Tuesday on “As the Iditarod Turns:” The Seaveys, the first family of Alaska dog mushing, strike back at the Schandelmeier/DeNures and accuse a former dog handler of being an animal-rights infiltrator.
First, the handler:
She is a twentysomething woman from the Lower 48. Her name is being shielded here because of threats of violence. Craigmedred.news has been able to find no evidence of a connection between the young woman and animal rights groups until after she fled the Seavey kennel.
Her former boss in Colorado, a dog musher who runs a small tour operation, described the former employee as someone full of good intentions and big Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race dreams. The woman took a job with the Seaveys in the belief that might lead to a chance to eventually run The Last Great Race.
Jen Seavey, the wife of four-time Iditarod champ Dallas Seavey, in a Tuesday Facebook post at Alaska Mushing News labeled the woman a “PETA activist.” PETA is the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a fringe group opposed to hunting, fishing, trapping, meat consumption, fish consumption, the Iditarod and more.
The handler’s former boss said the PETA charge is garbage. The boss says the woman is someone who worked at a small, family kennel in the Rocky Mountains with about 30 dogs. She went from that to an industrial, 100-dog kennel near Willow, a community about 80 miles north of the state’s largest city which is home to many dog mushers.
What the young woman encountered there upset her, her former boss said. The young woman did not like the nonchalance with which puppies born as the result of an “accidental breeding” were treated nor the fact dogs with injuries were taken on training runs because Seavey handlers were committed to sticking to the training schedules set out by their boss.
How they do it Outside
Basically, the Colorado dog musher said, the younger handler simply wasn’t prepared for how things are done in Alaska. The older woman in Colorado advised her former employee to see if she could find a job with a dog friendlier Willow-area kennel.
There are big variations in how Alaska sled-dog kennels treat dogs. In some, the dogs are family. In others, the dogs are working animals that undergo vigorous training in preparation for the Iditarod.
The best, and luckiest, of those dogs became Alaska heroes of a sort. The not-so-good, but lucky, are sold to recreational mushers or adopted out as pets. The rest aren’t always so lucky although a non-profit group called The August Foundation for Alaska’s Racing Dogs works to find homes for all the unwanted.
“What happens when a dog gets too old to race, or has a career-ending injury, or even doesn’t make the team?” the group’s website asks. “Many responsible mushers work with their fans to rehome their dogs whose racing career has ended, while others drop them on already over-burdened local shelters…or worse.”
The Seavey handler (she was interviewed by craigmedred.news on the day she left the kennel) reportedly tried to make contact with The August Foundation, but eventually hooked up with Ashley Keith who runs a website called Humane Mushing.
The site is run by Ashley Keith. Keith is a former handler for Mitch Seavey of Sterling, the defending Iditarod champ and Dallas’s father. She quit her job after Mitch allegedly put down what was, in her words, “an older dog (that) was not eating, was dehydrated…and appeared to have intense abdominal pain.”
Keith appears to be the one who hooked the young woman up with PETA in hopes of providing her some protection. PETA subsequently filed a complaint with MatanuskaSusitna Borough animal control officials which investigated the Dallas Seavey kennel and said they found nothing wrong.
MatSu Mayor Vern Halter, an Iditarod veteran, subsequently declared the “complaint is absolutely false,” although Valley mushers describe the difference between the Halter kennel and the Seavey kennel as “day and night.”
Jen Seavey’s take on all of this is that she and her 30-year-old husband, a four-time champ and Iditarod’s brightest rising star until he was discovered with doped dogs in March, were victimized by a kennel employee who was a plant.
She was “working at our kennel as an entry level handler since early September,” Jen wrote in the post she titled “The Dallas Seavey Saga.” “A few hours before (the complaint) was filed she abruptly packed her things and left the kennel sighting ‘a family emergency.’ It seems we were the target of an organized attempt by anti-mushing activists.”
Jen confessed that “it’s been a struggle to just keep our heads above water. Last night Dallas and I decided that this is not something we can or should do alone. It’s bigger than that. So, we will (be) posting regular updates to keep the Iditarod community in the loop. The Iditarod is our family, and family sticks together in tough times. We all need each other for support, sanity, levity, and yes, crisis management too.”
