What Happens to Dogs at the Deadly Iditarod Will Leave You Outraged
It’s been reported that in the first Iditarod race, at least 15 dogs died—and the body count has continued to pile up since then.
Other dogs barely make it out alive. Take 2021’s race: By the time it ended on March 18, nearly 200 dogs had been pulled off the trail because of exhaustion, illness, injury, and other causes, forcing the rest to work even harder. Musher Dallas Seavey—who has raced dogs who have tested positive for opioids, operates a kennel accused of killing dogs who didn’t make the grade, and owns property where a whistleblower reported finding dying puppies—finished first after four dogs he pushed beyond the breaking point had to be removed from the race. Musher Brenda Mackey admitted that she pulled out of the race after the dogs she forced to run suffered from “the most awful diarrhea I’ve ever seen,” violently vomited, and developed aspiration pneumonia, the leading cause of death for dogs in the Iditarod. And musher Martin Buser apparently put an injured dog back in the harness and forced him or her to continue racing.
Discover nine other reasons why the Iditarod is a deadly nightmare for dogs forced to race:
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 decade, dogs competing in the event have died from various causes, including asphyxiation, heart attacks, trauma from being struck by a vehicle, freezing to death, excess 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.
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. And in a paper in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise—the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine—researchers concluded that dogs used in sled races suffer from airway dysfunction similar to “ski asthma” (an asthma-like condition caused by intense exercise in cold weather), which persists even after four months of rest.
3. There’s no retirement plan.
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. Even when the race ends, dogs’ misery doesn’t.
A PETA eyewitness worked at two dog kennels owned by former Iditarod champions and found widespread neglect and suffering there. Dogs were denied veterinary care for painful injuries; kept constantly chained in the bitter cold with only drafty, dilapidated boxes or plastic barrels for “shelter”; and forced to run even when they were exhausted and dehydrated.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. Thousands of dogs are bred each year for sled racing.
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.
9. Dogs at dogsled breeding compounds have died of numerous ailments.
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 Donlin Gold 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.