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Iditarod claims fourth dog as 1,000-mile race winds to a close

Kazen, one of Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race musher Warren Palfrey's sled dogs, rest in its pen before the ceremonial start of the race on March 7. A different member of Palfrey's team perished Thursday on the trail.

**UPDATE: An 8-year-old dog in the team run by Rick Larson died Friday, increasing to five the number of dogs to have died in this year's Iditarod.

As the 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race winds to a close, the death toll among dogs has reached four. The latest casualty in the grueling competition was a 5-year-old male dog named Maynard.

He was part of a team guided by Canadian musher Warren Palfrey. The dog died Thursday about an hour from of the finish line at Nome, Alaska.

Animal rights advocates have been highly critical of a race that they say is tantamount to canine torture.

About 30 mushers remain on the trail of a race won Wednesday by Fairbanks musher Lance Mackey. It was Mackey's third consecutive event title, and afterward he retired his lead dog, Larry.

--Pete Thomas

Photo: Kazen, one of Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race musher Warren Palfrey's sled dogs, rest in its pen before the ceremonial start of the race on March 7. A different member of Palfrey's team perished Thursday on the trail. Credit: Al Grillo/Associated Press

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Comments (20)

Everyone needs to not support any of Iditarod's sponsors!

Animal abuse is wrong!

Horrific! No one should support this cruelty! Animals feel.

This race is cruel and inhumane to the sled dogs, and should be stopped. There are laws in 38 states against "over-driving" and "over-working" animals, and this is exactly what the Iditarod is.

Sure, the dogs love to run, but not such a grueling, 1150-mile RACE. This is more than the distance from Maine to Florida, which is an unreasonable distance to push dogs, and in severe winter conditions, over rugged terrain. Six dogs died this year, five died another year, and as far back as records go, a total of 136 died, before this year's six. The mushers start out with 16 dogs and only about half the dogs make it to the finish line. This year, 1072 dogs started and 496 did not finish (six of those died). Therefore, only 54% of the dogs finished the race.

When the dogs are not racing, they are either “training” or tethered, --each and every dog short-chained to their own small dog house, even in snow and below freezing weather. This is considered cruel and inhumane and illegal in many communities. These magnificent dogs are essentially treated like machines,--little engines that drive the sled and musher.

It's all about the money and glory for the mushers. Consider the prize money (hundreds of thousand dollars divided between the top 30 mushers) all the sponsors, and the money it brings in to Alaska, at the expense of the dogs. How many dogs have to die before this brutal race is stopped?

In the historical run, which the Iditarod is promoted to supposedly commemorate, the 1925 Anchorage to Nome diphtheria serum run, "a train carried the medication from Anchorage to Nenana. From there the dogs ran the remaining 674 miles in relays to Norton Sound and up the Bering Sea Coast to Nome. There were 20 serum mushers with dog teams and no dog ran over 92 miles." This was taken from the Sled Dog Action Coalition Website, www.helpsleddogs.org.

Lucy S

Shelley Green, an athlete herself, wrote "While I appreciate the allure and challenge the Iditarod offers to the human participants, it doesn't seem fair that they make such decisions for those who cannot speak. If the risk is low, e.g., less than 1%, fine. Anything more than this I think there is a moral obligation to find some other way to physically challenge themselves."

The Iditarod started with almost 1,000 dogs. 985 I think? 6 dogs died this year -- that's WELL under 1%, so should be fine under your conditions.

Everyone thinks 6 deaths is too many -- the mushing and race fan community as well as the dog-lovers hearing about it from a distance. Two dogs, Dizzy and Grasshopper, were on one of the teams that was hit by a blizzard. That's something that can happen anywhere there are blizzards (and has happened to dogs and people who weren't racing), so I would not count those two as caused by or closely related to the race. That brings the actual numbers down to under 0.5% .

Of course we should do (and the ITC continues to do) everything possible to further reduce the risk. Maybe there should be a mandatory layover time at each checkpoint, based on how long the race vets need to do a thourough exam to each member of a dog team. This might (or might not) give us a better handle on the sudden race deaths that are a mystery right now. Some risks can't be avoided (life is risky in itself!) but maybe an mergency GPS and sattelite signalling system should be mandatory equipment, so mushers can call for help sooner than the next checkpoint. Heck, perhaps the race SHOULD be shorter, although it should always be long enough that simply finishing remains an acheivement to be proud of.

