Question posed to Brad Johnson about the Iditarod dog race

Q)

Yes, the Husky loves to race.  Yet if the Iditarod isn't cruel why are there
deaths and injuries?  Shorter less treacherous routes would be the humane
thing to do.

A)

Yes, they do love to race, but for the most part, like human marathon runners opposed to sprinters, they are built for and actually prefer much longer distances. As for deaths and injuries, the former are VERY rare
(despite what you might read on the Internet) and are almost never directly related to the length of a race or the race itself. Dogs occasionally die of
heart attacks or whatever just like a dog might in your backyard lounging under a tree, but the dogs in the Iditarod are considerably less likely to
succumb to something like that simply because they are superbly conditioned
athletes. Per capita, house pets die every day from obesity or poor
nutrition FAR more often than Iditarod dogs die in a race.

Regarding injuries, while they obviously can happen, they are actually more
likely to happen very early in a race. Pulled muscles, or foot injuries are
by far the most common injury and they are rare. And, an injured dog never
runs further - they are carried to the next checkpoint, treated by a vet as
needed, and then airlifted back.

It has been scientifically proven that these types of dogs get stronger as the distance increases in a race. Most teams finish faster than they start,
and it is all part of their metabolism and the way they convert oxygen toenergy as they run. I am no biologist so I won't try to detail the
biomechanics of how that happens - in truth scientists are still trying to
figure out how they do it - but huskies somehow regulate their own metabolism to run incredible distances while maintaining fat stores, and actually increasing muscle mass and tone. For one thing, they convert oxygen to energy at a rate four times that of the best conditioned human meaning
that while they are running, their heart rate and energy depletion is
similar to what yours might be lying in a hammock. This literally means,
they experience virtually no cell burnout, no lactic-acid buildup, and no
long-term depletion of stored glycogen, so the typical sled dog, at the end
of the Iditarod is likely more than ready to do it all again! More often
than not they finish the race in better shape than they started it.

I really hope that helped clear up some of the common misconceptions about
sled dog racing!

Brad Johnson

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Comment by Thomas Dock on January 30, 2014 at 6:23pm

Great answer, Brad!!  As someone who has been fascinated by the Iditarod and, indeed, all sled dog races, I have looked into the dogs' care on numerous occasions.  I have great first hand information, from veterinarians who VOLUNTEER their time at these races, that these canine athletes are treated well, cared for immensely and given all of the best by their owners/mushers.

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