s the shapes,” says Ben Maddison, an Antarctic historian on board the expedition. “Ever since the middle of the 19th century, when the gothic sensibilities started to creep into explorer’s accounts – seeing in the shapes of the ice the ruins of civilisation, collapsed buildings, cathedrals, minarets. I always think about that when I’m looking at icebergs as well because I love the way that the ice has always reflected contemporary concerns, culture and perceptions.”…

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/antarctica-live/2014/jan/20/antarctic-ice-beautiful-unpredictable

  4. Yeah, right now it is 32 in Anchorage and 33 in Nome. BTW, the race doesn’t start for a month and a half.

  5. Rat,

    Thank you for the temperature update. Clearly you are as essential around here as the Weather Channel. You must forgive me for having missed you delivering similar baskets of cherries when Anchorage had one of its coolest summers on record. Or when it had it’s seasonal snowfall record broken in 2012. Bless me, without you pointing out the temp, I would have gone on believing that trends matter more. Forgive me.

  6. Dogs are truly wonderful creatures, aren’t they? A lot like us when you think about it. Otherwise they wouldn’t be our best friends.

  7. Rattus Norvegicus says:
    January 20, 2014 at 7:12 pm

    Yeah, right now it is 32 in Anchorage and 33 in Nome.
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    So?

    It is 37°F in Mid North Carolina and -12.2 °F in Aurora, Minnesota

  8. Rattus Norvegicus said @ January 20, 2014 at 7:12 pm;

    Yeah, right now it is 32 in Anchorage and 33 in Nome. BTW, the race doesn’t start for a month and a half.

    Yukon Quest is about this time …

  9. Right now it’s 12°F (-11°C) in Buffalo … and so many locations in Alaska are much warmer than the Midwest & Northeast.

    These Iditarod-like conditions really suck.

    And in a couple weeks, that Pennsylvania rat will emerge with his weather prognostication. I’ll beat him to it … six more weeks of winter and it will stay cold.

  10. in my previous comment I wanted to show a picture, sorry that did not work
    here it is as a link

    does somebody know how to show it as a picture here in the comment?
    or is that not possible?

  11. Rattus Norvegicus says:
    January 20, 2014 at 7:12 pm

    Yeah, right now it is 32 in Anchorage and 33 in Nome. BTW, the race doesn’t start for a month and a half.

    My brother lived and flew in Alaska for more than a decade. It isn’t unusual for Anchorage and Nome–both coastal cities subject to the vagaries of the Pacific–to be warmer than locations in the lower 48. Several times throughout the 90s we traded phone calls comparing the SE US’ temps to AK temps, and AK were higher. It’s not unusual for the interior to have rain in January.

    I’m betting you’ve never set foot in Alaska and haven’t a clue what the weather there is like. You think comparing the relatively warmer temperatures of two coastal Alaskan towns to relatively colder towns in the lower US is a real zinger, don’t you?

    Oh, and speaking of that, I have a question: how did WW1 soldiers end up embedded in a glacier? (link: Video report) Wasn’t the glacier always there, totally static, until “global warming” began in the early 1990s? The glacier couldn’t possibly have been, um, smaller when the soldiers were on it, then grew over top of the remains, and are now in their smaller phase, right? Can’t be, because it’s all global warming right?

    Please explain how these remains ended up there. Thanks in advance.

  12. HenryP says:
    January 20, 2014 at 10:41 pm
    …………
    Hi Henry
    I have compared the Arctic temperatures to the N. Hemisphere’s land and N. Atlantic sea surface temperatures and found that the Arctic leads the way by a (variable) number of years, but its spectral composition is distinctly different, with the two most prominent frequencies coincident with the Earth’s core magnetic oscillations. One day I might write few more details about it.

  13. HenryP;
    Your image (graphs) is miniscule, unreadable, and the zoom enlarges by 0%. Thanks for very little.

  14. HenryP says:
    January 20, 2014 at 10:41 pm
    —-l
    Interesting. Are there perhaps arctic and antarctic measurements for the same period?

  15. @Brian H

    You cannot see anything in this picture?
    I was hoping to show the picture directly in the comment but it seems this is not possible.
    To sum it up, it shows temperatures declining in Alaska, from 1998, at an average of -0.55 degreesC/decade (ten weather stations)
    that means it is already almost 1 degree C cooler there than in 1998

  16. @negrum
    there are arctic weather stations but almost all are at sea.
    likewise in Iceland and Greenland.
    In my picture, do you see that Barrow still seems to be warming a bit?
    that has to do with the warmer streams around the arctic that affect the weather
    It would be misleading though to use those arctic weather stations (at sea) to give an arctic average
    It is in fact not misleading to take a sample of ten weather stations in Alaska, like I did,
    ensuring that they cover most of the area and to calculate an average cooling rate from there.
    I also pose that this average cooling rate of -0.55K per decade applies to all areas [60-70] latitudes (inland)

    From antarctica I have no stations with complete daily data from 1998.
    However, it seems Nasa is admitting now that Antarctica is also cooling there.

