Iditarod: Just the facts

We should all be on same side when fighting for animals

Posted: Sunday, March 06, 2005

It's Iditarod time again, and many Alaskans enthusiastically took part in Saturday's ceremonial start and today's official restart.

However, a few disgruntled animal rights extremists — most of whom are from the Lower 48 — are cracking their knuckles over a keyboard as they prepare to fire a barrage of E-criticisms across the Web in hopes of eliminating the race.

Now, before I go any further, let me make it clear I'm not opposed to people who are willing to stand up and fight for animals.

What I am opposed to is using a misinformation campaign in an attempt to influence the general public to support an agenda.

It's easy to demonstrate how self-proclaimed "animal rights crusaders" do this. Some cite as fact information obtained from sources that lack any real credibility.

For example, quoting opinion articles by USA Today columnist Jon Saraceno — who frequently calls the race "Ihurtadog." His statements are his personal opinion and not based on any quantitative or qualitative facts.

Some of these groups alter or take quotes out of context. For example, in 2001 Ethel D. Christensen, Alaska SPCA Volunteer Executive Director, made a post on her organization's Web site that stated "On a recent TV documentary and typical of many, a famous Iditarod musher stated that he bred 300 dogs to get five good ones. ... Help stop the culling and killing."

This relatively benign quote was then slightly, but significantly, changed by Margery Glickman of the Miami-based Sled Dog Action Coalition Web site, where it is posted that "a musher might breed 300 dogs to get five good ones. The rest are culled, often killed."

See what happened there? It was as slight as the hand movement of a New York City street con hustling a naive tourist out of a few greenbacks.

These misinformation campaigns often misinterpret clinical findings, as well. Such as how the Sled Dog Action Coalition frequently cites an American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine report claiming it states 81 percent of Iditarod finishing dogs have lung damage.

When in fact, not only has Michael Davis, the doctor who conducted this research, stated his findings "did not indicate any level of impairment," but the doctor also has said he was "disappointed that this study had been cited in anti-Iditarod statements."

It's easy to show how groups like PETA change fact to fiction, with statements like one posted on its Web site that claims, "Almost every year, several dogs die ... they are literally run to death."

In fact, last year, out of the 1,392 dogs that started the race, only two dogs died and neither was the result of musher abuse or neglect. That means that less than 1 percent — .14 percent to be exact — of the dogs that competed in the 2004 Iditarod, ended up dying.

I wonder what the number was during that same time period for dog's fatally flung from the bed of pickup trucks, euthanized in animal shelters for being found tagless and unwanted or that died from health-related problems stemming from a lifestyle of lethargy and obesity due to their owner's negligence.

Of course, people who would be responsible for these types of dog deaths are not as easy to bombastically assault in a letter to the editor or lambaste in a quick sound bite on the evening news.

The reason so many of these animal rights groups lead these misinformation campaigns is because most, if not all, have never been exposed to mushing, much less stepped foot on the Iditarod trial or been to Nome to see how the dogs look, feel and act when they finish the race.

These groups are opposed to the Iditarod because someone told them it was bad, not because they know it to be bad from firsthand experience.

However, much like how from an outsider's perspective, the "Passion of the Christ" could be interpreted as nothing more than a snuff flick, so too can, and is, the Iditarod negatively understood and subsequently portrayed with false information, from those outside of it.

What these animal rights groups need to understand is they can garnish more support for their cause by truthfully using factual information.

I would greatly encourage them to obtain this information firsthand from contacting and visiting with those involved in the race — most notably the mushers themselves.

The reason for this is simple, both mushers and animal rights crusaders could work together to weed out any — and there are a few — ill reputable mushers who abuse, neglect or knowingly and willing risk harm to dogs.

Also, in regard to the Iditarod, by these two camps finding some common ground, they could better achieve goals that will benefit and be in the best interest of those they both care the most about — the dogs.

Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Clarion.

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