Alaska has always been known for The Iditarod, attracting both local and out of state visitors of the sport spectacle. The Iditarod is a sled dog race that consists of mushing a team of 12-16 dogs across 1,150 miles of Alaskan terrain, usually taking place over 10-17 days. The race has a historic past in Alaska due to the 1925 diphtheria epidemic in Nome, Alaska. As the disease spread, the Iditarod trail and sled dogs were used to deliver serum to the community.
In the 2009 Iditarod, it was reported that six dogs had died during or shortly after the race due to various causes, the highest number of dog deaths reported since the 1997 race. Two of the dogs died due to fluid accumulation in their lungs, two are believed to have died from hypothermia, while another dog died shortly after her team had been dropped from the race and flown out of the area by plane. With the death of so many dogs, the Iditarod has faced increased criticism.
PETA is currently running a campaign against the treatment of Iditarod racing dogs. PETA argues the Iditarod is a form of animal cruelty and that dogs suffer a great amount of physical health issues due to the race. PETA also cites several cases where dogs have been mistreated during the off season by not being fed properly,not receiving adequate shelter, or in some cases not receiving needed medical treatment. Furthermore, PETA offers opinions of several sports journalists who disagree with the sport’s practices. PETA has also targeted companies that finically support the Iditarod in hopes of convincing them terminate sponsorship.
If the Iditarod wants to be seen as a race with historical and traditional backgrounds in the Alaskan community, public relations action is needed. The deaths of the dogs must be addressed head on and special attention must given to the fact that the Iditarod has a cultural, traditional, and historical importance in Alaska and in no way are the deaths of dogs regarded as acceptable or “just part of the sport.” Special attention should also be given to the key message that veterinarians are placed at every checkpoint along the trail to examine race dogs on a regular basis to detect and prevent health problems. According to the Anchorage Daily News, Chas St. George, director of public relations for the Iditarod, stated “our goal is no deaths,” he says. “There is nothing worse than to lose a dog, and we are all very sad about the losses.”
The 2010 Iditarod began March 5th this year in Anchorage, Alaska, no dog deaths have been reported.
– Kyla Morris