Iditarod dog dies


katherine keith

Katherine Keith/

This story has been updated

Kotzebue musher Katherine Keith pulled into Nome Thursday night to bring to a close a musher’s year from hell.

First there was a dead dog near the end of the 2017 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race about this time last year, then accusations of abuse in the kennel she shares with former Iditarod champ John Baker, and finally another dog death just before the finish of the Iditarod this year.

The second dog was reported to have died from aspiration pneumonia, according to a statement from the Iditarod. A similar cause was given for the dog that died outside the Koyuk checkpoint in 2017. That death was attributed to “acute aspiration pneumonia.” 

An “acute aspiration” means a large volume of water or other fluid rapidly accumulating in the lungs. In the case of Iditarod dogs, this usually mean the dog gets sick, vomits and in the process inhales a large amount of that fluid.

As the story of two dog deaths in two years rocketed around the internet, Iditarod officials were moved to put out a statement saying there was no evidence the deaths were in any way related to bad dog care. 

Nationally, the Iditarod has faced a lot of bad press since October when it came out that four-time champ Dallas Seavey’s team had failed a drug test in Nome months earlier. The Iditarod kept the information secret for months and only revealed Seavey’s name after other mushers complained that not naming him cast suspicion on everyone.

Later abuse allegations led Baker to withdraw from the race even though the Anchorage Daily News, in reporting that story, threw the source under a bus. The newspaper said former handler Rick Townsend was wanted on a felony warrant in the Bering Sea community, but never said why.

Court records say the 41-year-old Minnesotan is charged with theft and  “fraudulent use of an access device.” Now back home, Townsend said by phone that Keith accused him of stealing a ring, and that the access device was a credit card.

He didn’t steal the ring, he said, and described the credit-card charges as the perfect musher scam: Give low-paid handlers a credit card with which to pay kennel bills, and if they ever cause a problem, go to the police and claim the credit card was used illegally.

That Baker and Keith got into a disagreement with Townsend is something on which everyone agrees. Townsend contends it was over Baker abusing dogs. Baker and Keith have denied that. Several others handlers who Townsend said could confirm his story refused to talk on the record and didn’t say much off, except to offer that Townsend was unfriendly.

“I already told Rick I don’t want to talk about this,” said Scott Engebretson,  one who did talk on the record. Engebretson is a young Minnesotan who said his main job when he was in Kotzebue was to catch fish to feed the Team Baker canines.

“I liked John and Katherine a lot,” Engebretson said. “Do you think they’re murdering dogs on purpose?”

Then he said he didn’t want to talk anymore.

Up and comer

A 39-year-old woman who said she struggled with depression, an eating disorder and alcohol in her teens, Keith was featured at last year as a woman who found a new start in Alaska in the 1990s only to find more struggles after.

She lost a baby who asphyxiated inside her parka on a snowmachine trip. Another daughter, Amelia, was born, but her husband died in a Kotzebue Sound boating accident not long after.

Searching for a focus, ESPN’s Matt Crossman wrote, “Katherine sought out new experiences. She trained for and competed in triathlons and Iron Man competitions as a way to refill her reservoir of willpower, strength and grit that emptied when Madi and Dave died.”

A relationship with Baker, famous in Kotzebue for having won the Iditarod, formed and blossomed. Keith began to focus more on dogs. She ran her first Iditarod n 2014 and finished back in the pack at 32nd.  She was forced to drop from the race in Unalakleet the next year. Another back of the pack finish came in 2016.

But 2017 was a breakout year.

Before the Iditarod, she ran the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International  Sled Dog Race from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada to Fairbanks, and won rookie of the year honors with a seventh-place finish.

She followed that up by cracking the Iditarod top-20 with a finish just behind Baker.

Against that history, this looked to be the year she might join the Iditarod’s elite women. And she was again closing in on a top-20 finish when the race hit the Bering Sea coast.

Then came a rough, 50-mile crossing of the barren tundra from Shaktoolik to Island Point and past onto the windswept ice of Norton Bay on the way to Koyuk. A run that had been taking 8 or 9 hours for teams in good weather took Keith almost 10.5 hours.

Just behind her, four-time Iditarod champ from Martin Buser from Big Lake took almost 10 hours.

Keith arrived in Koyuk at about 7 p.m. The Iditarod would report one of her dogs dead about five hours later.

“Blonde, a 5-year-old male from  the race team of Katherine Keith, died at the Koyuk checkpoint,” an Iditarod press release said. “Blonde had  been dropped there earlier in the day and was being treated by veterinarians for signs of pneumonia.”

Crossman last year described Blonde as a lead dog and Keith’s favorite. The Iditarod’s report was, as is often the case, cryptic.

There was no information on whether Blonde came into the checkpoint under his own power or was brought in as a rider in the dogsled after faltering on the trail. There was no indication of what led doctors to suspect pneumonia or what treatment “for signs of pneumonia” meant.

Aspiration pneumonia – a dog vomiting and then inhaling intestinal matter – has long been a risk in the Iditarod and was what killed one of Keith’s dogs last year. A study of 23 dogs that died in the Iditarod race between 1994 and 2006 found that about 20 percent of them died from aspiration pneumonia. 

A 2008 study of 88 dogs that suffered aspiration pneumonia reported a survival rate of about 80 percent if the problem was spotted soon enough and the dogs were properly treated.

