Thursday, January 28, 2010

Dreams of dog sledding

As a fifth grade student, I remember learning about the Iditarod.
My teacher was definitely a smart lady. The Iditarod is intrinsically interesting to kids — think: the many kid friendly dog-sled movies out there, especially the 1995 cartoon movie Balto depicting the heroic beginnings of the Iditarod race.
Balto is the famed dog credited with saving the Alaskan town of Nome in 1925 after its residents were stricken with Diphtheria and there was no way to get the life-saving medicine to the town except for dog sled teams.
Dog sled teams covered the 1,150 miles between Anchorage and Nome to deliver the supplies. The event is now memorialized every year by the Iditarod race (this year’s race starts March 6), where dog sled teams from all over the world come to compete.
A dog lover even without a dog at home to love, my fifth grade self was mesmerized by dreams of traversing the cold tundra on only a sled led by a team of dogs.
These are dreams I have not quite given up.
No, I have no plans to ever become seriously involved in dog sledding nor do I wish to ever partake in such an arduous journey like the Iditarod. I don’t really like cold weather and as such, I don’t think it’d be a good event for me.
Also, I don’t really want a whole team of Huskies. Maybe a Malamute or two, perhaps one Husky, but definitely not a whole team of them.
I do tend to think that one day, though, if I can just make my dreams of living on a large piece of property in Northern Michigan come true (isn’t that everyone’s dream around here?), I can teach my own eclectic group of dogs to pull me on a sled.
Perhaps it would be better to say my one or two Malamutes and Husky can teach the rest of my dogs to pull me on a sled.
Anyway, I just think it’d be fun to ride around on a sled being pulled by my dogs and at the same time, it’d probably be great exercise and a great outlet for the dogs.
But you’ve got to start somewhere and I haven’t ever even seen a real dog sled in person before.
That’s why you might just find me this weekend in downtown Rochester at E. Third and Water Streets, checking the dog sled demonstrations and maybe even taking a ride on a dog sled.
The demonstration is part of this weekend’s Fire & Ice Winter Festival. The festival is taking place Friday and Saturday but the dog sled teams will be out only from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday.
A coworker told me he took a ride on one of the dog sleds one year and it was pretty cool. I can only imagine and I hope to find out!
Read a story all about the Fire & Ice Festival by clicking here. To visit the county's Web site for more information about the festival, click here.


  1. For the dogs, the Iditarod is a bottomless pit of suffering. Six dogs died in the 2009 Iditarod, including two dogs on Dr. Lou Packer's team who froze to death in the brutally cold winds. What happens to the dogs during the race includes death, paralysis, frostbite (where it hurts the most!), bleeding ulcers, bloody diarrhea, lung damage, pneumonia, ruptured discs, viral diseases, broken bones, torn muscles and tendons and sprains. At least 142 dogs have died in the race.

    During training runs, Iditarod dogs have been killed by moose, snowmachines, and various motor vehicles, including a semi tractor and an ATV. They have died from drowning, heart attacks and being strangled in harnesses. Dogs have also been injured while training. They have been gashed, quilled by porcupines, bitten in dog fights, and had broken bones, and torn muscles and tendons. Most dog deaths and injuries during training aren't even reported.

    On average, 52 percent of the dogs who start the race do not make it across the finish line. According to a report published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, of those who do finish, 81 percent have lung damage. A report published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine said that 61 percent of the dogs who complete the Iditarod have ulcers versus zero percent pre-race.

    Iditarod dog kennels are puppy mills. Mushers breed large numbers of dogs and routinely kill unwanted ones, including puppies. Many dogs who are permanently disabled in the Iditarod, or who are unwanted for any reason, including those who have outlived their usefulness, are killed with a shot to the head, dragged, drowned or clubbed to death. "Dogs are clubbed with baseball bats and if they don't pull are dragged to death
    in harnesses......" wrote former Iditarod dog handler Mike Cranford in an article for Alaska's Bush Blade Newspaper.

