Tuesday, March 23, 2010


It all started for me when Carol and I visited the legendary Muktuk dog mushing kennels near Whitehorse in the Yukon. I had been aware of the sled dog race called the Iditarod before but this visit put some serious flesh on the bones. Manuela a charming master carpenter from Germany and apprentice musher showed us round the kennels and when pushed admitted that she had dreams of running the 'Big One' the 1049 mile 8 to 15 day Iditarod.

We visited the Iditarod museum near Wasilla outside Anchorage and got to ride in a wheeled buggy behind a team.

I started following the stories of the Iditarod and the similar Yukon Quest race. Stories of how the traditional sled dogs the huskies have been displaced by crossbreds who are just plain faster. Stories of mushers like Libby Riddles taking off into killer storms to win the race. She was named the 1985 Sportswoman of the Year by the Women’s Sports Foundation and honored by the Iditarod veterinarians with the 1985 Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian Award  for her humane treatment of her dogs. Also, her champion lead dogs, Dugan and Sister, won the 1985 Golden Harness Award which is given to the outstanding lead dog(s) during the Iditarod race.

Nearly 200 dogs have died during the race over the years but this year was the first without a dog death.

I also read about a serious ironman called Lance Mackay who this year made it 4 Iditarod wins in a row despite not being allowed to smoke his ganja this year. He is a cancer survivor and is prescribed marijuana for pain management.

But what has Jamaica and Jimmy Buffet got to do with dog racing in Alaska.

Well a Jamaican entrepreneur called Danny Melville thought up a new way to separate tourists from their dosh. He bought a dog buggy similar to the one we rode in, rescued some dogs from the local pound and ' Sled dogs in the sun ' was born.

Some of the early training was done in Scotland I am pretty sure that the upper one of the two here is a pic from haggis land. To me the dogs look a bit like Charro but Carol may disagree.

It was a short step to thoughts of emulating the Jamaican Bobsleigh team immortalized in Cool Runnings and entering a Jamaican in the Iditarod.

Somehow Jimmy Buffet got involved [ boy would I love to have been a fly on the wall in that meeting ] and soon Newton Marshall, 27, from St Ann Parish was off to Alaska and training with Lance Mackay . He finished 47th out of 71 starters in the Iditarod race, the first black “musher” to finish the epic course suffering frostbite and surviving on very little sleep over 12 days, four hours and 27 minutes.

What about Manuela. I had found her blog shortly after we visited the kennels but there were very few postings. It turns out that she had not paid enough attention to her own feet while worrying about her dogs paws and had gotten her toes badly frostbitten one day. She is still suffering from this but is back out on the sled.

I hope she succeds for she too dreams by day.

"All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible."
~ T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia)


  1. So strange that you should write about dog sledding. That's what we are doing for my daughter's 25th birthday on April 2nd, up in Whistler. She has no idea, it's a surprise. She LOVES dogs and has always wanted to dog sled. She will be thrilled I think.

  2. Love the white team, the lead dog is similar to
    Charro, but not as beautiful. I'd be interested in knowing what temperature those dogs are running in, and WHEN WILL YOU GET TO JAMAICA.
    Hope Manuellas feet are better. I told her I needed a "puppy fix" and she let me loose in the puppy pen. Puppies have got a smell about them ( apart from the obvious ). Heaven!!

  3. It is a real rush when the musher lets off the brake and the dogs take off in their first burst of speed before settling down to a fast trot.

    With regards to the temp. I was surprised to learn that the mushers who race are frightened for their dogs when it warms up as the dogs overheat and sometimes die of heatstroke. Cold is good for dog racing.

    Jamaica may be in the passage plan sometime in the future but not this year or next.

  4. It's shameful that Marshall put dogs at terrible risk by racing them in the Iditarod. He finished the race with 11 dogs. The five dogs other dogs he started with were left at checkpoints because they were too exhausted or too sick to run. Marshall forced the dog Larry to race when he was limping and put extra stress on two dogs by forcing them to run when they were in heat. The Times reported that Marshall fell asleep on his sled while the dogs ran mile after grueling mile.