Dogs suffering from aspiration pneumonia are usually put on IVs to battle dehydration and antibiotics to treat lung infections from the inhaled matter. blurb1












117 replies »

  1. How egocentric you appear, Craig, everything’s all about you and yours, what you desire, what you own. You evidently have less than zero empathy. Significant empathy is what makes us human.

    Your replies to Sukijopa and others clearly show how you twist things to suit your dog exploiter agenda. You would likely rail against people picking out the “bad apples” in your industry to condemn the whole. But then you go on to do the very same, but far less honestly: You described a hoarder of dogs who ended up unable to deal with the number of poor homeless animals she had collected. That is not a “rescue operation,” it is likely a woman driven insane by society’s betrayal of awesome, loyal dogs, who got in way over her head and was overwhelmed by what she’d taken on. You’d say it made her “feed good,” and your saying that is absolute rubbish.

    It’s society’s dismal failure and cold betrayal of these hapless lives that has led to these hoarders and further suffering of the dogs. Exploiters, abusers, breeders, cullers, et al, are the huge root of this disgusting betrayal of dogs and animals in general.

    You claim to have tried to step in to rescue her dogs, but surely for your own benefit, so that you could tell this story to show what dog lovers mushers are. I have to wonder what you’d have done with them if you’d taken them. After all, mushers’ dogs (the ones that are “winners” and don’t get culled, that is) exist on chains attached to open boxes in the snow for the bulk of the time while only getting out for grueling marathon runs yoked together pulling sleds commandeered by whip wielding, dog-fur collar wearing masters. Or are you saying you keep 16+ big dogs in your house to nap on sofas and such? But of course you do…

    There’s a heavy price to pay for all this when all is said and done. The price is unbearable when you’ve deliberately made existence unbearable for relatively innocent others. You likely get reincarnated as a dog. So you should hope for many millions more people like me and Suki and an end to all animal exploitation/abuse/killing by people. It’s the only way out of this mess.

    • Laura, I don’t understand why you’re jumping all over Craig. As far as I’m concerned he’s waaay left of center on this issue, and he’s trying to be reasonable while he sheds light on some of the same issues that you say your concerned about. I think your attacking an ally who just doesn’t share your, um, “fervor” shall we say. I would advise easing up on him and try not to just twist everything he says in such an extreme way. There comes a point where being so passionate about your beliefs is keeping you from seeing other valid points of view.

      And I’m saying that as a man on the far right side of the spectrum. Just a piece of friendly advice.

    • interesting that the Iditamafia hate Medred’s stuff (see this post in AK Mushing “News’) as much as you do. I agree with Jason, by Iditarod supporter standards Craig is fairly progressive and vilified accordingly. So you all have that in common at least.

  2. Hi Laura . When I say mathematical facts I leave the reasearch to you as I am a slow text, computers illiterate person who is slow with writing. If you carefully researched in unbiased way you will find what I say is true mathematically in statistics. Let’s adress the can of worms you mentioned. First you are 50% correct as to Mitch and baker . Your assumptions through second hand are fairly unlikely and inaccurate. The people/ handlers you speak of mostly have personal vendettas and very little experience. I’m not covering for anyone except broad fashion covering. I like to stand for unprotected accused who are not present to defend themselves. I am probably 10 times as frustrated with Iditarod officials as you are . Not joking. I can’t even begin. As there is 40 + year history. As to Baker it’s improbable he dispatched the dog the way described. If a person lies once it destroys his credibility. His handler The accuser whent so far as to falsify pictures in a smear campaign. Every word he speaks is now suspect even when he speaks truth. I have been around long time for my few years . It is more than unlikely the dog was dispatched in this manner . I’ve never heard of such cruelty and I have heard a lot so I call bs . That said I will fill you in on truth . As where there is smoke there is fire . I’ve seen first hand . But I won’t elaborate. Baker has a poor history and we will be fine if he retires . He is apple you spoke of . Now Mitch Seavey I gave him as example as he is among hardest working people I ever saw . Typical American trying to support family and dreams any way possible. He is an extreme practical mind not an idealist. that’s why he spends no more money than he deems in balance. I am in agreement with you his and Dallas balance is off but that’s legally their call . I say if you are a champion you should make your kennel a shining star . If you have no money to do so then it’s tough . People live in boxes and trailer houses . They do what they can afford and desire to build . Their call . Now champions and tour operators should be at forefront and give us all a good reputation- my opinion. Set a precedent for others to stive for . Whether you like Vern halter or not his kennel is amazing , something even most pet owner could step up to . He really takes care seriously. In Iditarod his dogs food was prepared in human cleanliness fashion, wash hands rubber gloves ect . He fed almost all human grade foods . Yes it’s performance based at times but if that prods for better care it proves my point. Racing pushes for top care . A few mushers would feed that way anyway. Redington is obsessed with quality food . We all take joy and pride when our dogs are happy and eat well . None of us are happy when the dogs don’t feel well . It strikes us like a stake in the heart . We are humans just like you . No different. Of course there a few exceptions who are off path . It is also a matter of opinion world wide what is good food . I guided a butcher who would not touch a top class steak until it turned green . At that point I was ready to heave . But certain bacteria promote digestion and flavor so when we judge others we should all be careful because I feel we all live in glass houses and all people are entitled to their particular walk in life . As to Mitch getting excessive rough with a dog it’s possible but unlikely . He is amazingly calculated and controlled. I’ve known him close to 40 years . Yes he has absolutely disciplined dogs as do most dog owners. It would be out of character and defeat his normal methods for success to loose his cool . I wasn’t there so I won’t say . It’s best if you understand handlers though. They mostly come from very protected backgrounds with little working knowledge. They are rarely to be trusted due to their lack of experience . Those are just facts . If you research them you will find I am mostly correct . I will never trust a handler to care for dogs or anything more than a day or two at most and that turns my stomach. They should be attended at all times . Anyone who lets standard handlers have run of kennels is not adequately careful. No joke . To much factual history to tell . so No statement or word from a handler will be accurate. Each statement or word must be interpreted and carefully understood as their lack of experience causes to much misunderstanding. Not saying they are dishonest just saying with out adequate understanding of something it’s impossible to see and impart information in a completely accurate fashion. Most handlers are struggling with life or running from something. So take what they say with a grain of salt as they are most likely biased and upset witch messes with truth and accuracy. Some are impeccable but in 40 years I never met that one ! I say many of Dallas Mitch issues stem from allowing helpers to touch dogs . More careful educating and oversight may be in order? Now as to your statement saying my information sharing is fiction you should look at that concept carefully. I have massive experience in this lifestyle. I am qualified to have a very educated opinion. I have a lot of first hand time watching dogs enjoy what they do . I guarantee if you personally in an unbiased fashion took a study or poll of sled dogs you will find they more than love running. You will find it’s an addictive passion for them . I promise you I have put no fiction out there . But I leave it to you to put into a mathematical picture. Until you do so and spend 40 plus years please be careful assuming I put out fiction. Yes dogs , humans and almost all animals get disciplined or have pain at some time . That does not take away from fact they enjoy their work. Per Helen Keller . Life is Either a Daring Adventure Or Nothing. Those who attack sled dogs and pro racing are damaging the human spirit and stealing from sled dogs chance to express themselves. Most mushers care about their dogs immensely. I see you are a very caring person and I respect you for it . Most of us myself included can improve on all fronts . I strive towards that . Good luck searching for the truth!