    Dog beatings and whippings are common. During the 2007 Iditarod, eyewitnesses reported that musher Ramy Brooks kicked, punched and beat his dogs with a ski pole and a chain. 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." "It is a common training device in use among dog mushers..."

    Jon Saraceno wrote in his March 3, 2000 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."

    During the race, veterinarians do not give the dogs physical exams at every checkpoint. Mushers speed through many checkpoints, so the dogs get the briefest visual checks, if that. Instead of pulling sick dogs from the race, veterinarians frequently give them massive doses of antibiotics to keep them running.

    Most Iditarod dogs are forced to live at the end of a chain when they aren't hauling people around. It has been reported that dogs who don't make the main team are never taken off-chain. Chained dogs have been attacked by wolves, bears and other animals. Old and arthritic dogs suffer terrible pain in the blistering cold.

    The Iditarod, with all the evils associated with it, has become a synonym for exploitation. The race imposes torture no dog should be forced to endure.

    Margery Glickman
    Sled Dog Action Coalition,

  2. Wow, I've never heard such criticisms of dog sledding before. I suppose I've never done much heavy research into the matter either.

    To clarify, if I were to train dogs to pull a sled around my yard, it would be done through positive reward training. And, if it turned out not to be a physical outlet that was psychologically beneficial for my dogs, I wouldn't do it.

    I encourage everyone to treat their dogs humanely, first and foremost. Secondly, I encourage everyone to find activities for their dogs that are beneficial physically and psychologically.

  3. You are right, Karen, about your teacher! She was a smart lady! She was using the race as a theme to engage the students in learning--- not 'just' learning about the race, either, but learning as in practicing skills in reading, researching, writing, and so forth. Your teacher was a smart lady. She isn't alone, 10,000 plus teachers each year, in all 50 states, and in many other countries, use the race with students as a way to encourage the students to practice those basic skills that they are to learn! Your teacher was a smart lady because she inspired you to dream and to think... and helped you develop your own set of interests. She must have even inspired you to write -- who knows, perhaps 'following the race' helped develop those journalism skills that were within you! Your teacher was a smart lady! I don't know her name, I have no other clues about her, but I know she was smart because you -- one of the students-- recognized that yourself and because she used a unique theme--- Iditarod--- and dog mushing--- to enhance classroom learning. Your smart teacher also knew you'd have the intellect, the knowledge base, and the common sense to sort through propaganda such as was posted on your blog before my post. Your teacher knew you'd grow up to understand that special interest groups might misrepresent information and facts --- and overshadow truth. Your teacher knew that you'd think through it all on your own and develop your own opinion about the things that caught your attention or interest. Your teacher was a smart lady and a great teacher. You were lucky to have had her!

  4. Hi Karen,

    I just stumbled onto this post. Thanks for sharing your dream. Originally, I am from Jackson Michigan, and I shared the same dream also when I was a kid. Today, I have been blessed in realizing this dream. It is a “pretty cool” experience like your coworker had mentioned and I would never exchange my dream for any other. Yet, the first comment from the dog sled coalition spun mushing with quite a negative light, and I hope it doesn’t dampen your spirit about dog sledding. After 27 years of dog sledding in Alaska, I believe sled dogs are some of the best treated animals in the world. Where else are dogs praised for feats of heroism and saving lives? Our Alaskan Malamutes are part of our family in every way. When I read about abused dogs it’s quite disturbing, and I hope the comment doesn’t change your opinion.

  5. To: alaskanmalamutes, I'm so glad you stumbled upon this blog entry! I think it's awesome that you're living out your dream. As for the negative comment, I'm sure there are some super-competitors who put winning before the health of their dogs. I'm also sure, however, that there are plenty of people who are in the sport because of the dogs and, like you, treat them as family members. I'm sure these are some of the luckiest dogs in the world. For a dog to be able to do the job it was bred to do in this day and age, where dog jobs have all but disappeared, is a wonderful thing. Kudos to you, your Malamutes and the rest of sled dog teams who are living out their dreams.