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/10/22/nasa-announces-new-record-growth-of-antarctic-sea-ice-extent/#more-96133

    My guess would be that it is cooling there at a higher rate than the -0.55K/decade that is reported by me for [60-70] latitudes

  17. caseyanderson2112 says:
    January 20, 2014 at 11:24 pm

    Oh, and speaking of that, I have a question: how did WW1 soldiers end up embedded in a glacier? (link: Video report) Wasn’t the glacier always there, totally static, until “global warming” began in the early 1990s? The glacier couldn’t possibly have been, um, smaller when the soldiers were on it, then grew over top of the remains, and are now in their smaller phase, right? Can’t be, because it’s all global warming right?

    ——————————————————————-

    I’ve walked and climbed in the Dolomites, following Via Ferratas and passing through some of the remaining tunnels and observation posts deliberately blasted out of the rock in WW1. There are small very, moving, unattended, anti-war museums in some of the shelters and the book “The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front, 1915-1919” describes the First World War campaign in detail. Often bombardments were deliberated aimed at burying enemy troops by triggering avalanches and breaking up ice cliffs above them and many thousands of men were killed this way so unless you knew the history of a particular body find and had local knowledge it would be hard to ascribe an individual burial site as due to snow and ice cover by natural causes after death or an unnatural burial due to battle circumstances leaving a mass of snow and ice over the bodies which has only relatively recently started to melt as many of these troops were fighting at considerable altitude at or above the winter snow line.
    Many Allied escaped prisoners of war were also lost in these mountains following the Italian capitulation in WW2 when men tried to escape before the Germans took over the POW camps and ended up lost in the mountains and or some sad cases were taken up into the mountains pointed towards Switzerland and abandoned by their supposed guides with minimal clothing or food.
    It can be a very moving experience, remains are everywhere, had to point out to a friend one day that the point he had chosen to sit down for his lunch on a ridge overlooking a beautiful view was in fact the remains of a rock grave, human ribs visible to one side.

  18. How about the “iditabikers” who ride the Iditarod trail at the same time. They start a week earlier and take 20+ days to finish. 50 cyclists start and most stop after 350 miles but a few hardy types do the full 1000 miles (they used to say more people have walked on the moon than made it to Nome). One competitor did 600 miles unsupported — carried everything he needed — which is pretty amazing.

    The sleds are faster but then they have 30 pairs of legs powering them and the dogs will run all day if you let them. The sledder can also sleep on the mush as the dogs know what to do.

    ref. http://www.alaskaultrasport.com/alaska_ultra_home_page.html

  19. Stark Dickflüssig says:
    January 20, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    All you need is a shopping cart & some friends! http://www.idiotarodnyc.com/
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    They would be better off in Potsdam NY (-8.8 °F / -22.7 °C) or Watertown NY (-9 °F) than in NYC. (21.9 °F)

  20. Wayne Delbeke says: @ January 20, 2014 at 8:26 pm

    Gail: Are you an endurance rider or cross country carriage driver?
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>
    No, just crazy.

    I had a thoroughbred off the track who had to be ridden every day or he would toss me. (It was in upstate NYC in the 1960s and 1970s) After that I never let weather bother me though I did buy a sleigh for my driving horses. What a BLAST! I even used it down here in North Carolina on occasion.

    I scared the heck out of a show horse trainer when I took him ‘Trail Driving’ following ATV trails in the gravel quarry. Hubby and I have been known to ‘drive’ over the trunk of a two foot in diameter fallen tree. (It was too big for the swedish saws we always carry) We also managed to sink our horses up to the belly in a water meadow/swamp. We were more into blazing new trails than competing although I hosted 25 – 30 mile drives for my club….without the swamp but the water hazard freaked out several.

  21. John, UK says:
    January 21, 2014 at 3:35 am

    Often bombardments were deliberated aimed at burying enemy troops by triggering avalanches and breaking up ice cliffs above them and many thousands of men were killed this way so unless you knew the history of a particular body find and had local knowledge it would be hard to ascribe an individual burial site as due to snow and ice cover by natural causes after death or an unnatural burial due to battle circumstances leaving a mass of snow and ice over the bodies which has only relatively recently started to melt as many of these troops were fighting at considerable altitude at or above the winter snow line.

    Which is why I linked to the report about it. The report specifically blamed “the changing climate” for revealing the remains and claimed the “melting glacier” is giving up the “secrets.” My only point is that if the report is accurate (and that’s a HUGE if) those poor souls were atop that glacier when it was by definition less thick than it would become, which indicates to me that the glacier in question isn’t static, wasn’t X feet thick by holy decree until evil CO2 came along to kill it, and perhaps he needs to ponder the sequence of events.

    I used that report because it’s one I just saw but perhaps another would be a better example.

