Iditarod hit again

state farm

The art for State Farm Insurance’s purported 2017 Iditarod

California animal-rights activists are claiming credit for inflicting another financial blow on the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

PETA – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – says State Farm Insurance has bowed to pressure from activists protesting that the 1,000-mile race from Willow to Nome encourages the abuse of  sled dogs.

“State Farm’s one-year sponsorship of the Iditarod has ended,” the organization claimed on its website. “The insurance company severed ties with the deadly race after more than 95,000 PETA supporters contacted executives to urge them to stop sponsoring the event. As thanks, PETA has sent the company a box of vegan chocolates.”

State Farm is not listed as an Iditarod sponsor on the Iditarod website, but some State Farm agents have promoted a relationship.

“State Farm is proud to be an Official Sponsor of the 2017 Iditarod!” agent Kris Yoder proclaimed on his Facebook page in February. “Join us to help us celebrate Alaska’s most storied event and to cheer on the teams as they begin the race to Nome! Be sure to stop by and see us at the State Farm tent! March 6, 11-2:30 at Pike’s Landing (in Fairbanks).”


Neither State Farm nor Iditarod officials could be reached on Saturday to confirm the PETA report, and it is unclear what the relationship was between the two organizations.

Documentary troubles

PETA and other animal-rights groups have launched an assault on Iditarod in the wake of the documentary movie “Sled Dogs.” It focuses on abuse in kennels run by sled-dog tours, but questions the difficulties dogs face in the Iditarod and suggests the race promotes abuse by encouraging the growth of sled-dog related businesses.

Sled-dog tour operations – especially those in Canada – have fought back, saying the film is defamatory. They admit there have been a few cases of dogs being mistreated, but by and large, they say, sleds dogs are healthier and live better lives than a lot of dogs kept cooped up in city apartments.

Those sentiments have been echoed in Alaska.

“No doubt how animals are kept is a source of controversy,” wrote John Schandelmeier, an outdoor columnist for the Alaska Dispatch News. “But first, we should take a look at what is considered the normal life of many house pets.

“The owner puts the dog in an airline kennel and goes to work. Some owners get to come home at lunch. They let the dog out for a few minutes then head back to work.

“The lucky dog gets a 15-minute walk on a leash after work – much like a prisoner getting his time in the exercise yard.”

Schandelmeier’s day job is as a kennel operator. He is a two-time winner of the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race from Fairbanks to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada, and his wife, Zoya DeNure, is an Iditarod veteran.

Schandelmeier made his reputation in the sled-dog world, in part, by rescuing discarded dogs and turning them into first-rate, sled-dog athletes. He contends sled dogs in Alaska are treated at least as well as – or probably better – than dogs anywhere else, and the assault on the Iditarod is nothing but a fund-raising scheme.

“Sled dogs are not your average house pet,” he wrote. “In terms of care and value, they are more similar to a dairy farmer’s herd.”

He estimated there are 70,000 working sled dogs in Alaska (no one has a clue as to the real number), and calculated that only a tiny portion of those are put down every year.


“I’d guess 500 adult sled dogs a year are destroyed by their owners, and that’s just an opinionated guess,” he wrote. “If I’m off by 100 percent, it’s still just a fraction of the dogs the Minneapolis/St. Paul Humane Society shelters put down annually.

“Researching this has convinced me that the anti-sled dog coalitions are using the highly visible Iditarod as a major funding source for their operations.”

There is no doubt that at least part of the latter accusation is true. At the bottom of its “Dogsled racing” webpage, PETA features a very prominent, yellow “Donate Now” button. 

And a mountain of hypocrisy surrounds the debate about dog deaths and the Iditarod. The Washington Post, citing a study out of the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine, reported that 780,000 dogs were killed by shelters in the U.S. in 2016.

There were five dogs death related to the Iditarod last year, and only three of those directly involved racing. There was a dog that died after over-heating on a plane flight from rural Alaska to Anchorage, and another that got loose in the city only to be struck and killed by a car – one of the most common forms of dog death in the U.S.

Interest groups, however, are seldom interested in nuances.

To most in the Iditarod community, there is nothing but good about the event. And to most in the anti-Iditarod community, there is nothing but bad about the event.

Having added State Farm to the list of sponsors it says its scared away from Iditarod, PETA is now telling its members to direct their anger at Coca-Cola.

“More than 150 dogs have been killed in the race’s history, not counting those who died during the year while kept on chains or were killed because they simply didn’t cut it, but Coca-Cola continues to sponsor the cruel race,” the Coke page says. 


The claim of 150 dead dogs is misrepresentative. It is inflated by the early years of the race in the 1970s when there was little knowledge about the training and care of long-distance, racing sled dogs and little veterinary help on the trail. There are now veterinarians at every checkpoint. They monitor the condition of the dogs and their care, and the death rate is relatively low.

The 10-year average death rate is 1.8 dogs per year, and there were no deaths from 2010-2012 and in 2014. If the race had always been run with the current death rate only about 61 dogs would have died – not 150.

Veterinarians say they have been making progress on a safer race but caution that just as for humans running marathons, there is always the danger of death. The upside, they say, is that dogs that spend their lives as competitive runners live longer, healthier lives.

