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August, the inspiration for a program to save retired sled dog/Jeannine Armour photo

The August Foundation for Alaska’s Racing Dogs, an organization dedicated to finding homes for retired Alaska huskies, is calling on the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race to do more to ensure the event’s true athletes get a chance to enjoy life after competition.

The request comes at a time when the state’s trademarked “Last Great Race” is in discussions with mushers about how to improve sled-dog care beyond the two weeks it takes to traverse 1,000 miles of northern wilderness.

Somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 to 1,200 dogs participate in the race every year. Hundreds more train for the event, but don’t make it to the start line for various reasons. How many are retired each year is unknown.

Though sled dogs live well into their teens, most Iditarod dogs have athletic careers that last for only four to six years. As a result, they are destined to live most of their lives away from competition – if they live.

When an Iditarod dog’s racing days are over, the August Fund said in a media release, “a majority of mushers do right by their dogs by welcoming them into their homes” or placing the dogs with family, friends, fans or organizations that help the dogs find retirement homes.

But that is not always the case.

“Others drop them on already over-burdened local shelters, or worse dispatch them with a bullet or blow to the head,” the release said.

Thanks to modern technology, the Iditarod is in a position to ensure a better outcome, according to the Fund. The Iditarod can now track every dog from race to grave if it so chooses. According to the Fund’s release:

“Each dog who runs the race is microchipped just below the left ear during veterinary checks. We recommend taking that one step farther and microchipping all dogs in a kennel during the ITC  ‘Best Care’ certification process.

“‘This technology gives us a way to track dogs in ways (Iditarod founder) Joe Redington never could have imagined,’ said August Foundation for Alaska’s Racing Dogs co-founder Julie St. Louis. ‘What began as a way to insure dogs that started on a team finished with the same team, or if lost along the trail could be reunited with their mushers, is also how we can follow them through their lifetime.'”

Adoptability

The adoptability of sled dogs is still debated in Alaska.

“Sled dogs are work animals, not pets, and some owners regard them simply as a means of travel and don’t believe in treating them gently,” wrote the late Sydney Huntington in his classic Alaska memoir, “Shadows on the Koyukuk: An Alaskan Native’s Life Along the River.”  “I have seen teams of dogs so wild and vicious that I feared to be near them. Some dogs are left tied all summer, with barely enough food to survive. Even in winter, some dogs receive little attention except when in harness.”

The view is an old one and most modern Iditarod mushers go to great lengths to socialize and train their dogs if no other reason than that it makes a team easier to manage. Largely gone is the idea, popularized by sled dog author Gary Paulsen, an Iditarod favorite, that sled dogs “love to fight.”

Fights are now rare, but they do happen. Musher Brent Sass, another Iditarod favorite, lost his best lead dog to injuries incurred in a dog fight during a training run along the Denali Highway early last year, according to the musher who broke up that fight. He said Sass left his team staked out while taking a break in a lodge along the route.

Some dogs in the team chewed themselves loose and pounced on the dog named Basin, who was still tied down. The musher who broke up the fight said Basin was fatally injured in the fight, but that Sass and the lodge caretaker made a valiant effort to save him.

Sass has never disclosed how the dog died and has ignored repeated requests from craigmedred.news asking about the incident. But he has admitted to being deeply disturbed by what happened.

“The 5-year-old dog’s sudden death last Sunday while resting on a training run near the Denali Highway was so emotionally difficult, Sass almost sat out the Kusko” 300 Sled Dog Race in Bethel, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

One of  the complaints of Abigayil Crowder, a dog handler who this fall quit the kennel of four-time Iditarod champ Dallas Seavey citing abuse there, was that Seavey had aggressive dogs, and that given the way his kennel was laid out she couldn’t walk dogs through the dog yard to their houses without them sometimes getting nipped by other dogs.

Sled dogs that are agressive towards other dogs are sometimes a problem, admitted St. Louis, but she said it is very rare to find a sled dog that is aggressive toward people. Mushers just can’t afford to tolerate that kind of behavior.

A few dogs might not do well if placed in homes with other dogs, St. Louis said, but they all do well with people. Over the last five years, St. Louis and Armour have gained a lot of experience in placing retired sled dogs and both say retired sled dogs make great pets.

“The majority of these dogs get along well with other pets, even cats,” St. Louis said.

