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How Many Dogs Must Suffer in Iditarod?

Written by Michelle Kretzer | February 23, 2012

Soon, Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race mushers will begin driving dogs on a grueling 1,150-mile journey through frozen Alaskan terrain. 

Injuries Abound

After being forced to run an average of 100 miles a day for two weeks, many dogs will be suffering from conditions such as pneumonia, hypothermia, bruised and lacerated paws, upper respiratory infections, frostbite, inflamed wrists, and shoulder injuries. Nearly 150 dogs have died during the Iditarod since records started being kept, and that doesn’t include dogs who died after the race was over. Some dogs die of “sled dog myopathy”—literally being run to death.  

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Mushers Admit the Truth

Although they won’t call it what it is—cruel—even mushers admit that the dogs suffer. During last year’s race, top contender Hans Gatt reported that half his team was “sick and eating poorly,” likely because of upper respiratory infections. Four-time champion Lance Mackey said that he didn’t know what was wrong with his dogs but that he had watched his “world-class dog team falling apart before my very eyes.” Paul Gebhardt had to forfeit the race when his dogs couldn’t continue because of dehydration, cramps, and injuries. And Zoya DeNure had to perform mouth-to-snout resuscitation on one of her dogs, who had collapsed in his harness. 

Sponsorships Dwindle

So why do mushers continue to subject their dogs to the abuse of the Iditarod? Because thousands of dollars in cash and prizes are at stake. But the good news is that the purse is dwindling as corporations withdraw their sponsorship after learning about the Iditarod’s cruelty. Last year, thanks largely to PETA, the Transportation Security Administration pulled the plug on its $85,000 donation, and Chevron and Cabela’s both called it quits prior to 2010’s race.

Please share this with friends and family who may not realize how much dogs suffer for the Iditarod.

Commenting is closed.
  • CHERYL says:

    yes dogs have died during the iditarod- i won’t argue that, i won’t even argue the amount. Sure 150 dogs died. However based on 16 dogs per musher and a minimum estimation of 55 mushers each year the race has been run…that gives you 35,200 dogs and a 00.4% fatality rate. Mushers do not race for money. They run dogs and race for their love for the AMAZING DOGS! Only 19 different mushers have ever won that prize money that your talking about. also consider the immense cost it takes to run the race. $10,000 just for the race and at least $50,000 just the maintain the kennel throughout the year.

  • Kate says:

    This is simply terrible and a great abuse to these poor animals. It is completely unnecessary in this day and age. The abuse placed on these animals’ bodies is horrific. I am not saying do away with it, the sport, completely, but shorten the race and the strain placed on the dogs. Don’t let animals die in such an unnecessary and careless way.

  • Me says:

    As a musher and dog sled racer, I disagree with the Iditarod being cruel. When dogs are having problems they are dropped from the team during the race and shipped back to be taken care and vet checked. If mushers didn’t care then they just run all 16 dogs until they died. Sure things happen but if you owned a sled dog you would understand. They just go, go, go and sometimes you don’t notice a problem until the last minute. As far as them sleeping outside, they are bred for it. I have to bring my dogs inside in the summer because they overheat. These are working dogs. Understand correct mushing and sled dogs before you condemn. And whichever musher shot his dogs deserves the highest punishment.

  • cara0827 says:

    Yay! It is about time these large corporations pull their support for the Iditarod. We have had huskies and yes they need exercise, however anyone who needs a monetary incentive to have them has NO business having ANY animal. This 1150 mile race is very cruel to these animals. There will be a day when the Iditarod is ended for good.

  • Sonia Ackhurst-Taylor says:

    Day in and day out my heart breaks seeing the cruelty inflicted on animals by certain self-indulgent people. Dogs – the loyalest of animals treated this way is criminal. Quote – “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated”. Mahatma Gandhi unquote …

  • Ursula says:

    Glasshouse, I have to agree with you. While there should be an end put to the Iditarod, sledding should not be outlawed as the dogs do love it and the majority of sled dog owners not in it for the money, take very good care of their dogs.

  • Glasshouse says:

    While I agree that the Iditarod takes it too far, I really hope PETA doesn’t go so far as to try to ban sledding in general. I’ve been to the compounds where professional racers keep their dogs; I’ve never seen dogs loved more, and its never been so clear to me that these dogs wanted to RUN. Its what they are bred for, after all. Don’t run the dogs to death, but don’t put an end to sledding; its not just a tradition or a sport but a way of life and a passion for these dogs. I’ve never seen an animal with as much evident joy as a pulling sled dog.