  3. How about some positivity ? Facts . Most sled dogs love to run and pull . Massive pride in it . If sled dogs had a choice and management skills they would put on continuous races , straw , food , people sights to see animals to chase . Sled dogs are among most cared for well fed animals on the planet. Especially if they are in a top 20 Iditarods team . In Iditarod some eat New York steak -Redington dogs do , top class salmon , chicken thighs bacon lamb burger liver ect . Foods the majority of pets never eat . Let’s take Mitch Seavey . His dogs average aprx 5 -10 hours adventure and human interaction every day . Aprx 5 hours running each day . How many pet owners take their pets on 5 hour walks every day ? Sled dogs are privileged period . Anyone who can’t see that are grinding their own negative ax . With all circumstances their are exceptions . Certain mushers especially at certain times don’t measure up same as all humans at all endeavors. Fact – dogs in hard raced teams rarely die . Example- top 20 dogs all survived . As has usually been the case . Let’s take 1200 stay at home pets during that time period. Most pets had almost no adventure or self growth in that time period and I’m sure statistically at least one pet died during that time period. Fern levit ignores facts for her own profit and to feel good about promoting negativity. She has some interpersonal problem shown by trying to force her life opinions down the throats of freedom loving Americans. She appears to love Europe a place we all chose to leave because of various oppression and restrictions. When she promotes Europe’s ideals she shows her true colors. I say let freedom and personal choice ring true . Fern go back to Europe where you feel comfortable and can appreciate their way of life. Many people promote good dog care . That’s great . Do it in a balanced positive way . If you attack Iditarod or pro racers you inadvertently attack sled dogs . It directly effects their chances to have a rewarding life . Most wont exist without pro races . When you attack mushers you put sled dogs lives in jeapordy regardless of your intentions. These are mathematical facts . Sled dogs love their life . Don’t attack the hand that feeds them . The majority of anti sled dog people are good people good intentions but you are misled and do not understand reality. We are all on same side . We want dogs to have happy existence. Anyone who focuses primarily on a negative is slipping of course. Fern did that . I’m not denying there are problems and have been but those who attack pro racing damage their own cause . Pro racers work the hardest and are at forefront of dog care . I can give exact stats and examples another time . Good luck in your search for the truth.

    • Great post, Ray. I completely agree with you both in spirit as well as your technical points. I know you’re taking this conversation personally, so I just want to tell you that for what it’s worth I consider you a true Alaskan pioneer, and I’m really impressed with what you have accomplished and what you stand for. I know you to be the consummate dog man, and I always root for you whenever you race. The rest of these people don’t get, and how could they? They have no practical knowledge of what they opine on, such is the special joy that is the Internet. Please keep on doing what you do, and know that there are still people out here that believe in what you do, even if it doesn’t always seem like it.

    • “These are mathematical facts . Sled dogs love their life . Don’t attack the hand that feeds them .”

      Ramey this is an absurd statement…you are refuting what you perceive to be fiction with more of it. I have witnessed a number of sled dogs that had miserable lives, entire washed up Iditarod teams that lived for years chained out until their bodies were as broken as their spirits. There are many examples of “professional” mushers who have been caught beating, starving, abandoning and killing dogs. This is not something to be dismissed as a few bad apples…its more like there’s only a few good ones, and presumably you are one of them.