    On Nov. 22 1952, an Air Force C-124 cargo plane crashed into Mount Gannett in Alaska. All 52 members were instantly killed. But 61 years later, a melting glacier is giving up the secrets of that crash.

    The investigation is being conducted by the Alaskan Command and the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, a division of the Department of Defense that conducts investigations to account for missing Americans..

    Doug Beckstead, a historian at Anchorage’s Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, told ABC News that investigators immediately went to explore the wreckage but by Dec. 1 of that year, all evidence of the crash had disappeared, submerged into the glacier.

    July 12 2013 Melting Alaskan Glacier Yields New Remains of Decades-Old Crash

    So, on 11/22/52 the glacier was X feet thick, on 12/1/52 the glacier was X+n feet thick, and today the glacier is X-n feet thick. Since we know there is no other explanation for the coverage of the remains, it stands to reason that the glacier in June 2012 was the same thickness X that it was on 11/22/52, before the dreaded CO2 molecule reached critical mass and began to “destroy” the glacier.

    Note: I am aware of the compression/bottom melting/top growing cycle of glaciers, I simply dispute the notion that glaciers are decreed by God to both exist and never shrink below some defined measure of size/thickness.

    It can be a very moving experience, remains are everywhere, had to point out to a friend one day that the point he had chosen to sit down for his lunch on a ridge overlooking a beautiful view was in fact the remains of a rock grave, human ribs visible to one side.

    I can only imagine. How did your friend react to that?

  22. Went to Jeff King’s husky tour out of Denali (http://www.huskyhomestead.com/) and learned many things. The calorie difference between cold race (12,000 or 17 Big Mac’s), cold training 9,000 and summer training 6,000. Problem they have in summer is keeping them cool enough. The 60 miles in 4-5 hours is to pace them over the 9 days. In shorter runs, like the UP 200, Michigan, running times can be under 12 hours.

  23. From the Sled Dog Action Coalition, http://helpsleddogs.org

    Iditarod dogs suffer horrendous cruelty every day of their lives. Mushers have drowned, shot, bludgeoned and dragged many dogs to death. For example, Iditarod musher Dave Olesen drowned a litter of newborn puppies. Another musher got rid of unwanted puppies by tying them in a bag and tossing the bag in a creek. Mushers even have a saying about not breeding dogs unless they can drown them: “Those who cannot drown should not breed.”

    Terrible things happen to dogs during the Iditarod. This includes: death, bloody diarrhea, paralysis, frostbite (where it hurts the most!), bleeding ulcers, lung damage, pneumonia, ruptured discs, viral diseases, kennel cough, broken bones, torn muscles and extreme stress. At least 143 dogs have died in the race, including four dogs who froze to death in the brutal cold.

    Veterinary care during the Iditarod is poor. In the 2012 race, one of Lance Mackey’s male dogs ripped out all of his 16 toenails trying to get to a female who was in heat. This type of broken toenail is extremely painful. Mackey, a four-time Iditarod winner, said he was too stubborn to leave this dog at a checkpoint and veterinarians allowed Mackey to continue to race him. Imagine the agony the dog was forced to endure.

    Here’s another example: Veterinarians have allowed dogs with kennel cough to race in the Iditarod even though dogs with this disease should be kept warm and given lots of rest. Strenuous exercise can cause lung damage, pneumonia and even death. To make matters worse, kennel cough is a highly contagious disease that normally lasts from 10 to 21 days.

    Iditarod dogs endure brutal training. Jeanne Olson, who has been a veterinarian in Alaska since 1988, confirmed the brutality used by mushers training dogs for the Iditarod. She talked about dogs having cracked ribs, broken jaws or skulls from mushers using two-by-fours for punishment. In an article published by the University of Alaska, Dr. Olson said, “There are mushers out there whose philosophy is…that if that dog acts up I will hit that dog to the point where it would rather die than do what it did, ’cause the next time it is gonna die.’”

    Jane Stevens, a former Iditarod dog handler, describes a dog beating in her letter published by the Whitehorse Star (Feb. 23, 2011). She wrote: “I witnessed the extremely violent beating of an Iditarod racing dog by one of the racing industry’s most high-profile top 10 mushers. Be assured the beating was clearly not within an ‘acceptable range’ of ‘discipline’. Indeed, the scene left me appalled, sick and shocked. After viewing an individual sled dog repeatedly booted with full force, the male person doing the beating jumping back and forth like a pendulum with his full body weight to gain full momentum and impact. He then alternated his beating technique with full-ranging, hard and fast, closed-fist punches like a piston to the dog as it was held by its harness splayed onto the ground. He then staggeringly lifted the dog by the harness with two arms above waist height, then slammed the dog into the ground with full force, again repeatedly, all of this repeatedly.”

