PETA says dogsled races like the Iditarod are a form of animal abuse, but is that the whole picture?

By To Tsun-kai, SKH Tang Shui Kin Secondary School

A YouTube video by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals shows horrific treatment of sled dogs, but the history of the race is far nobler

By To Tsun-kai, SKH Tang Shui Kin Secondary School |

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I watched a YouTube video by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) about an American guy called John Baker.

He runs a sled dog industry and his animals suffer horrific cruelty and neglect. They are forced to run hundreds of kilometres during dogsled, or mushing, events across Alaska. At other times, they are chained up outside in freezing conditions, suffering from hunger and dehydration. Some have serious injuries but they don’t receive any treatment.

Animals should not be tortured this way. We should treat them as our friends. I hope the US government takes action against such cruelty.

To Tsun-kai, SKH Tang Shui Kin Secondary School

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From the Editor

Edited for clarity July 2, 2019

Thank you for your email, Tsun-kai. It is always difficult to hear of animals being abused, and the video makes a compelling case. It is awful that this man treats his dogs this way. Even though we have heard other tales of dog abuse linked to mushing, I would like to think that there are very few dog owners who act this way.

Obviously, some things on the tape are abusive: animals must have veterinary care and should not be left in pain. They should have proper shelter and daily exercise. But what Peta actually wants is for the Iditarod dogsled race to be stopped. The race is run in early March from Anchorage to Nome in Alaska, and can take from eight to 15 days. Racers have teams of around 14 dogs that they rotate through the race, with at least five of them towing the sled across the finish line. The dogs’ health is monitored during the race, but it would seem from the video that the animals are not monitored out of season.

The race itself commemorates a historic event known as the Great Race of Mercy. In the winter of 1925, some 20 mushers and 150 sled dogs raced 1,085km from Anchorage in the south to Nome, a small port town in the Arctic that was suffering from a deadly diphtheria outbreak. The city's port was frozen solid so could not be reached by boat. People, including children, were dying. The only way the town could be reached was through the Iditarod trail, a daunting path over icy mountains. Flying was too risky as plane engines might fail in the biting cold and the distance too far, so the town had to rely on mushers who were used to deliver letters. They set up a relay and got the medicine to the town as fast as they could.

The dogs they used were mostly Siberian huskies, which are known as "working dogs". They were bred from wolves by the locals to pull their sleds in winter. The are built for the extreme cold and harsh conditions and can survive quite happilly outside. In fact, hot weather is far more dangerous to them. They are also able to run very long distances, about 200km a day!

Much of what is said in the tape is not “abuse” but exactly what these dogs are meant to do.

Susan Ramsay, Editor