      The truth is Mitch Seavey does not take excellent care of the hundred plus dogs in his kennel. He feeds them a quality diet for the same reason an Iron Dog racer puts high octane fuel in his sled…enhanced performance. I have personally met with two of Mitch’s former handlers; one witnessed him violently beat a dog, the other witnessed him shoot a dog for no other reason then he didn’t want to take it to the vet. I also met with Dallas’s former handler who witnessed, among other things, several litters of unwanted puppies die from neglect. And obviously I have read the stories that Rick Townsend has posted here, and I do believe his claim that he witnessed John Baker shoot a dog, in the torso, while still on the gangline.

      That’s three “champions” in a row who haven’t lived up to their title…and I could keep going too. Either you do not totally grasp what is going on at your competitor’s kennels, or you’re covering up for them, just like the ITC has been doing for decades.

      • Thank you, Laura for your comments here. I don’t have as much first hand knowledge of commercial kennels as you, but I also have seen a few disturbing things first hand. A friend lived next to a former Iditarod racer whose old worn out dogs lived in misery in rusty barrels, tied up by very short chains unless they were used for “dog tours.” I saw the owner hitch up one poor old lady dog who really didn’t want to run. As he dragged her to the gang line, he said “Those who don’t work don’t eat.” He said this to the DOG! His handler was a nice young man from Germany who had this disgusting hovel to live in. He got paid $100/mo, and never got a day off. He had no car, and was a virtual prisoner there. All for the “opportunity” to learn how to be a musher.

        My brother used to be very involved in dog weight pulls, and did some recreational mushing with his 4 big malamutes. He knew a log of “dog people.” He told me that one of his acquaintances told him that he killed unwanted puppies by smashing their heads in with a hammer because it was cheapest. Then there’s the huskys shot in the head and dumped in the ditches by Willow next to the park’s hwy, or alongside the Nancy Lake Parkway. I’ve seen some better kennels, but couldn’t get away from the apparent neediness of the chained dogs, who seemed desperate for affection from anyone. I also believe Rich Townsend’s stories. I am astounded that Craig Medred would admit – even brag – that )he broke a canoe paddle over his dog. He should know better than to take a big dog in a canoe. He’s no help; he’s just acting as apologist for cruel training methods. All these mushers are acting like a dog pack themselves, fawning on each other and licking each other’s asses. (Sorry, I was trying to keep this clean! HaHa) I think it’s going to take people outside the dog world to clean this up.

        Anyway, with all the comments these mushers are making trying to defend themselves, they’re sounding worse and worse. Circling the wagons, when they should be absolutely admitting there are serious problems with the dog racing sport, and stepping up to insist that strict animal welfare laws are introduced and passed to clean up the swamp this sport has become.

        I’m especially aghast that commercial dog operations are exempt from animal cruelty laws, and that Vern Halter (who does take fairly decent care of his dogs) would push to have racing dogs classified as livestock, which as we know are completely exempt from any humane treatment laws. There’s just a whole lot of reform that’s needed. What the mushers don’t get is that if they keep telling fans that everything is great, except for a few “bad apples” they’re just going to lose more and more fans, and sponsors, and the race will end with a whimper from them, not the dogs.

        I want reform. I don’t want desperate kennel owners to do what the Vancouver guy did, and shoot all his poor dogs. The dogs must be at the forefront of all efforts to save the sport. I hope the racers make the changes to make it much much better for the dogs. As a group they must take a stand against any cruelty to the dogs. And come up with effective methods of monitoring each other’s behavior and holding each other to the highest standards.

        Above all, there absolutely needs to be appropriate animal welfare laws from which the commercial kennels are NOT EXEMPT! Everything is not currently FINE. Once things are good for the dogs, then I will be happy to show some “positivity.”

  4. I’m not an expert on dog mushing, but I used to get excited about the Iditarod years ago when it was new. But I’ve learned a lot since then, and what I’ve learned is mostly depressing. When I first visited a dog yard, I was taken aback by the sad conditions the dogs lived in. Reminded me of an orphanage. I wondered how someone could own so many dogs and provide them with good veterinary care, for one thing. (I earn a decent living wage, but I can barely afford quality vet care for my three cats.)
    From reading the mushers’ posts here, I don’t feel much reassured. They don’t seem to be taking a good look at themselves and asking how can we make it better for the dogs. Most of the good suggestions are coming from disinterested observers like me, who are concerned, sometimes horrified. There are bona fide animal welfare issues in this sport, all the way from breeding, culling, training, housing, vet care, medicating, doping, racing, how handlers are recruited and compensated. The isolation from public view is a problem also. Mushers may criticize each other’s dog care, but they don’t do anything to help the dogs. No animal welfare laws protect them.
    There seems to be a lot of corruption and hiding things from the public on the part of the ITC. I think that it’s time to take a couple steps back, and return to the original idea behind the race: to preserve the Alaskan sled dog from extinction to be replaced by snow machines. Now we may have too many sled dogs in too many kennels. People may start with good intentions, but we seem to be able to corrupt any good idea over time.
    Time to take a hiatus, get non-mushers more involved along with mushers in updating animal welfare laws in Alaska, have inspections during the year; hire good quality handlers and pay them decently. Shorten the race or make it a relay. Slow down the race. Give the biggest purse to the musher with the best dog care. Drop out if a dog dies en route. Etc, etc. Get the bad and cruel mushers out.
    Try to get the corruption out and the fun back in. May get a few fans back if we didn’t have to wonder, as we watched the eager teams racing away from the re-start, if the dogs running by would make it to the finish or come back a corpse.

