Tuesday, September 2, 2008

In defense of dog mushing

Jughead (left) and Whiskey (right) in lead at the start of the '07 Iditarod with Tom Roig's team. Photo by Brenda Roig

I received a question, via e-mail, today that people who don't understand mushing often ask.

This person writes, "I’m a local PETA spokesperson and I know they are against all animal sports but from the little that I know Huskies love mushing. But, how many dogs have died for human sport? It seems that one is more than enough. Do u ever run across people who abuse their dogs and push them too far? I would have a big problem with that."

Of course I defend the sport of dog racing; I'm a musher. But I can tell you, any kennel I work with treats their dogs better than many people treat their children in this country.

Sleddogs get more vitamin supplements and eat better than I do! What's more: their feet are massaged and covered with salve and booties during winter to protect them; mushers typically read the labels of dog food for purity of ingredients more than their own food and supplement with fresh meat like bison, venison, chicken, or beef for extra protein and fat calories during racing season; and the dogs don special coats to keep them warm when they have shorter hair.

Dog mushing originated in Greenland as a method of transportation and is still utilized as such in many parts of the arctic world. Like any sport, one occasionally runs across a few "bad seeds."

But those mushers are not well-regarded in any reputable mushing circle. And mushing circles are tight. Word travels fast if you're treatin' your doggies like poop, and it's highly frowned upon.

So much so that a musher is immediately disqualified from ANY race if they're found to harm a dog in any way, period. Dogs are checked from head to toe at vet checks before any race and at checkpoints along the way, and any dog not deemed healthy enough to race does not receive clearance from the vet to race. There are very strict guidelines about treatment of dogs in mushing. For an example, check out www.up200.org by clicking on the link to the left.

As you can see, I get a little fired up about this topic. While I consider myself an animal rights activist, I find PETA quite fanatical and their leader quite crazed in her methods of obtaining attention. PETA and groups like that who try to give mushing a bad name have no idea what the sport is all about.

Last year, there was a dog who died during Iditarod. It does happen. But it is rare; and when it happens, it is investigated with a full autopsy. These dogs are athletes -- their pedigrees and training programs, impeccable. They are, quite literally, born to run and nothing makes them happier.

To answer your question: I implore you to do some research and visit some sleddog kennels/races yourself. And no, I've never worked with anyone who did anything but hold their dogs in the absolute highest of regard. Nor would I.

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