The biggest problem, said Jeannine Armour, the August Fund’s co-founder, sometimes comes in simply helping the dogs adjust to life as a pet.

August’s story

Adopting August, the sled-dog for whom the August Fund came to be named, was in some ways more like raising a puppy than adopting an adult dog, Armour said in an interview.

Armour first met him after he was hit by a car and injured. St. Louis was at the time running a pet store in the Girdwood, a ski resort community east of Anchorage. Armour was a customer.

St. Louis and Armour connected in the process of raising funds to cover the costs of surgery needed to treat August’s injuries after the accident. While he was recovering, St. Louis suggested Armour take August home until he healed.

“So we took August home with us,” Armour said.

Armour fell in love, even though “he was so skittish to begin with. It took six weeks before I could get him up on the couch.”

House training August was actually easier than turning him into a normal acting pet, she said; sled dogs are so conditioned to please people that August quickly figured out what he was supposed to do to please his new master in that regard.

It was during August’s recovery that Armour and St. Louis came up with the idea for the August Fund.

“I just fell in love of with the idea of taking care of these dogs, of giving them the best life possible after they’re done racing,” Armour said. “They work their asses off for their humans for their whole lives. ”

Since the August Fund started, St. Louis and Armour have placed dozens of dogs, and August has transitioned from racing dog to spoiled pet. He was resting on the couch in Homer when Armour was interviewed by phone on Friday.

Training a sled dog to transition from work animal to house dog is “definitely not for everybody,” Armour admitted, but all of the dogs hold the potential to become the best friends of new owners.

The August Fund wants the Iditarod to make that a goal as noted in its release:

“With the institution of an ITC best care and kennel standards program no longer should a good and faithful canine athlete face abandonment or an untimely death when its usefulness is over.

“We urge the Iditarod Trail Committee and the recently appointed musher standards advisory committee to add a dog’s life after racing to their list of considerations when crafting standards.

“Fans and others are quite proud to adopt these legends of the trail who are generally healthy, well socialized and highly trained….We stand ready to work with ITC and current and future professional mushers to connect their dogs with good homes after their racing days are done.”

CORRECTION: The present home of Armour and August was mistated in an early version of this story. They now love in Homer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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39 replies »

  1. James Hendrix: post contact decimated by europeans and russians native bush culture, right? Treated dogs like shit? Lumping all villages together and all cultures together in an over genetalized blanket statement blames the maltreatment of dogs on natives is uneducated at best and sorely misinformed at worst, as well as racist. Yes native culture was and is damaged and the language, children lqnd and culture including dogs has suffered greatly because of it. Originally dogs were free roming and part of the family. Also many communities kept dogs this way even aftet the advent of photography. Dogs were never tethered traditionally. There were no materials a dog couldnt chew threw. Also natives had few dogs who were cared for and valued. I refer you to a list of resources to dog culture at the end of my article herehttps://www.sleddogcentral.com/features/little_wolf/alaskans.htm

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  2. There’s a difference between aggressive and undersocialized/reactive…unfortunately they end with the same results. Just something to ponder over all the back and forth on here

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    • While its not been discussed there are two kinds of aggressive dogs involved here, IMO: namely those being aggressive to humans and those that like to fight. Huge difference IMO.
      However, I don’t believe that either type comes from being tethered.
      I’ve just not experienced a sled dog that was aggressive to humans but I suspect they are out there, but in a minority. But, about those sled dogs that like to fight I believe they are more common. They’ve been referred to as alligators and there have been problems with certain teams of these “alligators” being kept out of some races, with reason. Nobody wants their dogs attacked when passing one of these teams.

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  3. To those of you who enjoy writing hyperbole and/or what’s supposed to sound erudite: If you want your compositions to be taken seriously, be sure your words actually describe realities and that your thinking is logical.

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      • To repeat my previous remark: If you carefully researched information about the many communities across the United States that enacted tethering bans or restrictions, you’d learn that these laws were passed because dogs had broken free of chains and attacked people.

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      • Your comment referred to sled dogs yet your latest refers to US restrictions that have nothing to do with sled dogs.
        Clearly a dangerous (aggressive) dog may need to be tethered, as in junk yards, etc. but that has nothing to do with sled dogs.

