What Happens to Dogs at the Deadly Iditarod Will Leave You Outraged

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More than 230 dogs were pulled out of the 2019 Iditarod—likely because of exhaustionillness, or injury.

Inhaling their own vomit is the leading cause of death for dogs who die while running the race, and this condition killed a dog named Oshi in this year’s race and a dog named Blonde last year.

In late 2018 and early 2019, a PETA eyewitness worked at two dog kennels owned by former Iditarod champions and found widespread neglect and suffering.

Dogs were denied veterinary care for painful injuries, kept constantly chained next to dilapidated boxes and plastic barrels in the bitter cold, and forced to run even when they were exhausted and dehydrated.

1. Dog deaths in the Iditarod are so routine that the official rules call some of them an “Unpreventable Hazard.”

The Iditarod has killed more than 150 dogs since it began in 1973. Five died in 2017 alone.

In just the last five years, dogs competing in the event have died from myriad causes, including being hit by a car, being struck by a snowmobile, being buried in snow, heart attacks, excessive fluid in the lungs, and acute aspiration pneumonia—caused by inhaling vomit.

2. If the dogs don’t die on the trail, they’re still left permanently scarred.

Photo by Leigh Vogel

The American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine reported that more than 80 percent of the dogs who finish the Iditarod sustain persistent lung damage.

A separate study in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine showed that dogs forced to take part in endurance racing had a 61% higher rate of stomach erosions or ulcers.

3. There’s no retirement plan.

Photo of a dog chained up at a facility run by Joe Redington Jr., the son of Iditarod’s founder Joe Redington.

Breeders of dogs used in sledding have freely admitted that “surplus” dogs are killed.

They may be killed if they aren’t fast or fit enough for competition or if they don’t meet certain aesthetic standards—for example, if they have white paw pads.

Dogs who finish the race but are no longer useful to the industry may be shot, drowned, or abandoned to starve.

4. Dogs pull mushers’ sleds up to 100 miles a day.

During the race, they’re expected to run approximately 1,000 miles in less than two weeks, and race rules mandate only 40 hours of rest over the entire span of the race.

They’re prohibited from taking shelter during any part of the race, except for veterinary exams or treatment.

5. As many as half the dogs who start the Iditarod don’t finish.

Injured, sick, and exhausted dogs are often “dropped” at checkpoints, but event rules require that only dogs who started the race be allowed to finish, meaning that the remaining animals must work under even more grueling circumstances, pulling even more weight.

Photo of a dog at a kennel operated by former Iditarod champion Lance Mackey. In 2015, Mackey was given the Sportsmanship Award by his fellow mushers, despite two of his dogs dying from probable heart attacks during the race.

6. No dog would choose to run in this arctic nightmare.

Orthopedic injuries are the number one reason that dogs are “dropped” from the Iditarod—which makes it clear that no dog, regardless of breed, is capable of handling the grueling race on ice, through wind, snowstorms, and subzero temperatures. Even wearing booties, many incur bruised, cut, or swollen feet. They also suffer from bleeding stomach ulcers, pull or strain muscles, and sustain other injuries.

7. Thousands of dogs are bred each year for sled racing.

Dogs residing at a kennel run by 2017 Iditarod champion Mitch Seavey. These dogs are chained up with only a plastic barrel for shelter. 

While only a few dozen dogs raised for the race will ultimately be deemed fit enough to compete, many more will be kept tethered and chained for most of their lives, some with nothing more than dilapidated plastic crates as their shelter.

8. Dogs at sled-dog breeding compounds have died of numerous ailments.

Dog residing at a kennel run by 2017 Iditarod champion Mitch Seavey.

Some have frozen to death, while others have died of complications from eating rocks—presumably a result of the intense frustration of spending years on a chain.

Dogs Deserve Far Better Than a Lifetime of Isolation, Cruelty, Suffering, and Death on the Iditarod Trail

Urge The Odom Corporation to stop sponsoring the Iditarod. Once you take action, another alert targeting a different company affiliated with the deadly race will appear. Each time you click “Take Action,” another company sponsoring cruelty to dogs will get a letter from you asking it to stop.

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