Just by the numbers, the Iditarod is really pretty safe, and getting safer.

Come on, guys. When a musher goes out on the trail with a dog team, the last thought in their head is "killing an animal for the sake of enjoyment". Iditarod dogs must undergo vet exams regularly and are microchipped and have ECG's done. They eat a top-quality racing diet and are bred specifically to run and race. Most mushers, and I believe all the ones who lost a dog in this year's event, were devestated at the death of a dog. They are not "stuff". They are not treated as "commodities". And while the deaths are very sad, they must be kept in perspective. A ton of dogs were running this race; 5 died. The Iditarod isn't going away, and it probably shouldn't. Maybe what groups like PETA and the Sled Dog Action Coalition need to focus on is fundraising for more vets to be available along the trail, or for cheap vaccines and vet exams to be provided in smaller villages.

I do have to make one more point. The Inuit are a proud and resourceful people, but their way of life was harsh. This was reflected in their dog teams. If a dog fought, it would sometimes be punished by having it's tail cut off and canines knocked out so it could neither defend itself or keep warm. Dog teams were let loose on islands in the summer to forage for themselves. I am in no way insulting or disrespecting the Inuit people; but they were in survival mode, back when living and staying alive often meant being ruthless. The dogs that survived became were tough and hardy through natural selection. The point I am trying to make is that to suggest that somehow these Iditarod dogs recieve worse treatment then when their ancestors were required to survive in the north is sort of ridiculous. Sled dog racing has changed with the times; dogs nowadays are extremely well looked after.

I am a recreational musher and enjoy running and racing my small team of boys and girls. My favorite moment of the Iditarod was seeing the "doggy grin" on Larry's face as Lance gave him a big hug and numerous kisses. Way to go Larry! I think you earned that steak at the finish line.

I know Rick personally. I am a musher myself. Many people don’t realise how devastating it is to loose a dog in your team. 99% of the mushers love their athletes as if it were their own kids. What would benefit us to jeopardize their health and well being above anything else? Do you really think we would prioritise the well being of a dog to move up a place in the final standings? If not even risk their lives??

Cause if that happens, we do not only loose one of our family members, we also have to endure your harassment and the ongoing torture of being looked as as a ‘murderer’ according to you all.

Have you ever asked a musher that scratched why he/she scratched? If dogs loose the desire to run and don’t want to run anymore, they will simply quit on you and won’t run for you anymore. One of the mushers that scratched just before Nome. His team didn’t want to go anymore, even after trying and run in front of them. He ended up scratching. Why you think that is? Because they know enough is enough. And then we as mushers have to make the right choice by scratching.

As I said, many of us mushers get a bad name for the very few who mistreat their animals. And not only in dog mushing but also in numerous other sports.

If you go through the newspapers reading about human athletes dropping dead or getting serious injuries while they were practising their sport due numerous of reasons (weak heart etc), does this mean that we force ourselves into this? And this does happen at any level of competition. From just friendly amateur leagues to pro leagues.

Ever watched a soccer game or football game without one player needed treatment cause he twisted his ankle or got accidentally hit by an other player?

We simply sometimes don’t find the abnormality until it’s too late. We all hope that the medical world could detect abnormalities at ALL times so these things won’t happen. Or that we can detect it when an abnormality starts to show up.

I agree the fact that longer distance races in any sport are more prone to situations like that as endurance asks more of the body (same counts for iron man for humans, triathlons etc). However, this doesn’t mean that endurance sports should be marked as ‘unhealthy’ and ‘dangerous’. You just have to practise the sport with more sense making decisions.

Please don’t judge us all or judge us upon a loss of a team member unless you were actually their and SAW what happened.

If I see a musher or any other human mistreating one of his animals, I will be the first one to step up and prevent him/her of doing that again.

Believe me, I take a dog out of the race as soon as he/she loose interest running or has an injury that will jeopardize his/her well being both mentally as physically. I have scratched from races for this reason, and I have won races because my athletes know, that I will not jeopardize willingly their health for our team’s success. But their will always be a risk that I have a death or major injury in my team unwillingly because I was not aware of an physical abnormality of one of my athletes. I sure hope I will never have to encounter that and I do not wish that for anyone!!

