Fairbanks Daily News-Miner editorial; NewsMiner; Feb 28, 2017
News-Miner opinion: It happens every year. Around the time that mushing season ramps up, so do efforts by animal welfare groups and activists protesting the treatment of sled dogs in competitive races. They blog about perceived abuses on the trail, flood online mushing coverage with negative comments and blast mushers and race organizers on social media. The campaign bothers many Alaskans, who see the action by animal rights activists as an unfair smearing of the state’s official sport. The furor over mushing’s signature events is unfortunate, because it does a disservice to the sport’s competitors and fans, as well as the cause of the activists themselves.
The attacks on mushing generally focus on the arduous nature of distance events such as the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod, in which dogs run 1,000 miles or more in a period of 10-12 days. Forcing dogs to run such a distance, activists often say, is inhumane by definition. They also point to dog deaths along the trail as evidence that the canine athletes are being run into the ground.
When it comes to dog deaths, there is perhaps no place a dog can die where its death will be investigated more fully than during a distance mushing event. Race rules require necropsies and investigation of any dog death along the trail, regardless of where or how it occurs. Those investigations can have positive consequences within the sport and outside of it. A spate of dog deaths from ulcers, for instance, led to the discovery that human gastric acid suppressants could help relieve inflammation in dogs. That treatment has dramatically reduced dog deaths on the trail, and can also help with discomfort in highly active pet dogs.
What might be saddest about the focus of animal rights groups on big mushing events is that there are far better places to focus compassion and concern for animal welfare. There are a distressing number of incidents of animal cruelty across the U.S. and here in Alaska, but they aren’t concentrated at the upper echelons of mushing. They’re in homes with pet owners who are unprepared or unwilling to take care of their animals. They’re in families where parents pick up a dog or cat on a whim only to decide a few weeks later they don’t want the responsibility of taking care of it. They’re in places where people are emotionally or mentally unstable, or in situations where people misdirect aggression toward their pets.
When it comes to making a positive difference for animals, what would be more helpful than a smearing of the Iditarod or the Yukon Quest is a focus on compassion and education about the responsibility of taking care of an animal. Distance mushers know that responsibility better than almost anyone else on the planet. The rest of us could sometimes use a little reminder.
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