    During the 2007 race, eyewitnesses reported that musher Ramy Brooks kicked, punched and beat his dogs with a ski pole and a chain. Jon Saraceno wrote in his column in USA Today, “He [Colonel Tom Classen] confirmed dog beatings and far worse. Like starving dogs to maintain their most advantageous racing weight. Skinning them to make mittens. Or dragging them to their death.”

    Jim Welch says in his book Speed Mushing Manual, “Nagging a dog team is cruel and ineffective…A training device such as a whip is not cruel at all but is effective.” He also said, “It is a common training device in use among dog mushers…” Former Iditarod dog handler Mike Cranford wrote in Alaska’s Bush Blade Newspaper: “Dogs are clubbed with baseball bats and if they don’t pull are dragged to death in harnesses…..”

    FOR MORE FACTS: Sled Dog Action Coalition, http://helpsleddogs.org

  24. Hey SledDogAction,

    If you want to get your story out, buy an ad. This is not the place for your propaganda.

  25. I’m a life-long Alaskan and have followed the Iditarod for most of my adult life. It is a pleasure to see such a well written and informative article by Paul Driessen on a website that I enjoy so much.

    I must admit that it’s no surprise to see that Ms. Glickman of the Sled Dog Action Coalition has stopped in to paste her very one-sided activist view on the Iditarod. She claims that all of her information is verifiable, but what is missing is logic, perspective, and critical thought.

    For instance, she claims that that Iditarod dogs suffer cruelty every day of their lives, and then refers to the killing of puppies. Unless a dog runs the Iditarod, it isn’t an Iditarod dog. Perhaps her energies would be better spent raising awareness of the policies of the US Humane Society, PETA and the ASPCA regarding the wonton killing of pets in animal shelters?

    She claims, perhaps correctly, that 143 dogs have died during 40 years of Iditarod racing. What is missing is perspective; over 30,000 dogs have run this race. If the average race is 17 days, and the average age of this breed is 12 years, they are racing .4% of their life in a race with a .5% mortality rate.

    It is in this same spirit that she discusses a handful of mushers out of a population 0f 900 who have completed the race, or the slip ups in the generally superb veterinary care provided. In the past their website stated that mushers have even eaten their dogs! Oh my! But the actual reference relates to not Iditarod, native mushers talking about survival strategies in worse case scenarios.

    These dogs are thrilled to race, and are unique in the entire canine world in their ability and endurance. Almost all mushers at the level required to compete in the Iditarod respect their dogs immensely. They aren’t pets, but they are partners.

    • The Sled Dog Action Coalition website, http://helpsleddogs.org, is filled with facts. The website has a huge number of quotes that testify about the cruel treatment the dogs receive. And, yes, the dogs are abused daily because they are forced to live on 4 to 5 foot chains. Iditarod dog handlers have reported that dogs who don’t make the main teams are never taken off their chains. Because tethering is cruel to dogs, it has been banned or severely restricted in jurisdictions across the United States.

      The Iditarod is fueled by greed. Check out http://helpsleddogs.org/the-harsh-reality/greed-fuels-the-iditarod/

      People who love their dogs don’t force them to run in the Iditarod, a race with a long, well-documented history of dog deaths, illnesses an injuries.

      People with commonsense understand that dogs can’t run 1,000 miles over a grueling terrain without suffering greatly.

  26. People who see the world through a lens of activism lose touch with reality. For every anecdote that you provide, I could likely provide an exact counter. The truth is most likely somewhere in between these extremes. Activists are unable to acknowledge the ground truth.

    Objective people who have watched these dogs race see that these dogs are enthusiastic about racing. They would see that the Iditarod would be a poor choice for a method to make money. They would acknowledge that most sled dogs do not live the lives of pets. This truth dates back to the genesis of the sled dog, one of man’s oldest breeds.

  27. Can you provide a link to Dr. Jeanne Olson’s article referenced in your post? Thank you in advance.

  28. I observe that…
    Margery Glickman says:
    January 21, 2014 at ==>12:28 pm
    All the information on the Sled Dog Action Coalition website, http://helpsleddogs.org is correct and verifiable.

    Then….
    sleddogaction says:
    January 21, 2014 at ==>12:30 pm
    All the information on the Sled Dog Action Coalition website, http://helpsleddogs.org is correct and verifiable.

    And then..
    Stark Dickflüssig, passing by notes:
    January 21, 2014 at 12:49 pm
    sleddogaction/Margery Glickman, you know you’re in violation of site policy by posting under multiple names. You should be banned.

    To which..
    sleddogaction replies:
    January 21, 2014 at 12:56 pm
    You are living in la-la-land. I am not posting under multiple names.

    Leaving me to.. ROTFLMAO!

  29. sleddogaction says: January 21, 2014 at 10:14 am

    Terrible things happen to dogs during the Iditarod. This includes: death, bloody diarrhea, paralysis, frostbite (where it hurts the most!), bleeding ulcers, lung damage, pneumonia, ruptured discs, viral diseases, kennel cough, broken bones, torn muscles and extreme stress. At least 143 dogs have died in the race, including four dogs who froze to death in the brutal cold.

