Video Exposé: Iditarod Winner, Other Dogs, Found Arthritic, Crippled, Chained by the Frozen Sea

Mushers Mitch Seavey, Ryan Santiago, John Baker, and Katherine Keith Implicated in First-Ever PETA Undercover Investigation Into the Suffering

For Immediate Release:
April 4, 2019

David Perle 202-483-7382

Anchorage, Alaska

Snickers was the lead dog when 22-time Iditarod competitor John Baker won the race in 2011. But as was revealed in this first-of-its-kind PETA exposé, Snickers, who Baker is caught on tape admitting suffered from painful arthritis even as she led his team to victory, has been kept chained up outdoors 24/7 by the frozen sea, where she was found limping, isolated, and crying.

Snickers is only one of the dogs whose suffering was recently documented by an eyewitness who worked at Team Baker Kennel—owned by Baker and five-time Iditarod competitor Katherine Keith—and at three-time Iditarod champion Mitch Seavey’s “kennel,” which is managed by 2019 Iditarod musher Ryan Santiago. The dogs’ only protection, even when the wind chill dropped to minus 19 degrees, was dilapidated, open-faced boxes or plastic barrels. All the dogs are kept chained and denied contact with one another or with human beings, even though they are highly social pack animals whose needs are no different from those dogs with whom many of us share our homes.

Dogs on Seavey’s land had worn-down, raw, and bloody paw pads from frantically running in tight circles at the end of their short metal chains, and a dog named Captain received no veterinary care for the open, infected wounds that he had sustained from the chafing of his collar as he pulled on the chain.

Dogs at Baker’s place were also denied veterinary care, including Birch, who suffered a crippling spinal cord injury that left her dragging her back legs. But like arthritic former champion Snickers, Birch was simply left chained up outside. Baker was caught on tape admitting that both dogs needed to be “put out of [their] misery” but refused to let the worker seek out veterinary care for Birch because anyone who saw the dog would conclude that “we’re being real hard on ’em.”

The exposé also caught mushers’ ruthless training methods:

  • In one incident, Baker watched as a dog harnessed to a truck fell and was dragged along an icy road for more than 500 feet, saying that it would teach the dog to “reconsider slowing.”
  • Baker advised against braking for a dog who stopped to defecate, stating that it’s “better to have a dead dog” than a “dog [who] slows down the team,” and after one dragging incident at Seavey’s kennel, one dog died and another was left urinating blood.
  • “For the leaders,” said Baker, “if I told them to turn this way and they didn’t turn, I was heading up there and I wasn’t going up there to pet them. I was going up there to let them know that ‘Listen, you son of a bitch … I say turn, you turn.’”

Suffering at the Iditarod itself—which left a dog on another team dead after she choked on her own vomit—was no different:

  • Pilot, the lead dog on Seavey’s winning team in 2017, was dropped from the race in 2018 because of a tendon injury. Seavey ran him again in 2019, dropped him again for the same tendon injury, and shipped him back to the kennel, where he was chained up outside and not examined or given any special care.
  • In March, at the Iditarod’s finish line in Nome, Alaska, Seavey said that several dogs had suffered from diarrhea during the race but that he’d continued to run them, and a kennel worker confirmed that the dogs could develop stomach ulcers from “all the stress” of the race.
  • Seavey also wondered aloud how much pain the dogs with injured, “split” paws had endured when running through saltwater and concluded, “It probably stings like crazy.” Seavey said a dog named Bug, whom he’d raced to the finish line, “was bleeding quite a bit” from a paw, and a worker said that the dogs’ feet were “chewed up” and “hamburgered.”

“When dogs used in the Iditarod aren’t being raced until their paws bleed and they choke to death on their own vomit—which has happened frequently—they’re being kept out on a chain, only able to run in circles and howl,” says PETA Vice President Colleen O’Brien. “The Iditarod is a death race for dogs, and PETA is determined to end it.”

PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to abuse in any way” and which opposes speciesism, a supremacist view of the world—has submitted its evidence and requests for investigations to appropriate agencies.

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