Every Year A Dog Dies

The Resource for Everything About Dogs

Every Year A Dog Dies

by Kirsten Frisch

Every year during the Iditarod, the infamous Alaskan long distance dog race, at least one dog dies.

This 1000 mile long distance race has been under attack for the past few years, but what is the real issue?

Is it the death of a dog? Is it the distance of the race? Often, when we see pictures of a dog team we see a the dog driver (musher) riding behind the sled. We imagine during a 1000 mile race they just hook up the dogs, stand on the dog sled, and wait for the finish line to appear.


Mushing is hard work, and it demands hours and hours of training time. In reality, very few mushers actually run the the long distance races. Training for a long distance race is a full time job. If you mush dogs full time you still need to make money. Many mushers juggle training AND a full time job. Any parent can relate to that hefty schedule.

If mushers are just real people juggling life like the rest of us, how could they make their dogs run a 1000 mile race?

Why climb a mountain? Sure, people die climbing mountains all the time, but they chose to climb the mountain right? They were responsible for their own death.

Yes and No.

It all boils down to choices. Humans are not an island, and we do not climb mountains alone. When a person dies climbing a mountain there was a moment when a choice was made. The choice to fly to base camp. The choice to climb regardless of the sketchy weather report. The choice to take a step before your partner yells on belay. These choices can kill you and your climbing team, or not.

Mushing is a form of mountain climbing. Mushers are constantly making survival choices on the trail. Usually, experience and knowledge will lead a musher to the right choice and nothing happens. Other times the same choice can lead to death. Sometimes a dog dies in the process, sometimes a human, sometimes both.

You can lead horse to water...

Or a sled dog to the trail. The truth is, you just cannot make a dog run a long distance race if they do not want to. Have you ever tried to make a dog do something they do not want to do? Veterinarians use chemical restraint for this because it is not easy. There will always be a dog driver who tries to buck the system, and sometimes they even finish the race in a top position, but it is not the majority. Do you know anyone who gets ahead by spamming the system? We all know of someone.

Let's do the math. If 100 racers enter the Iditarod, and each of those racers has a team of 14 dogs, that makes 1400 dogs leaving the starting lineup. If 1 dog dies during the race that means 0.07% of dogs die each year during the Iditarod. According to SPOT (Atlanta Animal Shelter Statistics), Atlanta area shelters kill 87,000 dogs and cats each year. The dog kill rate is 52.7%.

Until we lower the statistics of animals shelters, the Iditarod is just a distraction.

Spay or Neuter your pet.

Kirsten Frisch has worked with sled dogs for over 8 years. She has handled dogs in Alaska for mid and long distance races such as the Copper Basin 300 and Yukon Quest 1000 mile race. Her background also includes Veterinary Technician, sled dog rescue and foster, artist, and traveller. You can learn more about Kirsten and sled dogs at http://www.alaskan-husky-behavior.com/

Kirsten Frisch - EzineArticles Expert Author

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