I measure my own success by the well being of my team. And if they cross finish line first, I will be equally happy as when I cross the finish line last. As long as they are happy and healthy!

Can you animal right organisations understand that as well? Even if I happen to run mid and long distance races with my team??

Do any of you naysayers eat steak or hamburger?? Chicken perhaps? Feed meat products to your lapdog or puddycat??
You think these dogs are treated bad???
Look into how the average beef steer lives his "life". More often than not hock deep in his own sh*t. Then talk to me about "morality" in dog racing or hunting or much of anything else concerning "animal rights".
If you buy meat from the store you are responsible for more animal suffering than the dog team owners. Get over it.
These dogs would not even BE if not for the racing.
Its what they are. They LOVE IT. Its what they do. They cannot wait.
The people who own them are far more concerned with their welfare than the posters here. You think they hate dogs??
The problem is people who operate on "feelings" rather than fact. Or have a financial stake in promoting "animal rights".
Then we have ignorant people with too much time feeling compelled to tell other people they need to live like the rest of the sheepeople so the uninformed are not "disturbed" by someones actions.
By the standard some set here by some it would seem to be impossible to do ANYTHING with animals but let them run free and breed uncontrolled. How do you get a horse's permission to have him pull your cart?? How do you get a tomcats permission to castrate him? Is this cruel? Does the cat have a choice?

Karloff - go live with a tribe of cannibals.
Hank - go back in time and live with a bunch of crazies...(and please enjoy your tasty purple sherbet)... oh, and learn how to spell...

This is no way to treat Man's best friend. These animals put our trust in us, pull these sleds, and in return to have such a reckless death rate is disgraceful. To those who think these animals are your "stuff" to do with as you please, you have no honor, and make me sick. No rancher would even kill his animals for enjoyment. It is obvious that this is completely out of control, and if you can't race these animals safely, this should be shut down.

Has anybody here actually witnessed a real time sled dog team? The dogs are anxious and tempermental whenever NOT moving. If given a choice, these dogs would run themselves dead.

The Iditarod is a crazy, dangerous race. That's the point. A reference to a time before everything was mechanized, before people got WICKED lame. About everything.

And to Roy, from Atwater: If anybody commits murder and cites the Iditarod as an underlying factor, I will $h1t purple rainbow sherbert.

I have been working with dogs in all aspects for 44 years. I come from old school to new school and then back into older school which is: Our dogs are invaluable natural resources. They are our trusting "junior" partners. They find our living and our dead in the rubble of our selfish or carless indescretions. They find our friends and loved ones under mountains of snow. They track our criminals as well as those we love who are lost. They guide those who have lost sight, hearing or use of limbs. They cheer the abandoned in our nursing homes and make them feel "human" again and bring smiles to our children who are battling for their lives in hospitals. They sacrifice their lives in our military and police forces so we may remain "civilized". They predict cancer, epilepsy. earth quakes and danger of all ilks and then try to keep us safe from those predictions. They have hauled our goods and our medicines, our sick often at the cost of their own short lives.

There are many who are of the scientific belief that we would not be where we are in our evolution had it not been for the "partnership" struck up with dogs eons ago. They are the ones who freed our "time" to think, domesticate animals and crops, guard against our enimies, take down our food, etc.

No Inuit would ever have treated his "valuable resourse" in such a potentially damaging or destructive way. His life depended upon the vigor of his resources; his dogs. To run dogs in such an unatural way, (the original sled routes that these races are "supposed" to emmmulate were relays and no musher in his right mind ran his dog hundreds of miles consecutively) seems a pretty shabby way to treat trusting partners or resources upon which your life depended.

My favorite definition of "humane" is ~ 3. considered to have a civilizing effect on people:

How is the destruction and cruelty of allowing dogs to freeze to death on the trail, damage their lungs, develop stress, stomach ulcers, developing accelerated and crippling arthritis, frostbite, being dragged to death from falling while their "care taker" musher is "sleeping", etc, in any way to be considered as "Having a civilizing effect" upon anyone?