    Veterinary care during the Iditarod is poor. In the 2012 race, one of Lance Mackey’s male dogs ripped out all of his 16 toenails trying to get to a female who was in heat.

    Well sleddy, since 1996 a dead dog, unless the cause of the dog’s death is an “external force beyond the musher’s control such as a moose or snowmachine, means you [are] out of the race, I don’t think the mushers are going around beating and killing these racing dogs. http://www.spokesman.com/stories/1996/may/06/iditarod-appeals-board-clears-swenson-raps-dead/

    As for a female in heat, as posted above 5 time champ Jeff King told his story about the same situation happening. Tried to put her in the lead and get the male pack to chase her, but she just stopped and let them catch her. Had to ride in the sled under cover to the next rest station, where she was sent home.

    Your stories are not believable, with out healthy dogs the racers are at the mercy of the conditions and would be dead. There is a reason they call it a team.

  30. sleddogaction says:….
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    What utter crap. No one in their right mind is going to abuse a valuable animal and these dogs are valuable animals.

    You train animals with firmness and kindness and the best trainers can literally read their animal’s mind. Anyone who has trained animals as I have knows cruelty gives you a completely unreliable animal and rehibilitating an abused animal can take years. These people make no money at this sport so only those who love dogs and love the sport are involved.

    If you want to do something useful sleddogaction go after the illegal dog fighting. In my state it is a major problem. But of course it can be risky to your health which is probably why you are harassing honorable people instead.

  31. Dr. Jeanne Olson’s clinic is about 2 miles from my home. I will ask her if she feels that her position is accurately portrayed by your website.

    On a tangent, for those who haven’t visited Ms. Glickman’s website, she asserts that “Mushers killed and ate their dogs”. When one considers man’s long affiliation with sled dogs, and the nature of life in the arctic and sub-arctic, her assertion is likely true, just as it is statistically insignificant. Have no fear, Iditarod mushers usually try to avoid eating their dogs.

    For what it’s worth, I served in the Alaska Army National Guard for 24 years, many of these as an Infantry Scout. I have firsthand experience with cold camps day after day in the sort of conditions these mushers race in. Crawling out of a relatively warm sleeping bag and putting on cold boots is just an example of the small challenges they face on the trail. Feeding all of the dogs, putting on the dog booties, harnessing a team in the dark…I have a great deal of respect for the basic human effort of existing on the trail. I dream of what it must be like to stand on the runners as a team pulls me beneath the Northern Lights.

    I encourage anyone with an interest in this great event go to the official website and subscribe as an “insider”. The organizers have built a great website, and insiders support the last great race while receiving access to unique content. I’ll be following the race map and insider videos again this year.

  32. Many Iditarod mushers have more than 80 dogs. At one time Iditarod co-founder Joe Reddington had more than 600 dogs. Do you think mushers can afford even routine veterinary care for their dogs? Lance Mackey’s dog Zorro was valuable to him. Yet Zorro lived a sad life at the end of chain, outside in temperatures that were well below zero. That’s bone chilling cold that causes dogs painful frostbite.

    Iditarod mushers aren’t heroes. They sit or lie down on their sleds and sometimes sleep while running their dogs into the ground. The dogs are the athletes.

    LEARN how dogs suffer during the Iditarod: http://helpsleddogs.org/the-harsh-reality/dog-injuries-sicknesses-and-extreme-stress/

  33. Margery Glickman says: @ January 22, 2014 at 8:52 am

    Many Iditarod mushers have more than 80 dogs….
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    Big deal, I have had over 100 animals at one time and have not one but three vets I use. I currently have 72 animals and have just spend well over a 1,000 treating illnesses in just the last month or so. Several of my friends have more animals than I do.

    • Jenna Stregowski, RVT, said on about.com that people should budget about $500-1000 per year for routine veterinary costs, and that does not include preventive medications or supplements.
      With 72 dogs you’d need to budget between $36,000 to $72,000 just for routine veterinary care. When dogs are sick or injured, veterinary care can be sky-high. The vast majority of people don’t have the money to pay for the care needed by 72 dogs.

      [Second warning Glickman: Pick ONE login_id and ONE email address and use it. Stop using multiple id's with the same email. Mod]

  34. Your website states that “81 percent of the dogs who finish the Iditarod have lung damage” If you look at the study, it is interesting to note that the control group (Alaskan race Huskys who hadn’t been run in two weeks), showed no abnormal accumulations of mucus or cell debris in their lungs.

    What you portray as “lung damage” appears to be a normal, reversable physiological response in sled dogs.

    http://www.atsjournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1164/rccm.200112-142BC

    “It’s worse than we thought”

  35. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=pubmed&dopt=Abstract&list_uids=15692332

    1: Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2005 Feb;37(2):337-41.

    Effect of training and rest on respiratory mechanical properties in racing sled dogs.