None of which seems to discourage animal-rights activists who don’t like the idea of dogs chained when not running or dogs competing. The Iditarod has survived attacks from these groups in the past, but the latest seems to be making greater inroads.

Iditarod earlier this year blamed animal-right groups for the departure of Wells Fargo, a major and long time sponsor.

In a media handout, Stan Hooley, the executive director of the Iditarod Trail Committee cited “manipulative misinformation that PETA and others have been using to target our sponsors at their corporate headquarters outside of Alaska” as the problem.

The organization is holding out hope Alaska businesses rally to its cause.













12 replies »

  1. A lot of those well meaning, but in some cases misinformed good folks out there posting comments neither have any idea about the plight of the working sled dog before Iditarod’s founding, nor what the foremost stated goal of the founders was.
    Back in 1960 virtually every household in the old bush subsistence economy had to own a dog team for the family’s hauling and traveling. Around the circumpolar North, sled dogs numbered in perhaps the hundreds of thousands, give or take. But by 1970 their work had been taken over by the snow machine; only scattered teams remained. Did PETA’s non-use ideals save them? Nothing of the remotest kind. If they were to be rescued from oblivion, work was needed that only they could perform. The Iditarod’s revolutionary new concept–long distance wilderness sled dog racing–took the public imagination by storm and gave the dogs the task-focused life they’ve been hard-wired from antiquity to crave, That’s what saved the trotting sled dog. Since we test drove the event in 1973, the Iditarod has been the fountainhead of scores of spin-off distance races and thousands of superbly cared-for, eagerly working sled dogs.
    A lot of the commentators evidence they have little to no experience on the runners training and racing. To keep a dog spiritedly training thousands of pre-race miles, then maintaining a brisk pace over a thousand mile race–or even two thousand milers back to back–you can’t abuse them. A sled dog will not let you drive him to death like I’m told a horse will let an abuser do. Dogs have no goals that force them to do anything like that famous human marathon runner who collapsed short of the finish line, but crawled his way to the end. Eagerness to cover the miles in a distance race must be carefully guarded by the musher, ensuring they won’t be over-driven. An inexperienced musher who exceeds their threshold pays when the dogs shut down–well before any physical harm.
    A lot of well-meaning folks think that by doing away with the race that saved the dogs, they’ll save the dogs. But squelch long distance racing and here’s what would happen: Kennels, made non-affordable, would be parceled out dog by dog to widespread good homes. They are mutts. With no Siberian Husky Club of America or AKC Malamute organization to channel breeding true to type, these amazing genetic assemblies capable of 130 miles a day would be disassembled. So separated geographically from like brothers and sisters, any mating would be to random pets, and in a generation or two their genetics would be blown to the four winds into the general canine gene pool.
    A big question, then, is are these dogs as a type worth saving? We who set a goal to do so almost a half century ago, along with millions of others, think they are.
    PETA and it’s hangers on perhaps don’t care, or maybe have not thought it through.
    Are there things that need to be cleaned up. Sure. Are there bad apples in every batch? Of course. But I hope for the sake of the dogs (as a performing type) the baby is not thrown out with the bathwater.

  2. Leaving dogs on a four foot chain through 40 below & dark Alaskan winters is abuse enough, but this is only the tip of the iceberg of the Arctic Hell that many sled dogs endure…the new movie “Sled Dogs” by Canadian producer Fern Levitt focuses a light on the abuse cycle throughout the life of a modern commercial sled dog…this is not an attack at the sport of mushing itself, but a campaign to end the recurring abuse from unnecessary breeding, tethering, culling and commercial competition for money with large dog-lot facilities.
    Every Alaskan should watch “Sled Dogs” for themselves and then form an opinion….and remember that all mushers and officials in the movie signed release forms and agreed to be filmed…very transparent film crew.
    PETA may be putting the “heat” on ITC sponsors, but they would never have the fire without the movie.

  3. It seems like Schandlemier has a propensity for making up statistics, even when the facts are readily available. In what appears to be a heavily plagiarized recent piece on Sockeye Salmon, in one of the few lines he obviously wrote himself, John claims that female red salmon produce 10,000 eggs…say what? Again, he’s off by 100%, as 5000 eggs would be considered the high end for a spawning red.

    Surely the ADN editorial staff should at minimum request he CITE AND QUOTE his sources, and provide links to support his “facts,” as he clearly copied portions of a government publication verbatim. Here’s a few examples:

    USFWS: Scientists believe salmon use a combination of a magnetic orientation, celestial orientation, the memory of their home stream’s unique smell, and a circadian calendar to return to their natal stream to spawn.

    USFWS: A salmon can detect one drop of water from its home stream mixed up in 250 gallons of sea water.

    USFWS: An average of 3 fish returning for every parent fish that spawns would be considered good production. Togiak/wildlife_and_habitat/ fish/salmon_lifecycle.html

    John: They are able to find their way through miles of ocean by magnetic orientation, celestial orientation and the remembered smell of their natal stream.

    John: Red salmon are able to recognize the smell of their home stream’s scent with as little as one drop of water in 250 gallons.