"Nothing living should ever be treated with contempt. Whatever it is that lives, a man, a tree, or a bird, should be touched gently, because the time is short. Civilization is another word for respect for life...." - Elizabeth Goudge, author of The Joy of the Snow"

"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." ~ Mahatma Gandhi, Indian Statesman and Philosopher"

"If only we can overcome cruelty, to human and animal, with love and compassion we shall stand at the threshold of a new era in human moral and spiritual evolution - and realize, at last, our most unique quality: humanity." - Jane Goodall, Author of Reason for Hope"

and finally:

"Take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented." ~ Elie Wiesel, Romanian-American Writer"

For Love of Dogs Canine/Human Relations Learning Center LLC
Offices in Waterford & Springfield, WI 53176
Office 262-248-0620 Cell 312-259-5305
Currently and for the last 43 years teaching humans to live in harmony with their best friends.


Well Karloff, humans have kept dogs in their "Pack" for 100,000 years. Becoming quite attached and connected to them is natural. Your attitude, on the other hand, is rather unnatural, and disturbing. It's fine to make arguments about the necessity of using animals for various purposes - after all, they do the same to each other in the wild - but there is something odd about those who see the domesticated dog, an animal whose entire evolution is wrapped up in our own, as nothing more than another pig to be hauled off to slaughter. Is the Iditerod cruel? I'm sure the answer is both yes and no, depending on the musher. I have had the opportunity to speak to some of these mushers both in Minnesota and Alaska, and the difference in attitudes is night and day. If there is a problem, it is not universal, and therefore can be addressed.

I think this is terrible, who cares about a stupid race anyway...these dogs do not deserve to be treated in this way at all...a 5 year old dog is way too young to die...this is torture for all these dogs..I also don't believe in horse racing either. STOP ALL THIS BS!

Oh yeah, in Asia and Polynesia they have another quality, they're delicious. ;-)

It's time to make blights on humanity such as Palfrey and the rest of these "sportsmen" get down on all fours and run the &$%^# race themselves.

Better yet, hitch all the mushers families up to sleds and whip em' til they drop.

People like these are the prime example of humanity gone wrong.. Selfish and careless regarding their co-inhabitants of nature.

They obviously have no compassion, respect, nor empathy for animal life. All one needs to know about a persons character or the lack thereof as in the above cases, is to witness how they treat and interact with lessor species.

They are not people, they are domesticated wild animals. Bred for a purpose whether it is hunting, or physical labor. It's idiots who want them to be like children that allow them to become barking, biting, annoying and 'my little baby'. Until they get bored with them and send them off to a shelter to be 'euthanized'. Those are the ones who shouldn't have animals.

I'm an endurance athlete. Or was, rather. Former ironman distance triathlete, many ultra cycling events.

I have MS now, and pulled back from competing in the longer, physically challenging events, because I knew there was an inherent risk to my health, and thus my ability to care for my dogs. I declined taking the risk, primarily for their benefit. If I didn't have this responsibility, I think I would might consider attempting some of these challenges.

While I appreciate the allure and challenge the Iditarod offers to the human participants, it doesn't seem fair that they make such decisions for those who cannot speak. If the risk is low, e.g., less than 1%, fine. Anything more than this I think there is a moral obligation to find some other way to physically challenge themselves. If its for the love of outdoors and comradeship with the dogs, surely shorter trips would more than suffice.

this is sick.

What is the purpose? What is wrong with this world? It used to be that there was a reverence for life (all kinds)...when children see this, they learn to think, "Oh, it's just an animal..." Then, the next step is, "Oh, it's just a person..." That's why younger and younger people are committing murder. It is truly a slippery slope...

Warren Palfrey stayed at Safety checkpoint for only four minutes:

Palfrey arrived at Safety on 3/19/2009 at 18:54:00 with 14 dogs. He left Safety on 3/19/2009 at 18:58:00 with 14 dogs.

- Iditarod website, March 20, 2009

[From the Sled Dog Action Coalition: Nome is 22 miles away from the Safety checkpoint where veterinarians were supposed to have examined Maynard.]

A fifth dog died in the Iditarod:


"An eight year old male named Omen in the team of Rick Larson (Bib #5) died on the Iditarod Trail between Elim and White Mountain earlier today."

[From the Sled Dog Action Coalition: Larson was at the Elim checkpoint for over six hours. Why didn't the veterinarians know that Omen was sick?]


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Outposts' primary contributor is Kelly Burgess.