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2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race begins

Defending champion Lance Mackey drives his dog team from the starting line of the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage. The 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race kicked off this weekend, with 62 mushers and their dog teams on the road to Nome, Alaska, vying for the championship.

With both Saturday's ceremonial start in downtown Anchorage and the official restart from Willow behind them, the teams will cover a total of 1,131 miles using the Southern Route, as is done in odd-numbered years.

Called the "last great race on Earth," each team of 12 to 16 dogs and their musher cover the distance in approximately nine to 13 days, with 25 checkpoints, including Anchorage and Nome, along the way.

Current Iditarod champion Lance Mackey is back, hoping to add a fifth victory to his record four consecutive wins. Also in the mix is Rick Swenson, the only competitor to have won the race five times (though over 30 years). Another returning champion is Martin Buser, a four-time winner as well. Buser is currently the musher with the most consecutive Iditarod finishes -- 25 races -- and holds the record for the fastest Iditarod, completing the 2002 race in 8 days, 22 hours, 46 minutes and 2 seconds.

Here's wishing all competitors -- both human and canine -- luck on their journey over the days and weeks ahead. Hopefully all will arrive safely in Nome.

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: Defending champion Lance Mackey drives his dog team from the starting line of the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Credit: Al Grillo /Reuters

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Comments (7)

I photograph the Iditarod every year. I love watching these dogs and mushers. Here are my top 10 photos from this year:


Take a look at the photo, Lucy....if these dogs were victims of "cruelty," do you think the mushers would have them wearing booties?

With all due respect, Lucy, instead of mouthing the PETA line, why don't you actually go to Alaska and see the race? There are vets at the checkpoints who have the authority to make a musher drop a dog if the vet feels the dog is not well. Further, these mushers are very protective of their dogs--for many, the sponsorships, etc. they get from the race make it possible to keep their dogs during the rest of the year. Is the life of a sled dog the same as your poodle on your sofa? No...But I can tell you that if these dogs were being abused and mistreated, you wouldn't see them with their tails up, happy and raring to go.

Again, Lucy, I am sure you have the best of intentions, but I can encourage you to look elsewhere for your factual information than the organizations you cite.

great post here

Lucy Shelton you are wrong. No dogs died in the 2010 Iditarod, and even in the races where some did, consider this: 1. At a conservative estimate, there are 1200 dogs that run during a race, and this has been going on for 39 years. That means that 46,000 dogs have run in the Iditarod. Any population of any animal that large suffers losses. 2. You attribute all losses to "cruelty." This is arguable because Iditarod dogs have died by being trampled by moose (Susan Butcher), or killed by a snowmachine (can't remember the musher's name), one of Lance Mackey's dogs was injured when it ran away in Nome and got hit by a car. The point is that no Iditarod dog that I know of died by "cruelty." 3. You say the race is too long and the terrain too hard. Are you an expert? Vets and scientists who study the dogs don't agree with you. 4. You say that "only about half of the dogs make it to the finish line." Usually, fewer dogs make it to the finish line than the number that start out, but this is because at the first sign of muscle strain, illness of any kind, etc., the musher "drops" the dog. Why? So the dog WON'T be injured, hurt or sick.

The point is, you have your facts wrong, but you people don't seem to want to know facts. You just want to hang on to your opinions, however misguided! I know for a fact you've been invited to come to Alaska to see what goes on and to talk to people, but you don't. Why? Because you can't or won't face up to facts.

In the meantime. Stop the "rants," OK? They are simply tiresome.

Williams 1

This is so exciting for the greatest dog teams. Do you think Lance Mackey is the best?

All never “arrive safely in Nome .” The Iditarod is cruel to the sled dogs and must stop. This race routinely kills young, healthy dogs. Six dogs died in the 2009 Iditarod, bringing the total known to 142. Dogs die nearly every year in this race,--an average of 3 to 4 dogs.

In the historical serum run in 1925, about half the distance was by train; the other part was run in relays with no dog running over 100 miles. The Iditarod dogs run close to 100 miles a day from 9 to 16 days. With 62 mushers signed up for the 2011 Iditarod, each with 16 dogs, -- that’s nearly 1,000 dogs who will be pushed to exhaustion, suffering illness, injury, or death. The 1100-mile distance is too long, and the conditions and terrain too grueling for the dogs. These dogs are among the best-conditioned dogs in the world due to their training year-round, yet only about half of the dogs make it to the finish line.

There are laws in at least 38 states against over-driving and over-working animals, which is exactly what the Iditarod does. The Alaska cruelty statue that would apply to the sled dogs was changed in 2008 to exempt them.

Concerned animal lovers should boycott this cruel race and contact the sponsors to end their support of it. Organizations including Animal Legal Defense Fund, In Defense of Animals, PETA, and Sled Dog Action Coalition want this race to end.


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Outposts' primary contributor is Kelly Burgess.