The Iditarod has long since been a famous sled dog race in Alaska, dating back to the start in 1973. The race has been run every year, with only a handful of those years resulting in zero deaths.
Animal activists have been arguing that the race is cruel by forcing the dogs through the harsh Alaskan conditions. In under two weeks, the mushers and their teams of generally 16 dogs have to cross 1,000 miles of Alaskan terrain, including blizzards, -50 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures and 40 mph winds.
In the recent conclusion of the 2017 Iditarod, the public and animal rights organizations, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, have been in outrage over the lack of treatment and care that wasn’t put into place to prevent the deaths.
According to a spokesperson for the Iditarod Trail Committee who preferred to remain anonymous said that the majority of the deaths throughout the races could have been prevented with proper treatment and preparation. In the last decade alone 18 dogs have perished:
2017: Five dogs; a majority collapsed on the trail and died, while one overheated in an airplane from Galena to Anchorage
2016: One dog; struck by a drunk snow machine driver
2015: Two dogs; both dogs collapsed on the trail and died
2013: One dog; suffocated in a snow drift in result of being dropped
2009: Six dogs; two died of hypothermia after being stranded in -45 degree Fahrenheit temperatures, one death on a turbulent airplane ride and three died to causes unknown
2008: Three dogs; one snow machine related death, one death due to pneumonia, one death unknown
PETA Vice President Colleen O’Brien examined the situation and realized the extent to which the race overworks the dogs.
“The human winner of this deadly race gets a trophy, the dogs get an icy grave. Enough is enough: The Iditarod must end,” O’Brien said.
However, there has been controversy around PETA statements and arguments. While there is ample evidence that the dogs are dying more than they should, Iditarod organizers have argued that all the dogs go through excessive screening and health checks before the races.
To reflect and show the controversial treatment, Toronto film director Fern Levitt took up a project to expose the behind-the-scenes of the Iditarod.
“I was absolutely shocked. To me, it looked like a concentration camp of dogs… I couldn’t turn away,” Levitt said.
More and more individuals and organizations have been trying to confront and end the tradition that Alaskans and people all over the nation look forward to every March.
PETA has started a petition with already close to 75,000 signatures at the time of this writing, with only 25,000 left needed. Iditarod officials haven’t publicly responded to any of the backlash, but the future isn’t looking great for the famous Alaskan sled dog race.