  • r.craig says:

    what we human do for money. The bad thing is the people racing in this race don’t really need money.

  • Monique says:

    I was hoping to get a husky. They’re awesome dogs, and they are meant to pull, but not like that. True dogsledders don’t run their dogs to death. I think that the most I would get my husky to do (For fun and breed-specific stimulation) is pull my two kids on a sled/wagon while I hold the harness from a leash, for short exercise walks. Tons of Husky rescues around here so don’t worry about me going to a breeder.

  • Ashley says:

    I love idea of doing this race with snowmobiles. Huskies do love to run, but to cause them to do so until it kills them and to take such poor care of them when they are not running is abusive and neglectful. As humans we should know better.

  • Michelle Storace says:

    some time back a musher SHOT all his dogs dose anyone remember????

  • Ellie says:

    Put the dogs in the tents. Put the “mushers” on the little patches of straw outside, where they belong. Better still, let the mushers pull the sleds 1400 miles, whilst the dogs ride on it. Which ever human team wins, the dogs get the prizes! Free food and all essential canine creature comforts for life! Yes, I LIKE it!

  • Luz Baraya says:

    Poor dogs, human still abusing animals, by the way, our best friend.

  • kara middleton says:

    It is so hard to go against the big business of using animals for “entertainment.” In the province of British Columbia (remember the 100 Whistler sled dogs scandal?) we have just got “new” legislation which still does little to protect dogs used in the dogsledding companies.

  • annie bode says:

    Why do humans make animals suffer. Shame on everyone responsible for the pain and suffering of these dogs.

  • Xénia Edvinsson says:

    Why do humans have to be so cruel!!?! Please stop this practise if you have any sense of humanity.

  • Charlene says:

    Stop hurting all animals. They belong to God.

  • lisa says:

    All you have to do is look at the photo of the dogs trying to sleep and rest on those small patchs of staw/hay with no shelter from the cold and then they expect them to run another 100 miles.

  • Nizar Fakhoury says:

    get a snowmobile and compete with that

  • Beatriz Madrid says:

    Por favor, dejad descansar a los perros, no les utiliceis para vuestro agrado, son seres que piensan y sienten igual que los humanos, por lo tanto entienden de dolor, tanto físico como emocional, de alegría y de tristeza. Cuidad de ellos, no son máquinas.

  • SUSANNA says:


  • Beckey Hicks says:

    I agree especially since it’s at the dogs life.

  • Maria Lopez says:

    Please stop it, why forcing animal to endure this?

  • ANN WADEY says:

    This is another example of man USING animals for their own gratification!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Gianna Gerhardt says:

    Before I read some information on Iditarod, I didn’t know how badly the poor dogs suffer from these races. I find it unbelievable that anybody should want to continue with this “sport”, being fully aware of the damage being done to the defenseless animals. Sponsors and everyone else involved in this cruel business should immediately turn their backs on it.

  • swathi says:

    Please stop this if u have atleast 10% humanity in you.

  • Alison Bentlin says:

    What is wrong with people. Why put the dogs through such cruelty. How about the “people” who want to participate in this stupid “sport” pull the sleds themselves.

  • Waldo Hernandez says:

    Please stop these poor dogs from being abused.

  • Annabell MARTINEZ says:


  • cornelia Sledge says:

    Iv’e always thought the way this dogs live year round, tied to SHORT CHAIN OUTSIDE IN THE FREEZING COLD is curel. then the race. I THINK IT SHOULD BE DONE AWAY WITH.

  • Sara herrnicht says:

    Stop the racing of these poor dogs for money! Stop the cruelty- what’s the matter with people It’s 2012 for god sake-

  • maria elicegui says:


  • Kitty says:

    Ensure that these dogs are properly cared for, including good food, water and shelter in such horrible conditions. Also cut down the amount o miles!

  • Karenanne Gerriror says:

    Once again, some ignorant human is using a beautiul animal for greed. This has got to stop! Do to the humans, what they do to these helpless animals!

  • Shelia says:

    Pull your own sled….lazy

  • Tea vaahtikari says:

    This must stop

  • Jack says:

    This is disgusting and must be stopped

  • susan robinson says:

    please dont treat these dogs so cruelly just for your fun or else you will get treated like the Chinese who haqve no thought whatsoever for animals

  • Christine says:

    It’s nice to hear about these corporations actually doing something right and being kind to animals… 🙂 Keep up the good work PETA! Thanks.