    Davis M, Williamson K, McKenzie E, Royer C, Payton M, Nelson S.

    Department of Physiological Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK 74078, USA. msdavis@okstate.edu

    INTRODUCTION: Racing Alaskan sled dogs develop exercise-induced airway inflammation, similar to that reported for elite human athletes participating in cold-weather sports. These human athletes also have airway hyperresponsiveness, but airway function in sled dogs has not been measured. PURPOSE: To compare respiratory mechanical properties in trained, rested Alaskan sled dogs with typical laboratory hounds, and to determine whether subsequent training alters respiratory mechanical properties. METHODS: Nineteen healthy adult Alaskan sled dogs were compared with five healthy adult mixed-breed laboratory hounds. All dogs were rested for at least 4 months before examination. Respiratory mechanical properties were measured while the dogs were anesthetized and ventilated with a piston ventilator. The mean respiratory resistance and compliance measurements for 20 consecutive breaths were used as baseline values immediately before measurement of respiratory reactivity. Respiratory reactivity was the mean of 20 consecutive breaths immediately after the administration of aerosol histamine, expressed as the percentage change in prehistamine measurements. After the initial examinations, the sled dogs were divided into exercised and controls. Exercised dogs were trained for competitive endurance racing. Both groups were examined after 2 and 4 months of training. RESULTS: Alaskan sled dogs had greater respiratory compliance reactivity to histamine (77.47 +/- 8.58% baseline) compared with laboratory dogs (87.60 +/- 9.22% baseline). There was no effect of training on respiratory mechanical properties detected in racing sled dogs. CONCLUSIONS: Racing Alaskan sled dogs have airway dysfunction similar to “ski asthma” that persists despite having 4 months of rest. These findings suggest that repeated exercise in cold conditions can lead to airway disease that does not readily resolve with cessation of exercise.

    [Second warning Glickman: Pick ONE login_id and ONE email address and use it. Stop using multiple id's with the same email. Mod]

  36. Ms. Glickman, I thought you claimed that greed drove the Iditarod, but here you claim that mushers can’t afford vet care. Do you see this as logical?

    Also, would you care to comment on the observation that the control group of this study shows no lung damage, yet you claim on your website that “81% of the dogs had lung damage”? What do you think of the possibility that sled dogs use the accumulation of mucus in the lungs as a protective measure to deal with extreme cold?

    • 1. Regarding my email address: I am consistently using one email address. The problem is with the program this blog uses.

      2. In saying that the Iditarod is fueled by greed, I am saying that people and cities are motivated by an intense and selfish desire for money, publicity, and, in some cases power. Someone can be motivated by an intense desire for money, for example, but that doesn’t mean they earn or bring in a lot of money. Even if a musher with 72 dogs earns $100,000 after taxes, will he/she spend between $36,000 and $72,000 a year alone on routine veterinary care?

      3. I will report what the studies say. The one I published above from Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2005 Feb;37(2):337-41 had the following CONCLUSIONS: “Racing Alaskan sled dogs have airway dysfunction similar to “ski asthma” that persists despite having 4 months of rest. These findings suggest that repeated exercise in cold conditions can lead to airway disease that does not readily resolve with cessation of exercise.”

  37. It makes me wonder how my huskies would test compared to the “adult mixed-breed laboratory hounds” control group. Rose is a rescued sled dog, Annie has been a pet all of her life. Both love to frolic outside until it reaches about -40°F. Our beagle on the other hand wastes no time outside once it gets below zero.

    It’s also interesting that the 2002 study on sled dogs show no gross long term damage to racing sled dog’s lungs, but this study notes decreased lung function. It is also interesting that this breed is able to continue to perform amazing feats of athletic endurance with decreased lung function. The dog teams that I’ve seen finish the Yukon Quest, considered a tougher race than the Iditarod and of similar distance, and often much, much colder, seem to recover normal breathing almost as soon as they stop after the finish line.

    Perhaps a better control group would be dogs of the same breed from the same region who haven’t been used as sled dogs.

  38. Michael Kinville says: @ January 22, 2014 at 8:51 pm

    ….such colder, seem to recover normal breathing almost as soon as they stop after the finish line.

    Perhaps a better control group would be dogs of the same breed from the same region who haven’t been used as sled dogs.
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    You are of course correct.

    As we have seen repeatedly ‘studies’ are used all the time by activists ‘to prove’ a pre-selected conclusion.

    I have been looking at the ‘studies’ on carbohydrates. I consider under 30 grams of carbs a day as a “Lo carb” diet. Some of the studies I have seen use 300 carbs. (One teaspoon of sugar has 4 grams of carbohydrate.) so that is 75 teaspoons of sugar vs 7.5. Some how I do not see 75 teaspoons of sugar as ‘low carb’

    Research has also shown questionable studies are rather thick on the ground.
    How Many Scientists Fabricate and Falsify Research? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Survey Data

    A pooled weighted average of 1.97% of scientists admitted to have fabricated, falsified or modified data or results at least once –a serious form of misconduct by any standard– and up to 33.7% admitted other questionable research practices. In surveys asking about the behaviour of colleagues, admission rates were 14.12% for falsification, and up to 72% for other questionable research practices….

    That is really sad.

    Science News: from universities, journals, and other research organizations US Scientists Significantly More Likely to Publish Fake Research, Study Finds

  39. I agree with Margery who says
    People with commonsense understand that dogs can’t run 1,000 miles over a grueling terrain without suffering greatly.

    I especially agree with her because it is getting so much cooler up there, in Alaska

    Cannot we postpone this silly race by a month or so?>
    because of the cold?

  40. Ms. Glickman, I find your statement above on greed not only illogical, but it’s offensive. You solely attribute motivation to race or support the race to greed. If you look at the musher’s stories, their motivation is as diverse as their backgrounds. At the elite level, a desire to win and a need to push personal boundaries are common. Long term, highly successful mushers may earn $400k over a lifetime…hardly enough financial incentive to endure the pain and effort required. As to fame, I doubt one in ten readers of this post can name a single Iditarod musher. The other 90% of the mushers will never break even with race winnings.

    As to community greed, perhaps Anchorage has cold hard cash as a main reason for supporting the Iditarod, but as a citizen of Anchorage for 13 years, I can tell you than many who live there love the city’s association with the race. I doubt that you can attribute greed to Shageluk, Kaltag or Nulato or the 13 or so other villages that the race runs through. These villages live for this race.

    You look at a musher who is injured in the race who continues on as a villain, I see something heroic. You see the evacuation by air of dogs dropped from the race as criminal, I see it as the result of the care and respect for the dogs, done by unpaid volunteers flying in dangerous conditions. You see a husky’s need to pull as something exploited by callous greedy glory hounds, I see it as the beautiful culmination of 10,000 years of breeding and association with man.

    • You are entitled to you own opinions about the Iditarod and its mushers. However, you should not misstate what I said. I have never, ever said that it’s criminal to evacuate dropped dogs by air. I think the manner in which dogs are carried in small planes is abusive. It is outrageous that Alaska law does not require pilots to carry emergency gear or food for the dogs. The small planes that carry the dogs have crashed.

  41. I apologize for mischaracterizing what you said was “Sick, injured and tired dropped dogs are crammed into a small airplane. The dogs are not properly secured and can be injured by turbulence, to which a small plane is especially vulnerable”.

    I also see that you state in bold “Aliy Zirkle’s dog Nacho injured by foxtail:” In the smaller text below (in the description of her excellent animal husbandry) “Maybe it was a foxtail.” This would appear to be a sort of slight of hand on your part.

    • OK. I’ll add “was very likely.” Aliy Zirkle raced dogs in the Iditarod who had kennel cough. Dogs with this disease are supposed to rest and stay warm. Many people would say racing these sick dogs is bad animal husbandry.

  42. Aily Zirckle is a biology major, and has won the Iditarod’s Humanitarian Award twice. She is renowned for her care of her dogs. For your information, animal husbandry relates to the breeding and care of animals to support human goals. As a winner of the Yukon Quest and having placed 2nd in the Iditarod twice, clearly she is a master of animal husbandry.

    While you acknowledging errors on your website, perhaps you can retract your statement that “Iditarod dog study wastes tax dollars”, as the study you reference actually is focused on maintaining the health of military working dogs under stress, an area of study already recognized in relation to the canine athletes involved in running the Iditarod?

  43. Here’s another correction that could be made. You state “Iditarod won’t commit to punishing drug and alcohol users”.

    Later, on the same page, you state “Juneau musher Matt Giblin has been stripped of his 38th-place finish in the 2012 Iditarod after testing positive for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, race officials said Thursday.”

    “An appeals board found that the veteran racer must repay the $1,049 he earned for finishing this year’s race, said Race Marshal Mark Nordman.”

  44. So actually stripping someone of their place in the race and forcing them to repay their winnings isn’t as good as “making a commitment”?

    BTW, your website states catagorically, in bold no less, that “Training creates negative metabolic and physiological imbalances:”, but beneath that, in much smaller print, lets us know that the condition “…may reflect the immunosuppressive or catabolic effects of intense endurance training.”

    Dr. Erica McKenzie stated in a grant application that “The cause and prevalence of this phenomenon and the specific globulin fractions affected (immunoglobulins A, E, G, and M) are currently unknown.” (http://www.akcchf.org/research/fundedresearch/0883.html#sthash.tqfsbCUG.dpuf)

    Is it possible that you’ve overstated the certainty that training creates negative metabolic and physiological imbalances?

    • Sadly, you still don’t get it. A commitment is a promise. The Iditarod hasn’t promised to punish drug and alcohol users. I’m not going to respond to distortions of medical studies. A grant appllcation is just that: A grant application.