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      • Sled dogs are genetically no different than other dogs. Veterinarian Adrian Walton of Dewdney Animal Hospital in British Columbia (who has experience with sled dogs) States: “What the underlying problem is, is that for many of these mushing facilities, they are unable to or unwilling to invest in the infrastructure required to house these animals in a humane way. Thus rather then deal with the underlying welfare issues, they choose instead to tether animals. Its not a animal welfare issue, its a financial issue.” He is 100% spot-on. Regardless of anyone’s personal excuses for chaining their dogs (sled dogs or not), a growing number of municipalities are outlawing the practice. There is work underway to get it outlawed on a federal level, including removing any loopholes and exceptions to exclude working dogs. The World Sleddog Association even blatantly states that, “unfortunately, in some countries it is permitted to keep dogs on chains. Nevertheless, this practice should be rejected by all sled dog organizations nationally and internationally. Sled dog organizations should engage with mushers practicing this with the aim to abolish this practice.”

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      • Humane Mushing-The next thing you will be telling us is that pit bulls are no different than sled dogs, when it comes to potential aggressiveness. And we aren’t talking about genetics here either.
        The rest of your post assumes that tethering is somehow inhumane and nowhere have you demonstrated where it’s inhumane and further, nothing is given that suggests that tethering causes aggressiveness.
        What was your point, by the way???

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      • Veterinary medical associations, humane societies, animal welfare organizations, animal rights organizations, sled dog organizations, and human health organizations around the world all agree that chaining is inhumane. The burden of proof is not on me for that. It’s a fact that mushers choose to ignore because it is easier – and cheaper – to field larger teams of dogs when you chain them. Soon they will no longer be able to legally do that, regardless of what any of you say or do. The sport is evolving.

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      • someone in the comments asked for the studies. there aren’t many, but there are some. here’s one:
        http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1207/s15327604jaws0404_03?journalCode=haaw20
        https://www.researchgate.net/publication/237479574_A_Comparison_of_Tethering_and_Pen_Confinement_of_Dogs
        my recollection is that there’s another back in the ’90s, maybe the ’80s, but i didn’t have the time go digging for it today.
        the reality is that the debated seems a somewhat silly one. the issue isn’t about HOW DOGS (or for that matter people) but HOW LONG. dogs that spend goodly amounts of time around people and are off the chain or out of the kennel regularly are better socialized dogs than those confined anywhere for long periods of time.
        there are some similarities with people, about which we know a lot more. people locked up in solitary confinement are prone to develop psychosis. i’ve personally seen similar in dogs left alone in kennels for long periods and dogs left alone on chains.

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  4. Regulations by outside forces do not solve true problems in society . Progress Change and developement come from personal efforts the and greatness within various cultures and family’s . Regulation stifles human ingenuity and removes personal responsibility . Excessive regulation is beneath American Dignity and reduces freedom and Dreams . We must strive to encourage each other’s goals and success . Building upon our forefathers sweat and blood . Creating greatness because we want to . not because we are enslaved by regulation and forced on a path of freedoms demise . It Is beneath human dignity to take up chains of excessive regulation . I praise all mankind and their mighty struggles in daily life to find their own path . Iditarod creating kennel regulations does not solve their own management problems . It only muddies the waters and is one more strain on the rope of personal liberty .

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    • I’m aboard here as long as I’m also on the committee that determines which regulation is “excessive!”
      No doubt most others will also insist on being on that committee, essentially making the term “excessive regulation” nothing more than a subjective political football IMO.

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    • Unfortunately many breeds have aggressive examples. Ive had sled dogs since 1989 and have never had an aggressive dog. Ive rescued fear biters. In any case regulatio and oversite are demonstrably important if culling, abuse, neglect and the suffering of sled dogs are to be reduced. People can be more responsible, proud, and moral, ethical and can