  5. Anyone who can’t admit that dogs are forced beyond their limits, that many are damaged and some die from these ridiculous, unnecessary races, are just ignoring empirical facts. There is no one who can deny that scores of dogs are bred for the purpose of winning races for idiot “humans”, and that “culling” (killing) is a big part of the industry — lots of experienced, ex-employees and videos make it obvious — you can’t lie anymore. The Ihurtadog is on it’s way out, and not a moment too soon. Shame on greedy, ignorant bubbas with huge egos. Let go of this abomination and get a real job.

  6. I am pleased to see that more people are questioning whether the Iditarod is an ethical and humane race. It is for those people that I am sending you this information. The mushers are going to discredit anything that I have to say as I revealed the behind the scenes reality of their sled dog kennels.
    Speaking of which, the vast majority of sled dogs live their lives at the end of a chain attached to a plastic barrel or dilapidated wooded shack at their only shelter. I filmed many of the sled dog kennels when I was in Alaska including Joe Redington Jr., Lance Mackey and Mitch Seavey,
    Pictures of these dog shelters can be seen on our sled dogs link,
    Throughout North American, cities, towns, states and provinces are passing legislation making continual chaining illegal. The reason for this is that chaining one’s dog, whether it is chained to its shelter or chained to a sled is inherently cruel and inhumane. In order to be healthy,, dogs need to run freely, interact and play freely with other dogs. Explore their territory. In these sled dog kennels, dogs are forced to eat, sleep and eliminate all in the same spot,which is completely against a dog’s nature and causes them severe stress.
    More progressive countries such as Sweden, Switzerland and England have severe limitations on the amount of time dogs can spend on a chain. In Canada both the provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have enacted anti-chaining legislation and there is a movement for that law to be passed Canada wide. For more information on the impact of chaining, follow this link
    The continual chaining of these dogs is not a subject discussed in most of these articles and comments and it should be. As it is another example of the cruelty that is inherent in the idiatrod and sled dog culture.

    I was invited by a group of around 20 Canadian veterinarians in the spring of 2017 who were interested in watching Sled Dogs. Their comments on the conclusion of the film were unanimous

    These dogs were not canine athletes as they are continually referred to by mushers, but sick, severely dehydrated and exhausted dogs. My film showed a group of sled dog refusing to eat or drink. The reason for that, as the vets commented, is that when a dog is severely dehydrated, they lose their instinct to drink and when exhausted, they are too tired to eat. You could also clearly see the dehydration in the dogs, by any trained eye, as the eyes on these dogs were sunken in, their fur hanging from their bodies. The vets estimated that by racing to such a degree, the dogs lost around 30% of their body fat.
    When they were examined by the veterinarians at the rest stops, it was clear that the dogs lost their normal reflex response. It is normal when someone touches a dogs paw or leg, that they pull away.
    As the doctors noted, the dogs were so exhausted, their normal reflex actions were not present.
    There was no observation of canine athletes, but sick, dehydrated, exhausted dogs.
    Why do the Idiatord vets allow this to happen? I don’t have an answer to that but it dismayed me to see a dog, bleeding out of its anus from a bleeding ulcer which is common when dogs are put under extreme stress, and why the sled dogs who race the iditarod are given anti- ulcer medication.
    As well as many other medications that are prescribed to them. The vets who saw this obviously very sick dog, did nothing.
    I personally have nothing against dog sledding, in Germany, this is a activity enjoyed by thousands of Germans, the difference being, the dogs live at home with them, You are heavily taxed by the government if you own more than 3 dogs. On the weekends, the families get together and all go sledding. There is not prize money, no sled dog kennels with many dogs living outside chained to a plastic barrels. These dogs are beloved members of a family.

    And finally, since this post is all about facts, not fiction. The only way a film maker makes money from their film is if the film does well at the box office and/or gets picked up by a major network.
    Sled Dogs played for two weeks only in the United States, a week in New York and a week in LA, the reason being is that we wanted to get into certain festivals and that was a requirement. And Sled Dogs was not sold to any major network. Documentary film makers do what we do because of passion, if we were interested in money, we would have become plumbers instead..,

  7. Whenever someone is profiting off of an animal you better believe exploitation is involved. The Iditarod is no different. These poor dogs are forced to run for miles without rest. No wonder they’re becoming sick and dying. We need to put an end to this despicable pastime.

      • I asked Kim a similar question a bit earlier and so far all I’ve heard is the sound of crickets. I’m not sure how much thinking is going into some of these comments, but you sure started one humdinger of a conversation!

      • Oh, come on! You’re really comparing Petco to a grueling race that kills and injures dogs for prize money??? You’ve really hit intellectual bankruptcy. Anyone with a heart and mind can see the Iditarod is animal cruelty and the facts bear it out. Give it up. Your excuses, attempts at diversion, and rationalizations are just plain bogus.

