The lead group at the Iditarod dog sled race in Alaska gave up a five-hour edge on the field Monday when the dogs refused to run.
The Associated Press reports that French musher Nicolas Petit lost his lead after yelling at one of his dogs Monday morning for fighting with another dog.
"I yelled at Joey, and everybody heard the yelling, and that doesn't happen," Petit told the Iditarod Insider website. "And then they wouldn't go anymore. Anywhere. So we camped here."
Petit said there was nothing medically wrong with the dogs, chalking the incident that saw several teams pass his by as “a head thing.”
"We'll see if one of these dog teams coming by will wake them up at all,” Petit said.
Backlash over Iditarod
The Iditarod has come under intense scrutiny in recent years over the race that forces dogs to lead a sled over 1,000 miles of winter terrain in Alaska.
Monday’s incident that saw dogs refuse to run magnified criticism that the race relies on inhumane treatment of animals for entertainment purposes.
The race has lost major sponsors in recent years including Wells Fargo and Coca-Cola. Wells Fargo pulled its sponsorship in 2017 while Coca-Cola ended its support in February ahead of this year’s race.
Dog deaths under scrutiny
Wells Fargo pulled out after three dogs died during the 2017 race. The company didn’t acknowledge that the dog deaths were related to the decision, but the ending of its sponsorship came amid pressure from animal rights advocates.
PETA cites 151 dog deaths over the course of the race that has been held annually since 1973.
Iditarod criticizes ‘misguided activists’
Iditarod CEO Stan Hooley disputed the death totals in 2017, criticizing PETA for the pressure placed on the race.
“These misguided activists are implying that the Iditarod condones and engages in cruelty to sled dogs that participate in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race,” Hooley said in a 2017 statement. “Nothing could be further from the truth. We honor the sled dogs who participate in the Iditarod. We take every step to ensure our canine athletes are provided the very best care possible on the trail, and always treated with respect.”
Hooley misses the point here.
One death is too many
Regardless of the dispute over the death total, there are confirmed deaths directly related to the Iditarod. Each death is one too many and completely unnecessary. Forcing the dogs to race to begin with is an act of disrespect to the animals.
This is an event held strictly for entertainment purposes and the egos of people involved with competitive dog sledding. There is no practical purpose to dogs being used to pull people and their gear over the course of 1,000 miles in the middle of Alaska’s winter. There’s no upside for the dogs to be subjected to the conditions of the race that are inherently cruel and grueling.
PETA executive vice president Tracy Reiman brought the questionable priorities of the race into question on Monday when news of Petit’s team broke.
"It's not the dogs who need to have their heads examined — it's anyone who supports this merciless race,” Reiman wrote in a statement. “Illness, injury, or fatigue likely prompted Nicolas Petit to drop four dogs from his team, forcing the remaining 10 to work even harder before they gave up altogether, which he blamed on 'just a head thing.’”
‘Bad attitude’ among dogs
1985 Iditarod champion Libby Riddles attempted to challenge criticism of Petit and the race by pointing to “attitude” problems among the dogs while calling Petit “one of the best in the business at this.”
"People have this idea that you can force these dogs to Nome," Riddles told AP "It's not like that at all. The amount of intuition and communication and trust and experience you have with your dogs is how it all happens and comes together, and Nic Petit happens to actually be one of the best in the business at this.
"Sometimes all it takes is just this one sour grape in the team. One dog that has a bad attitude, and it infects the whole rest of the team."
Ribbles’ focus on the skill of the musher and art of the race embodies what’s wrong at the core of the event. While defending the race she points to the human elements involved while completely disregarding the plight of the animals involved.
The people involved in these races may claim to love their animals. But the actions of putting them through the annual winter test suggest otherwise.
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