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  5. A comment to help the poor people who ingest and propagate disinformation . It sadens me when these people get upset and upset others . This will help give them first hand knowledge . Some truths that are evident with adequate observation . Sled dogs working life begins before birth . They are planned for dreamed for and cared about before they come to this world . They would never have a chance to enjoy this world without a musher. After worming a mom , providing a whelping house babies are born they are handled by musher and children within days after birth to become socialized and part of the family . Whatever that is to a musher . Puppies play and watch older dogs work untill they are grown enough to do don a harness . They are wormed vaccinated held petted and dreamed about . Puppies watch older dogs admiring the sense of purpose witch they get to pull a cart or sled . Dreaming of their day of specialness when they can run with the group . Mushers or children take them on walks with momma dogs almost every day. Children create the best socialization of dogs . AllThough I had a favored leader raised at a climbing hostel in Talkeetna with an indoor kennel . Each mt Denali mountain climber held and petted the future sled dog leader Scott as they prepared for their journey up Denali . Some to be their last journey on earth . Scott went on to become possibly the greatest leader ever placing second in iditarod with a second fastest southern route time unbroken to this day , battling storms , mountains and rigors of the trail . Scott died this thanksgiving god rest his soul. A favored companion on the journey of life . He happily and excitedly donned a harness from 4 monthes to 15 years . Finishing the iditarod 10 times . Pulling every step becouse it gave him happiness and personal pride . His musher would have been unsung without such a leader hero . Cared for and nurtured by children in his last days . In the end running free . Deaf as a stone but smelling the scents of life . Celebrated and mourned by his musher . The bond of dog and their human a conection to soul . Akin to a marriage . Without either partner the other is lost . It is usually years before a musher can bond fully with a new leader . All sled dogs have some form of this life . They love adventure – running and travel with the group . It is in their soul . Those people who do not understand the sim biotic relationship between musher and sled dog should be careful to not propagate disinformation . It mars the dignity of human and dog . Yes their are hardships in life and trail but without these obstacles to overcome there is no pride in the dog or man . Sled dogs know what they accomplish . It becomes a gleam in their eyes , dreaming of future mountains to climb excitement and struggle on the trail denied to pets or dogs left at home . Iditarod and racing provides a chance for dogs to develope strength to expierence life and become heroes in their own eyes and the eyes of humans . Pets never get this chance for personal greatness and glory reserved for an ancient breed . Scots father was conceived in Siberia from a true Siberian dog . His mother a direct decendent from Leanard seppalas sibearians . Sled dogs and mushers , Without each partner the other or both become extinct . Ramey

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      • Then why aren’t mine aggressive, nor the kennel they come from, nor any of the kennels I know personally across the north? Repeating a falsehood doesn’t make it any truer no matter how many times you repeat it and no matter how often politicians try it. Your real name isn’t Donald is it?, or Hillary? or…

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      • Lisbeth: there’s simply no evidence to support that “tethering makes dogs more aggressive.” what the evidence would indicate is that lack of socialization and lack of training make dogs aggressive….or intentional training to make them aggressive. my experiences in more than three decades around Alaska mushers is that in the cases of the few who had aggressive dogs, and they were few, it was a people problem not a dog problem.

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      • Craig, statements made by animal behaviorists and the fact that dogs have broken free of chains and attacked humans have been enough evidence for people to enact anti-tethering laws. People in these communities don’t think the dogs were unsocialized or untrained. If either had been the case, the communities would have enacted laws requiring socialization and training. Maybe all these jurisdictions and animal behaviorists are wrong, but I doubt it.

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      • Lisbeth: people “think” a lot of things. i’m sure you can find whole communities where people “think” the earth is flat. that doesn’t make the earth flat. there are, to my knowledge, only a couple studies that have looked at canine behaviors related to tethering versus kenneling. they found some behavioral differences, but not related to aggression. if you have a peer-reviewed study that indicates otherwise, cite it. otherwise, it is what it is.
        just because some groups and/or animal behaviorists decide something is wrong, doesn’t mean the evidence supports the conclusion. i once believed all grizzly bear charges were bluffs, and that if people faced the bears down, the bears would stop. there was some evidence for believin that to be true. but it was wrong.
        the bear that ran me over disproved the theory. than it grabbed me by the legs just to underline how bad my “think”ing. then i declared the experiment over.

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      • August’s mom Jeannine here. For the record, August lived most of his life tethered before he came to live with us in 2012. I am not here to add anything about my feelings either way on tethering. I will however tell you that August is the sweetest soul you will EVER meet and there is not one single mean/aggressive bone in his body.

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      • If you search news archives over the last several decades, you will definitely find accounts of tethered dogs being aggressive. In particular, when small children wandered into Bush village dog lots and got mauled or killed. But is it the tethering that caused this aggression? Yes and no. A neglected, malnourished, unsocialized and mistreated dog’s behavior will only get worse when tethered. There used to be a lot of dogs like that in Bush villages.