    For the dogs, the Iditarod is a bottomless pit of suffering. Six dogs died in the 2009 Iditarod, including two dogs on Dr. Lou Packer's team who froze to death in the brutally cold winds. What happens to the dogs during the race includes death, paralysis, frostbite (where it hurts the most!), bleeding ulcers, bloody diarrhea, lung damage, pneumonia, ruptured discs, viral diseases, broken bones, torn muscles and tendons and sprains. At least 142 dogs have died in the race.

    During training runs, Iditarod dogs have been killed by moose, snowmachines, and various motor vehicles, including a semi tractor and an ATV. They have died from drowning, heart attacks and being strangled in harnesses. Dogs have also been injured while training. They have been gashed, quilled by porcupines, bitten in dog fights, and had broken bones, and torn muscles and tendons. Most dog deaths and injuries during training aren't even reported.

    Iditarod dog kennels are puppy mills. Mushers breed large numbers of dogs and routinely kill unwanted ones, including puppies. Many dogs who are permanently disabled in the Iditarod, or who are unwanted for any reason, including those who have outlived their usefulness, are killed with a shot to the head, dragged, drowned or clubbed to death. "Dogs are clubbed with baseball bats and if they don't pull are dragged to death in harnesses......" wrote former Iditarod dog handler Mike Cranford in an article for Alaska's Bush Blade Newspaper.

    Dog beatings and whippings are common. During the 2007 Iditarod, eyewitnesses reported that musher Ramy Brooks kicked, punched and beat his dogs with a ski pole and a chain. Jim Welch says in his book Speed Mushing Manual, "Nagging a dog team is cruel and ineffective...A training device such as a whip is not cruel at all but is effective." "It is a common training device in use among dog mushers..."

    Jon Saraceno wrote in his March 3, 2000 column in USA Today, "He [Colonel Tom Classen] confirmed dog beatings and far worse. Like starving dogs to maintain their most advantageous racing weight. Skinning them to make mittens.. Or dragging them to their death."

    During the race, veterinarians do not give the dogs physical exams at every checkpoint. Mushers speed through many checkpoints, so the dogs get the briefest visual checks, if that. Instead of pulling sick dogs from the race, veterinarians frequently give them massive doses of antibiotics to keep them running. The Iditarod's chief veterinarian, Stu Nelson, is an employee of the Iditarod Trail Committee. They are the ones who sign his paycheck. So, do you expect that he's going to say anything negative about the Iditarod?

    The Iditarod, with all the evils associated with it, has become a synonym for exploitation. The race imposes torture no dog should be forced to endure.

    Margery Glickman
    Sled Dog Action Coalition, website: helpsleddogs.org

  5. Great post, about time all these " wonderful" events were exposed. NO animal should be used to satisfy the "I won the race" ego of the human species. that goes for Horse racing, dog racing, some of the agility , the list goes on.
    John and I went to the kennels because I wanted to see the dogs ( I had no interest in the famous race) Manuella told us from the off, that no dog was put down when it retired and was kept as a pet. When she first went to the kennels the old dogs were kept outside with the others. The wolves were coming in at night and dragging the old ( and defenceless) dogs out of their collars and taking them for food. so she took them indoors and they slept with her ( does wonders for a relationship, but as we both agreed, dog's first)
    The ride that John and I took, was a short one and on soft ground. what I didn't like was, as we were coming out, we saw the dog's being loaded backwards into kennels the size of chicken huts, piled on top of one another on the back of a van, they couldn't even turn around.

    As for the dogs in Jamaica, no dog should be out in the heat at anytime, they will automaticaly seek shade. white dogs are particularly sensitive to the sun, because they do not have the melanine in their skin to protect them.
    These dogs have been " rescued" from a hell hole to be exploited for the sake of making money for tourists who don't connect the dots up.

    As for Charro, he was the one in the sled and we were pushing him ( Charro's Chariot) where did he sleep ? anywhere he wanted to. Many a time John had to put his feet up on a small side table by his chair, because he was in Charro's way.

    John you've opened up a can of worms, well done