      • i’m not the one who wrote “Whenever someone is profiting off an animal….” you wrote that. clearly it’s not that simple. Petco is making a hell of a lot more profit off animals than any Iditarod musher it’s likely the same for iour neighborhood pet shop.
        about 70 percent of the people doing Iditarod don’t make anything. they actually lose a lot of money to do the race.
        you say “anyone with a heart and mind can see the Iditarod is animal cruelty, and the facts bear it out.”
        a.) the facts don’t bear it out. the facts are 99 percent of the dogs are quite healthy and seemingly happy.
        b.) it’s pretty clear you’ve never seen any of what goes on along the trail so don’t be saying you “can see” anything.
        c.) i will give you credit for a good heart.
        if you want to suggest the purse should be eliminated or reduced to eliminate an incentive for some people to ask more of the dogs than the dogs should be asked to give, make that argument. if you want to suggest the dogs don’t get enough rest to compensate for the strain of the race, make that argument.
        but until you’ve spent a couple weeks on the trail actually following along with some dog teams to see what actually happens, spare me any reference to what you can see. this isn’t as simple as spotting a dog 20-pounds overweight and knowing you’re seeing cruel treatment.

      • Ah, the distraction and diversion tactic. When the “they love to run” excuse has been exposed in the light of day, point the finger elsewhere, and say, “but they’re doing it, so look over there instead.”

      • Suki: if you fail to recognize that dogs love to run, you haven’t spent much, if any, time around dogs. the issue here is how their running should be supervised. if you want to join that discussion, great. otherwise find something else to do. you’re not adding to the conversation.

      • First, you don’t answer my question about why other people’s comments (which I’ve seen in my mailbox) are missing from this thread. And then you give another one of your twisted replies, playing dumb (or maybe you’re not playing) when you’ve already read, many times over, from numerous contributors, that we KNOW dogs love to run, but that is not the issue with this race, just one of the flimsy scripted excuses used to try to justify it. If you’re going to continue to be devious, at least be a little more clever about it.

      • Suki: get over it. it’s a moderated forum. all non-libelous and semi-accurate comments get approved as yours well illustrate. some of those that are nothing but name-calling and fabrications get blocked. my general practice is that i send them back to people and suggest what needs to be fixed before they get posted. sometimes they rewrite and the comments go up. sometimes they don’t.
        the issue with this race is that you have repeatedly contested the idea dogs love to run. now you appear to concede they do love to run, which is a big step forward. that brings the discussion around to what it should be about:
        how to let the dogs run and yet protect them from themselves, because some of them will run until they’re spent, and some people do lack the judgment to stop the dogs and make them rest before that happens.

  8. For me it’s simple: If an activity can kill an animal, I don’t do it or support it, so I’d be happiest seeing Iditarod come to an end.

    • Kim, can we take this to mean that you’re a strict vegan who neither eats nor wears any animal by-products? Remember, to qualify, you also have to not own a single dog because dogs eat meat:)

    • So, 100% of horse sports to start. Does this include a dog running after a ball and having a heart attack? Is there actually an activity that has zero fatalities?

  9. Blonde and 150-plus others died as a direct result of being pushed far beyond their physical limits, forced to run 100 miles a day for two weeks straight, in treacherous conditions. This is cruelty to animals, plain and simple.

    • Lucy: a.) there’s no evidence Blonde was pushed to do anything. dogs do things. was the dog that just got loose, ran out in front of a car and got killed five minutes ago pushed? if there is an argument to be made there, it is the same one as for that loose dog that just got hit by a car; the owner didn’t do enough to restrain its natural behavior. b.) Iditarod dogs aren’t “forced” to do anything although they are pretty well condition to certain behaviors as are many of us. c.) define “treacherous conditions.” i think of Seattle traffic as “treacherous conditions.” i don’t think of the Alaska wilderness being the way the Alaska wilderness has been for tens of thousands of years as “treacherous conditions.” tough? yes. requiring the use of sound judgment at times? yes. potentially dangerous at times? yes. but all of the same things can be said about life.

  10. The Iditarod madness must end. Dogs should not suffer and die for humans’ pursuits.

      • Jennofur: yes, so? i have couch-potato friends who believe people suffer if they run 400 meters around the track. have you ever been on the trail with the dogs to observe whether they are suffering or not? do you have any actual evidence they suffer from running 100 miles a day?
        of course not, because suffer is a wholly subjective term, which is part of the problem with a discussion free of facts. i’ve known people who seriously abused dogs because they viewed the world much like you view the world. the dogs weren’t “suffering” because she loved them and because she loved them, how could they possibly be suffering?
        find some objective standard if you’re going to legitimately criticize what others do.

  11. Steve . I know when dog was removed. When a statement says “ consistent with pneumonia “ and additional tests being done it means an assumption is made but time for analysis is needed. I am privy to exact info through head vet . I had two dogs in koyuk and researched the situation. Stu Nelson was not yet convinced. Friday was when dogs started to move out of koyuk . I spoke with him personally. With Iditarod things are rarely exactly as appears. Excact first hand knowledge is required. You may feel you understand everything but there is more to this than you recognize. Putting your heavy opinions out as facts can mislead many people. Side note is I don’t blame you for not wanting to get involved with large kennel . To much work and no compensation other than old age . Perhaps I can join you on skis but my current skills are poor . My daughter can ski jor quite well though !