  45. Ms. Glickman, I do get it. The Iditarod actually punishes drug users, but you won’t be happy until they “promise” to do what they are already doing.

    As to “distortions of medical studies”, carefully look at what you have posted on your website. The study YOU posted states that training MAY have an effect on the dog’s immune system, yet you proclaim that it DOES have an effect.

    Another helpful hint for your website. Under the “cruel dog training” page it states that “Dogs lost in unforgiving wilderness”, and attempts to support that claim by noting that a musher lost a dog in Fairbanks. So you know, Fairbanks is Alaska’s 2nd largest city. It may not be much by your standards, but we’re proud of it, and it can hardly be classified as “wilderness”.

  46. Ms. Glickman, your website asks the question “How many Iditarod sled dogs died because they were tethered by the neck and forced to tread water for 45 minutes or more?”, but doesn’t offer a place to submit a guess. Allow me a chance; 0?

  47. Allow me to help you again Ms. Glickman. Your website states “Diseased and injured mushers are allowed to race dogs in the Iditarod. Mushers are not even required to have medical examinations before the Iditarod begins. If a musher had a heart attack, the dogs would starve to death in the unforgiving wilderness.”

    The sleds in the Iditarod, and in the Yukon Quest for that matter, are fitted with GPS transponders, and if a musher becomes disabled, race organizers would send rescue parties to the exact location of the troubled musher. Dogs wouldn’t have time to “starve”.

    • Veterinary care of the dogs during the Iditarod is poor.

      FACTS: http://helpsleddogs.org/the-harsh-reality/poor-veterinary-care/ .

      In the 2012 race, one of Lance Mackey’s male dogs ripped out all of his 16 toenails trying to get to a female who was in heat. This type of broken toenail is extremely painful. Mackey, a four-time Iditarod winner, said he was too stubborn to leave this dog at a checkpoint and veterinarians allowed Mackey to continue to race him. Imagine the agony the dog was forced to endure.
      Here’s another example: Veterinarians have allowed dogs with kennel cough to race in the Iditarod even though dogs with this disease should be kept warm and given lots of rest. Strenuous exercise can cause lung damage, pneumonia and even death. To make matters worse, kennel cough is a highly contagious disease that normally lasts from 10 to 21 days.

      The Iditarod’s chief veterinarian, Stu Nelson, is an employee of the Iditarod Trail Committee. They are the ones who sign his paycheck. So, do you expect that he’s going to say anything negative about the Iditarod?

  48. You are right to be skeptical of information from an employee of the Iditarod. A wise person will critically consider information with an eye for bias while attempting to remain open to new viewpoints. That said, it is poor policy to dismiss information out of hand strictly based on who is offering it.

    Elsewhere on Mr. Watt’s excellent site, Mr. Andy West writes about the social phenomenon of CAGW, and discusses “motivated reasoning, noble cause corruption and confirmation bias”. Lengthy review of your website and your responses to me in this discussion leads me to believe that you have fallen prey to these mental traps

    I have no doubt that there is accurate information on your website, but I find it nearly impossible to separate the nuggets of truth from gross distortions that permeate the rest of it.

  49. Ms. Glickman, another correction for your website…

    Your website is outdated, as it heavily emphasizes obsolete policy from 2005, which could be categorized as “don’t ask, don’t tell”.

    Current protocol; “Immediately following the gross necropsy, the Race Marshal will notify the musher of the results and will issue a press release containing the findings and the circumstances of the death” http://iditarod.com/race/rules/

  50. Ms. Glickman, can you assure me that you aren’t lying by omission? Your website states that “Statistics tell sad stories; Dogs who couldn’t make it across the finish line:”, and goes on to state “We are rarely told what happened to these dogs.”

    For those not aware, mushers plan the composition and number of dogs they will bring to a race based on long experience. The start of the race is characterized by heavier and wetter snow than is found down the trail, and mountain passes in the Alaska Range are climbed early in the race. These factors require a larger team than is needed later in the race. Mushers drop off dogs that are no longer needed, not able to maintain the pace of the rest of the team, or are injured at manned checkpoints. Race vets are also able to direct specific dogs to be dropped due to health concerns. In an amazing feat of wilderness logistics, volunteers in the “Iditarod Air Force” fly these dogs to collection points, where they are cared for and evaluated, and if needed, treated by volunteer veterinarians. This process is normal, and unless something unusual happens it is not noteworthy enough to report what “happened to these dogs.”

    I would imagine Ms. Glickman that you are aware of this. I have seen you post about dog deaths, and with no segue, list the percentage of dogs who “fail to complete the race”. Are you intentionally trying to create false assumptions?

  51. Ms. Glickman, would you be so kind as to share the name of the article referenced on your website that quoted Dr. Jeanne Olson?

    A friend conducted a JSTOR search at the Rasmussen library at the University of Alaska and searched UAF Press and didn’t find anything regarding Dr. Olson. Thank you in advance.

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