        My opinion: if you can’t afford to make pens for all of your dogs, then you shouldn’t own sled dogs. Whether it is in harness or not, dogs should socialize and exercise every day. If you don’t do that, then you are abusing your dogs.

        Big picture: Tethering is so last century. Tethering has its roots in Alaskan Native culture, where dogs had the same status as an outboard motor. Tie ’em up until you need them. Dogs are not your friends. Feed them only if their ribs are showing. Water?, lap it up from a rain puddle. If it breaks, you throw it away. Tethering is cheaper than making pens, that’s why Natives did it. Those old Native attitudes towards dogs should not be haunting dog owners today. Tethering dogs is an old and cruel Alaskan Native cultural artifact that needs to be abolished.

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      • Blanket statement. May be true for some dogs, not for others. Smarter to not tether dogs as 100 percent of their day. Our dogs share a free run kennel as well as running free on our 8 acres. At night and to eat, or if im not home, they are tethered. You dont seem to know what you are talking about. I dont agree with full time tethering, but none of my dogs are agressive at all. Ever. So again, blanket statements fail to describe the many different kenne styles.

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  6. Well then that would make Brent Sass a BIG FAT LIAR. Because further on in the Newsminer article it is reported:

    “The dogs were resting and fed, but when Sass returned a few hours later, part of his normal schedule for such a training run, Basin was not doing well, he said, describing the issue as an unknown, sudden illness.”

    A mauling is not an “unknown, sudden illness.”

    Also, in your coverage of Caputo and Healy, the two dogs on Brent’s 2017 Yukon Quest team who collapsed suddenly – most likely from overexertion – which appears to be a pattern in his racing history, you quoted him as saying:

    “I often carry Basin’s collar on my sled,” Sass wrote on his Facebook page on Monday. “He’s tattooed to my chest, and his name tag is sewn to the hood of my jacket. When I saw his boys crash like that, I feared the worst. I’m thankful that they’re happy and healthy today! I don’t know what to think about what looks like some sort of genetic issue….”

    https://craigmedred.news/2017/02/14/whose-fault-is-it/

    A mauling death is not a “genetic issue.”

    What else is probably a lie is that Basin’s brothers ever recovered. To my knowledge Brent has refused to provide updates about their condition and I think its reasonable to “believe” they didn’t survive.

    On a different note, many years ago I adopted a sled dog from Gary Paulson’s kennel, the poor dog was on death’s door at the time. After a significant amount of patience and rehabilitation he turned out to be just the most amazing companion. Gary later abandoned his whole kennel and left dozens of dogs to waste away on chains for years. There is no end to the hypocrisy and deception.

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  7. Almost all sled dogs are aggressive, in part, because they’re tethered.

    Dogs who race in the Iditarod are microchipped. Who is going to pay for a musher’s other sled dogs to be chipped? Who is going to pay to maintain a database of dogs and their chip numbers? A chip isn’t going to stop a musher from killing unwanted dogs. Mushers will say the dogs died “naturally,” that they got sick, died from “old age,” or were killed by a wolf or bear. Even if they remember the location of burial sites, no one is going to dig up the bodies.

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    • Pure bunk, educate yourself. Almost all sled dogs are not aggressive – mine aren’t, most race dogs aren’t because they can’t be effective race dogs if they are. Tethering has nothing to do with it either. Mine are tethered, the kennel they come from tethers as well. If anyone have aggressive sled dogs they’re doing it wrong. Far too many people accept aggression as normal or even inevitable.

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      • If you carefully researched information about the many communities across the United States that enacted tethering bans or restrictions, you’d learn that these laws were passed because dogs had broken free of chains and attacked people.

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      • “Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”

        ― Augustine of Hippo

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  8. I certainly hope the ITC will incorporate the August Fund’s suggestions. Fans come from all over the world to see these dogs give their all for a race and then to realize the possibility these dogs might be abandoned or even worse when they can no longer run is horrifying. I don’t think the ITC wants fans to have this thought about the race and should do whatever they can to help mushers rehome these dogs. I know many mushers do make every effort to see these dogs get good homes, but for the ones that don’t, I would consider it animal abuse. It certainly wouldn’t be “Best Care.”

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