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Get Ready to Start the Iditarod Death Count

Written by PETA | March 5, 2010
Phil Wiffen / CC by 2.0

This year’s Iditarod doesn’t start until tomorrow, and one dog has already died. The death occurred during the Junior Iditarod, a 150-mile race that’s open to teens aged 14–17. A necropsy found that the dog, a 5-year-old male named Lava, died of gastric ulcers, an all-too-common cause of death for dogs in the Iditarod.

According to a study published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, more than half the dogs who finish the Iditarod have gastric ulcers, which the study’s authors believe are caused by “sustained strenuous exercise.” Dogs suffering from ulcers may bleed or choke to death after regurgitating and then inhaling their own vomit. Poor Lava didn’t deserve that—no dog does.

Bear in mind that the Junior Iditarod is only about one-eighth the distance of the daddy Iditarod, which is a grueling 1,150 miles. That’s roughly the same as the distance between New York City and St. Petersburg, Florida—and the fastest teams are forced to cover all that ground in less than two weeks. Dogs often run more than 100 miles a day—the equivalent of four marathons back to back—with little rest. (The official race rules require that dogs only be given a total of 40 hours’ rest during the entire race, which can add up to less than 3 or 4 hours a day.)

We’re not talking about a jog through Central Park, here. Dogs in the Iditarod have to battle blizzards, sub-zero temperatures, and falls through treacherous ice into frigid water. Their feet become bruised, bloodied, cut by ice and rocks, and just plain worn out because of the vast distances they cover. Many dogs pull muscles, tendons, and ligaments, rupture discs, incur stress fractures, and become sick with bloody diarrhea, dehydration, intestinal viruses, or the aforementioned bleeding stomach ulcers. Dogs have been strangled by tow lines, trampled by moose, and hit by snowmobiles and sleds. Two of the six dogs who died in last year’s race are believed to have frozen to death.

Nearly 150 dogs have died in the Iditarod since records started being kept (a tally that doesn’t include dogs who die in training or after the race ends). On average, more than half the dogs who start the race don’t make it across the finish line, and 81 percent of those who do finish have lung damage, according to a report published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

Is there a small light at the end of this dark Alaskan tunnel? To paraphrase Sarah Palin, former mayor of Wasilla—home of the Iditarod’s headquarters—you betcha. The purse for the winners of this year’s race is down roughly $52,000 from last year because several former sponsors, such as Chevron and Cabela’s, have dropped their support. You can help by writing to ExxonMobil and the Iditarod’s other remaining sponsors and asking them to stop paying mushers to run dogs to death.

Written by Alisa Mullins

Commenting is closed.
  • Carmen Stokes says:

    As to what Ange said I didn’t realize it was that bad. Wen you watch movies such as White Fang it leaves out the bad things the animals are put through. It’s a shame that greedy humans only do this for the money to spend on themselves and not on the dogs that worked so hard and even gave their lives to win!!!

  • Ange says:

    Wow I had no idea that this is what those poor animals went through I am ashamed of myself for thinking that they enjoyed it. Thanx for Enlightening me P.E.T.A

  • andrea taylor says:

    i had know idea what these animals went throughjust believed what the owners said and how well loved and cared for they weremaybe target Animal Planet and other stations that show the good side of the race

  • Susan says:

    We can all sign a petition to end the sponsorhip of this event. We have to let the sponsors know that Iditarod is NOT where they should put their money init is cruel and inhumane.

  • Sharon Kennedy says:

    I can’t understand why people would indulge in these crimes when they know that these pastimes offend our God and Master.

  • Kris Shulfer says:


  • Rad_Rosa89 says:

    This is so horrible.. when will they realize that this is animal abuse and stop it?!

  • Aneliese says:

    Well said Andre. Anyone else think at least half a dozen deaths for 2010?

  • Andre Inglis says:

    Many people think these dogs enjoy this race. They do enjoy the freedom of finally being able to move but they do not enjoy having to move for such a long time that they reach exhaustion. After one dog is tired it is forced to remain running because the other dogs will keep going. Not to mention the person in the back whipping them. A dog has died EVERY year. Iditarod is famous for it. They breed these dogs for speed and kill of the ones that just don’t ‘cut it.’ Many of these dogs live chained to a ten foot chain outside in the cold. What a horrible way to live. More dogs will die this year and the years after until this event is stopped. Please if you love dogs and cats has compassion for these dogs and do what you can to stop this atrocity.

  • nicole says: