Karen Gadke, Ph.D. (Health Science) is a retired clinical study specialist, medical writer, and lecturer. She has been training and racing sled dogs, many of them rescued huskies, for 30 years. She owns both Siberians and Alaskans. Karen is an internationally published author on animal issues, awareness and education and a welcome addition to AFSBC.
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Iditarod Sled Dog Marathon – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly.
For 30 years, people have asked me if I compete in the Iditarod, the 1000 plus mile endurance sled dog race across Alaska, starting on the first Saturday in March of every year. My answer has always been, “No, I would not put my team through a high-stress event like that, nor would my dogs be tough enough.” Like nearly all people who run sled dogs, I’m a humane musher. We love and pamper our dogs. They are our furry llittle friends. They have feelings and a lot of love and loyalty to give us, and we feel lucky to have them in our lives.
So why the three classifications of the Iditarod?
The GOOD represents the excitement and exhilaration both mushers, dogs and spectators experience at the starting line of the race. The dogs feel a sense of purpose and can hardly wait to run, the mushers enjoy the attention they get, the spectators love to watch the “crazy-to-go” teams take off at what seems like Mach II speed. Actually, a second sled with an experienced musher is attached to the main sled for the first 10 miles, in order to slow the dogs down somewhat, a safety measure. Most of the sleds also carry a passenger for the first 10 miles. These passengers, usually wealthy people or celebrities, pay thousands of dollars for this honor. The atmosphere is festive. The start of the race provides a “lift” for everyone - dogs, mushers, and spectators.
The BAD represents the commercialism involved. It’s all about money. Big corporate sponsors who anticipate as much publicity from the event as possible, to make the money they put into it worthwhile. The mushers are bright-eyed with the dream of winning the “big purse” or at least a part of it, and the dogs, those faithful companions, will gladly give their lives to please them. But is it fair to stress them to the maximum of their endurance? Dogs are dropped at checkpoints for exhaustion, sickness, collapse, injuries, and occasionally death. By the time the finishers arrive in Nome, many teams are greatly reduced in numbers. The dropped dogs do receive the needed veterinary attention at checkpoints, and are then flown back to Anchoragefor further treatment if needed. However, I have never been able to find out how many recover fully.
The UGLY. This one makes my heart bleed. Some mushers maintain kennels of 100 dogs or more, in order to select from that pool the best and toughest for the Iditarod and other endurance races? The dogs that make the cut are treated like kings. What happens to the others? Some are sold, some kept for breeding, many are trained to put together a second team to lease to others for prices up to $10,000 for participation in the race. The rest are culled, or killed. This also applies to many retired sled dogs, not only Iditarod dogs, when their racing years are over. There are exceptions. In some kennels old dogs are allowed to live out their lives, and some are placed in homes where they can still run in harness but usually without the stress of racing. It goes without saying that the humane mushers let their retirees live out their lives and pamper them during the time they have left. But many of the serious competitors feel they need the space for more puppies. Always more puppies.
I hope this helps those interested in “The Last Great Race” understand the GOOD, the BAD, and the UGLY aspects of it. It is not meant as criticism of a great and exhilarating sport. Nothing could be further from my mind.
Protect your pets from outdoor hazards.
Spring is right around the corner, and it’s time for the annual heartworm test, as well as flea and tick protection. Lyme disease cases are on the rise, both in people and animals. Friends in Wisconsin tell me that the disease has reached epidemic proportions in some parts of the state, both in people and dogs.
Female ticks drop from deer and other large animals in early spring to lay their eggs. Deer ticks don’t fly or jump but stay in grass, vegetation and anywhere they can crawl. They are there now and can attach to an animal or human brushing by the vegetation. The adult tick measures only 2.5 to 3 mm, almost too small to find. If you find one, pull it out with tweezers, then swab with an antiseptic (i.e., Hydrogen Peroxide). If the head of the tick does not come out, you will have to ask your vet to remove it, in order to prevent infection. Better to save yourself this trouble by protecting your pets. Talk to your veterinarian about tick and flea preventives. i.e., Advantix. I shop around for prices and sales, i.e., www.Drs.FosterSmith.com. Your vet might have a sale from time to time as well. He or she may be the best source of information in regard to possible adverse effects of the different products. Besides, should your pet have a reaction - a rare occurrence but not impossible - you'll need your vet to provide the treatment.
The Heartworm preventive can only be obtained from your veterinarian after performing the heartworm test. Some vets write prescriptions, so you can shop around. Quite often veterinarians can match the price of other sources, i.e., Foster and Smith.
If you are not convinced about the dangers and the necessity for protection, the following story will convince you.
Last September a beautiful, gentle Siberian Husky found his way to our home. No collar, no tags, but he had a microchip and was traced to a family in Crystal Lake, about one hour from my residence. When I phoned them, the woman admitted that they had turned him loose because he had both Lyme disease and heartworm and they couldn’t afford the treatment. She said his name was Blue, he was about 4 years old, and that he was a really good dog. So why didn’t they protect him? They had adopted this sweet dog from a shelter – he had already been abandoned before – then neglected and finally “dumped” him like so much trash.
The story had a sad ending: The gentle soul didn’t make it. Both diseases were too far advanced. This left just one more gaping wound in my heart.
More things to look out for in spring will be in the March Corner, so do visit again.
Karen’s Corner endeavors to provide useful information for you and your pets. Your comments, questions or suggestions are welcome.
(Karen’s Corner pet health tips are not meant to replace veterinary care when needed.)