    • Ramey,
      I have a photo I took a few weeks ago on the trail near my house…
      I am going to try and text it to your phone (as I have your number from when you posted it on this site).
      Look at this large amount of blood left on the trail and ask yourself: “Who has the vicious agenda?”
      I had seen a “winning” Irod musher returning from the Yentna Basin a few hours before I took this photo that I am sending to you…
      The bloodline was seen sporadically as I turned up the Big Su from Deshka…by the time I turned up the Little Willow, I felt compelled to stop and take some photos.
      I just want you to know that I have been as “objective” as possible with all my opinions.

      You may communicate directly with me if you have any further concerns or questions.

  12. Steve , until you scientifically study the dog deaths you are not being accurate to think luck does not play a part . The inside info is an autopsy has not been done . Any speculation on cause of death is inaccurate. Do you personally know what causes aspiration pneumonia? Guaranteed it’s not over running. Only time I saw it happen was a dog who loved to eat and her belly was to full and puked during breathing. No death occurred but air way was temporarily blocked. You are grasping at straws to determine Katherine fault without adequate studies. Luck in all walks of life plays a part in everything. To make assumptions you know anything without adequate knowledge or experience makes you look plain vindictive, mean and not well grounded. Perhaps you should get a performance team train with a knowledgeable person sacrifice your time and sweat to care for dogs and then you will become a bit more qualified to judge . If not then do adequate research. Katherine was not in competitive position. A dog or any animal can die at any moment of life . The only dog death I had recently not due to age was a pampered border collie . Often inside. The family pet . He developed a stomach tumor at 5 years old . Vets tried to save – no luck . Dogs can die at any moment for all reasons . You are pushing a vicious agenda . I am on your side basically and am here to help make some good changes . My family has been involved with Iditarod since 70s . I guarantee I have way more grounded frustration with Iditarod than you can imagine but destroying competitive mushing will not help what you think. If I had time I would publish a paper so everyone could understand and and have facts . Until then please be careful when you make assumptions. It won’t help sled dogs or Alaska . Thanks

    • “Nome, Alaska – A board-certified veterinary pathologist has completed the gross
      necropsy on Blondie, a five-year-old male from the race team of Katherine Keith (bib
      #51). The cause of death was consistent with aspiration pneumonia.
      Further testing is being conducted to complete the necropsy study.”

      This is the ITC release for the dead dog.

      I have no agenda other than living a safe and peaceful life…your culture and Irod team are the ones who distrubed that lifestyle.
      I had no idea how bad the dog lot scene was until I investigated, researched and spoke with retired mushers.
      After 12 years of homesteading in Willow and traveling the Yentna Basin by snowmachine, now I have evidence of the “blood on the trail”.
      I counter your invitation…
      You can grab a ski doo or pair of skis and join me in the mountains when the whether is good.
      For recreation I am enjoying ski jor with 2 huskies around the neighborhood.
      I have no interest in maintaining a dog lot…it is not sustainable, just like the current Irod paradigm.

  13. On the “dogs not forced to run” comment.

    There are four “quandrants” of dog training- of the four, when done correctly, positive punishment is arguably the most effective. This is where a stimulus that the animal wants to avoid is added (a positive) so that the dog’s likelihood of performing a certain behavior (eg. stopping to mark in harness) is decreased, and the probability of him performing another behavior (eg. peeing while on the run and keeping a tight tug) is increased.

    Usually positive punishment is something physically irritating, perhaps painful. But often, positive punishment is simply something the dog doesn’t like- could be a noise, verbal disapproval from the owner, or even just a harsh look. Depends on the dog. The dog is the one who determines whether it the punishment was “positive” by changing his behavior(s).

    It’s hard to explain to people, but the only way a punishment is positive is if it actually changes the dogs likelihood of doing (or NOT doing) the target behavior. Has nothing to do with the handler’s opinion on the punishment. It’s all about the dog’s response.

    Skilled trainers “mark” the coming punishment, either with voice or a specific sound. That way the dog knows he did something wrong, in the moment he did it, and that a “punishment” of some sort is coming. Wanted behavior is also best “marked” in the moment, and then followed by a reward.

    My point in writing this all out, is that dogs are very strongly trained and selected (genetics) to look super happy to run in harness. There are a few ways this happens.

    1. Chaining- the only time a sled dog gets to move around, be close to other dogs, and get attention from the human is when he is pulling in harness. The rest of the time he is stuck on a chain with very little stimulus. It is natural for the dog to go crazy when he sees the harness- he gets to do something!

    2. Culling- not training, but a young sled dog that doesn’t make the cut or love to run is eliminated. Thus, the remaining dogs generally do enjoy the run, and show it.

    3. Training- this is where positive punishment comes in to play. A dog that doesn’t keep a tight tug is punished. That means the behavior is marked “Fluffy, NO”. The team is stopped. The musher runs to Fluffy and punishes him. Done consistently, sled dogs are going to keep a tight tug. It’s the power of positive punishment. Even if the dog doesn’t “want” to run, he does want to avoid punishment. This is called training. It is where we teach a dog to do something he may not want to do. Or to NOT do something he wants to do. Pretty simple, right?

    Punishment is greatly reduced by careful breeding and only selecting dogs who are naturally driven to run and pull in harness. But it is generally still part of it, when running dogs such long distances.