    John: Seldom do more than three fish, from the 10,000 eggs laid, survive to return from the ocean. adventure/2017/06/14/amazing- life-cycle-of-sockeyes-feed- an-army-of-alaska-critters/

  4. As a journalist I’m offended that you call your site “news” when it is in fact nothing but editorial and opinion. Please stop demeaning the rest of us by claiming to be a journalist. You cherry pick facts that support your pre-conceived notions and ignore mountains of evidence that doesn’t. To claim that only 150 dogs have died in the history of the Iditarod is laughable. More than that are culled each year, which is just a nicer way to say killed. They kill puppies if they don’t have black pads. They kill pulling dogs who don’t win. They sometimes literally run them to death. They kill bitches who can no longer breed. You’re an embarrassment to journalists everywhere.

    • where does one find your “mountain of evidence,” Doug? 150 dogs have died in the running of the Iditarod or some number thereabouts. how many have been killed in Alaska in general since 1973? i have no idea. i’d guess tens of thousands. how many of those dogs had some Iditarod connection? i have no idea. it’s quite possible more than 150 sled dogs are now culled each year. Schandelmeier estimated 500. i think it might be higher. but, again, none of us K-N-O-W. if you’ve got evidence on this as you suggest, let’s see it. that’s how journalism works. it’s based on evidence. i would hope that someone who calls himself a journo gets that, but then it would appear i would be wrong.

  5. Referencing John Schandelmeier’s made up statistics is really an effort in futility, as is his shifting the mushers’ culpability for engaging in and disguising sled dog abuse by vilifying pet owners, many of whom really do treat their dogs like children. I personally don’t know any who house their dogs in airline kennels, excepting one Iditarod musher from which I rescued a broken sled dog many years ago.

    Still, John’s numbers are much more misleading than PETA’s. The 500, or 1000, or God-only-knows-how-many sled dogs culled by mushers every year are often dogs with lots of life left who no longer pull their weight, or younger dogs with injuries from racing, training or living conditions within the chain gang (as in dog fights). Many of those dogs die by bullet to the head, an industry accepted, Mush With P.R.I.D.E. protocol.

    On the other hand, shelters primarily euthanize dogs with no owners, not healthy dogs bred for competition (although this does go on at the Mat-Su Borough shelter, where sled dogs have been surrendered and euthanized for reasons such as the dog “overheats while mushing”). Most shelters provide compassionate euthanisia for dangerous, sick, injured, old and dying animals. And surely John’s culling guesstimate does not reflect the number of sled dog puppies drowned, shot or bludgeoned to death every season.

    I would also point out that it is completely inaccurate to say that “anti-sled dog coalitions are using the highly visible Iditarod as a major funding source for their operations.” PETA certainly didn’t rely on a whole lot of Iditarod-based funding for its 2016 donations totaling $65.7 million. And if John had actually done his research, he would know that “anti-sled dog coalitions” like don’t even accept donations and are entirely run by volunteers.

    His observation that sled dogs are treated more like dairy cows (and in Mat-Su they are legally defined as LIVESTOCK) appears to be the only accurate statement he makes. Ironically, thanks to musher lobbyists, sled dogs are exempted from the USDA’s Animal Welfare Act, which prohibits the chaining of dairy cows and all other animals kept for commercial purposes.

    Clearly John and his wife have a lot invested in their “non-profit” Iditarod kennel and $400/day per person touring operation. They have lots of incentives to point fingers at everyone else but themselves.

  6. PETA has a way of misrepresenting some basic facts to appear that those of us in the outdoor community care nothing for the animals we utilize. I wonder how PETA would react if we started a national campaign showing that the PETA name also stood for…. People for the Eating of Tasty Animals ?

    • So, what basic facts are PETA misrepresenting in regards to this race and the way the dogs are treated? I always find it interesting those that have opposing viewpoints have zero facts to base their opinions on, and simply state that organizations like PETA misrepresent faces and lies. Yet when they are called out on it, they have no answer.

      So, again, what basic facts are PETA misrepresenting here?

      • Timmy: did you read the story? there’s one there. the other big one is the suggestion the dropped dogs are seriously injured or run to exhaustion. that rarely happens. most injuries are minor or the dogs simply can’t hold the pace and become like the Kenyans who drop out of marathons. there are misrepresentations on both sides of this.

  7. yes, but their West Coast center in the Bob Barker building is really their power base. i’m not maligning California. i like California. there’s great country in California. but it also happens to be far and away the most populous state in the nation, one of the most touchy-feely, and home to the most influential members of PETA, including Barker.

  8. Why are you maligning California? California has NOTHING to do with PETA, whose headquarters are in Virginia, so what California activists are you referring to?:
    PETA Headquarters – Norfolk, Virginia – Wikimapia Cached
    People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is the largest animal rights organization in the world. Founded in 1980 and based in Norfolk, Virginia…

    • From the article he linked…

      “It was the grand opening of the Bob Barker Building, PETA’s new West Coast *headquarters*, located in L.A.’s Echo Park.”

      Emphasis mine.

      Protip: RTFA before countering. Saves you embarrassment.

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