The Iditarod (a 1,000-mile grueling race in Alaska) will be held on March 6, 2021. This controversial race has been going on for decades. In the past, sled dogs were vital for survival in the vast Alaskan wilderness until the invention of the “iron dog” or snowmobile. In an effort to keep this part of their culture and the historical events surrounding the Iditarod Trail—the “Great Race of Mercy” that took place in 1925 to deliver serum to Nome battling an outbreak of diphtheria—alive, the Iditarod Trail Race was born in the early 1970s.
But with the revival of sled dogs came significant pain and even death for the dogs bred into this life. The 1925 race was necessary for Nome’s survival and used many teams of sled dogs in a relay race to navigate 674-miles. (The longest length that one team traveled was 91-miles.) The founder of The Iditarod Trail Race, Joe Redington, enjoyed pushing himself to his limit, and this drive propelled him to create the length that the race is today. Would this extreme race be so popular without winnings of $50,000? When animals are involved and used competitively for monetary gain, it is a catalyst for breeding indifference to their sentience and accepting inhumane practices.
The Iditarod website states, “…the Iditarod is, and always will be, an advocate for dogs.” Is pushing dogs to run one hundred miles a day in extreme weather conditions, until they are exhausted, being an advocate? Another article on the website states that “…sled dogs aren’t forced to run; they LOVE to run!” This blanket statement belies the actual lives of sled dogs. They are subjected to conditions promoting frostbite, gastric ulcers, respiratory illnesses, orthopedic injuries (one study revealed 50% of sled dogs were dropped from a race for this injury), and hypothermia. Sled dogs are viewed as “working” dogs and live most of their lives on chains. Laws to protect them from animal cruelty don’t exist, and many animal welfare advocates and organizations are trying to change that.
Despite the cruelty surrounding the Iditarod, it continues to thrive through sponsors, participants, and attendees. Since 1978, ExxonMobil has been a devoted supporter of the Iditarod. Surprisingly, and thankfully, ExxonMobil has discontinued its support this year, citing “economic reasons.” Hopefully, they will choose to discontinue their support next year, forcing Alaskans and other supporters of the Iditarod to look for alternate ways to celebrate sled dogs and its Iditarod Trail without causing harm to these amazing, sentient beings.