In multiple media interviews, Dallas has said he did not dope his dogs, that he was sabotaged, and that the Iditarod Trail Committee, the organizers of The Last Great Race, should have done more to protect him.
Instead, he charged, the Iditarod left him hanging – a musher with a doped team the Iditarod couldn’t prove he doped but who was presumed guilty because he couldn’t prove he didn’t dope.
Jen promised that “we’ve assembled a team of experts to investigate the matter.”
Dallas thought that should have been the Iditarod’s job.
“What about the part where they could have proved that I was innocent and saved the sport?” he asked in a videotaped interview with Alaska Dispatch News.
The Seaveys have not responded for requests for comment here.
While battling the doping accusations on one front and the animal treatment accusations on another, the Seavey’s have also lashed out at John Schandelmeier and Zoya DeNure, who have been critical of the Seavey kennel.
Schandelmeier is a two-time winner of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, a 1,000-mile race from Fairbanks to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada that might be thought of as The Almost Last Great Race. DeNure, his wife, is a two-time Iditarod finisher.
DeNure fired the first shot at the Seaveys in an Oct. 25 blog post expressing her belief that “there have been hundreds on top of hundreds or more dogs – dogs that didn’t make the cut- put down (culled ) routinely from his family kennels for several decades…and this practice continues. I believe this because I’ve heard stories first hand for over ten years from people from all walks of life who had tried their hands as a handler in his or his dad’s kennel.”
Jen, in a summary of this post, further inflated the number of dead in claiming “public statements were made on social media and blog posts alleging obscene, criminal animal abuse by Dallas and I including ‘shooting hundreds of dogs a week’ by an obscure mushing couple in Alaska, John Schandelmeier and Zoya Denure. These atrocious accusations from out of left field are shocking and disgusting.”
DeNure’s accusation of “hundreds on top of hundreds or more dogs” might be over the top, but dog deaths in the hundreds would not be, and they could be perfectly natural. The Seaveys – Dan, his son, Mitch; and Mitch’s sons Dallas and Danny – have been in the dog business for almost 45 years.
They have often managed kennels of more than 100 dogs, sometimes up to 200. Kennels of that size might produce 20 to 30 puppies or more every year. Mortality rates for puppies run up to 30 percent.
Nine puppies per year dying or needing to be put down over the course of 45 years adds up to a lot of puppies. Roll in a few dogs that need to be put down due to old age, add together multiple kennels, and the numbers can easily total into the hundreds.
But that alone just makes the Seavey kennel like other big kennels across the country raising sled dogs, retrievers, hounds or others.
Morals and ethics get very, very complicated when trying to define the standards for treatment of dogs in the United States. PETA with its belief that “a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy” is at one end of the spectrum. At the other are the “dominant primordial beasts,” both human and canine, of which author Jack London wrote in “The Call of the Wild.”
And standards are always changing. The Call of the Wild is a northern classic, but someone who today treated the dogs in the way London described would probably end up in jail.
“As it was with Buck, so was it with his mates. They were perambulating skeletons. There were seven all together, including him. In their very great misery they had become insensible to the bite of the lash or the bruise of the club” London wrote. “The pain of the beating was dull and distant, just as the things their eyes saw and their ears heard seemed dull and distant. They were not half living, or quarter living. They were simply so many bags of bones in which sparks of life fluttered faintly. When a halt was made, they dropped down in the traces like dead dogs, and the spark dimmed and paled and seemed to go out. And when the club or whip fell upon them, the spark fluttered feebly up, and they tottered to their feet and staggered on.
“There came a day when Billee, the good-natured, fell and could not rise. Hal had traded off his revolver, so he took the axe and knocked Billee on the head as he lay in the traces, then cut the carcass out of the harness and dragged it to one side. Buck saw, and his mates saw, and they knew that this thing was very close to them. On the next day Koona went, and but five of them remained: Joe, too far gone to be malignant; Pike, crippled and limping, only half conscious and not conscious enough longer to malinger; Sol-leks, the one-eyed, still faithful to the toil of trace and trail, and mournful in that he had so little strength with which to pull; Teek, who had not travelled so far that winter and who was now beaten more than the others because he was fresher; and Buck, still at the head of the team, but no longer enforcing discipline or striving to enforce it, blind with weakness half the time and keeping the trail by the loom of it and by the dim feel of his feet.”