    Thus, I’m not so sure the old mantra “you can’t push a rope” really applies. The rope gets pushed, but not during the race itself, it’s through the selection, and training, that came first. If a dog is so wiped, that he chooses to take a punishment that he would normally strongly avoid, and stops in harness or stops pulling, that tells you more about the musher than about the dog- as that dog has been pushed well beyond his physical capabilities. The dog has no way of knowing he might not actually be punished just because it’s the Iditarod, because he is trained (also, there are plenty of remote areas on the trail).

    • Kiersten: that is a very good summary. i would only add that in the latter case it has been my observation that those dogs that quit are like the moose that lies down to be eaten alive by wolves. they’ve given up and just don’t care anymore. you could beat them until they were almost dead, and they wouldn’t move.
      and, of course, as you note, there’s a lot of a variation in how dogs respond to any sort of physical training stress. i had a pair of retrievers, brothers actually, very interesting in that regard. both were hard, hard workers. they’d work all day in flooded grass until they nearly bonked.
      but one of them, if you even yelled at him, would just start to withdraw and shutdown. he required an inordinate amount of positive reinforcement. and the other?
      i once broke a canoe paddle across his ass because he wouldn’t sit, and he just turned and looked over his shoulder at me like, “is there a problem here? did you really have to go and do that?”
      that damn dog was so stubborn….
      he was also extremely talented. there were early seasons when i swear he caught as many ducks as we shot. unfledged birds; birds with malformed wings; sometimes birds that didn’t seem to have anything wrong with them other than that they were slow. only retriever i’ve ever owned who would dive after crippled ducks that dove and catch them underwater.
      but boy was he a handful to train. trying to find stimuli to which he responded was not easy, but he did like little food rewards so there was that. i’m sure one of these “modern” dog trainers would have put a shock collar on him and zapped him so hard they knocked him off his feet. there’s too much of that goes on now. and i’m sure old Arlo would have responded in completely the wrong way:
      “go ahead, asshole. if you think you can make me do what you want by trying to kill me, kill me.”
      as i said, that dog was a training problem, and i still miss him. hell of a dog.

      • Just have to ‘love it.’ “Positive punishment.” Now, if that’s not an oxymoron, I’ve not heard one. And “breaking a canoe paddle across his ass.”

        It just goes to show that when the race groupies aren’t saying or implying that “it’s a few bad apples, or “all in the past,” they’re openly stating that dogs are being produced to serve their slave masters’ wants (which is why culling, and keeping dogs chained up short when not serving their ‘purpose,’ is no big deal to most of them), and if the dogs stubbornly refuse to perform their alleged function (as defined by their slave masters), punishment of any kind (“positive” to negative) is OK.

        It seems as though, being isolated out in the Alaskan boonies, as with the Appalachian hillbillies, evolution slows to a crawl. I’m grateful to, and thankful for, the exceptions to the rule.

      • don’t be silly, Suki. all dogs, sans the feral sort, are “produced to serve their slave master’s wants.” only in this case it’s what called a symbiotic relationship. dogs domesticated because even with the “slave” part, it was a hell of a lot easier than the wild, which is simply brutal. one of my slaves is asleep on the couch at the moment, and i don’t know where the other is. he might have sneaked upstairs and jumped on the bed. time to get the whip out!
        i’d be guessing from your opposition to training you must be one of those people with the free-running dog that comes up and attacks my dog while you’re yelling, “come here, spot. please, spot. c’mon spot. spot please.” and after spot bites my dog, who hasn’t left my side, in the head and i break up the fight, you explain: “oh, i don’t know what happened. he’s only done that twice before.”

      • Stating that one of your dogs is asleep on the couch and the other one might have sneaked off somewhere (“time to get the whip out!” How about an oar?) is trying to play both sides of the field. When not defending Iditarod cruelties and denying the rest of it (which is so typical of those in the abuse culture) you try to paint a picture of the innocent Dog Dad, and then confirm that your real position is that “all dogs, sans the feral sort, are produced to serve their slave masters wants.”

        You also ASSume a great deal, in stating that I am opposed to training, or that any of my dogs have ever run up and attacked other dogs. No, I’ve always trained my dogs (like good parents train their children) with FIRST forging a strong bond of mutual trust, meeting the dogs’ needs for free time to run and explore, and learning who this being is, and what he or she really needs. I am opposed to any cruelty in training, be it falsely labeled “positive” punishment, or any other kind of punishment. It takes time and patience, but it works.

        But the bottom line here is producing dogs to serve your wants, and getting rid of those that don’t serve your wants. It’s selfish, pure and simple, and it leads to cruelty, as evidenced by the documentation surrounding everything involved in this most selfishly motivated race.

      • perfect Suki. you’ve just described producing a dog to serve your slave master wants. that’s what training is no matter how you do it. so you’re the friendly slave master. but that’s kind of bunk anyway. nobody trains a dog without teaching it no.
        and you’ve clearly never been around Iditarod. most of those people – albeit far from all – are selfishly motivated to the extent they want to see if they and their dog buddies can get to Nome. and when it comes to pet, EVERYONE is selfishly motivated.
        we have pets because we like them. it’s got nothing to do with them. it’s total selfishness on our part.

      • Boy, you sure DO know how to twist and mangle to suit your agenda, while DIVERTING AWAY from the subject at hand. I’m a kindly slave master? So be it. If that is your only way of relating to dogs, then you’ve just shown your hand (again)…(and again…)

      • it’s got nothing to do with relating to anything, Suki; it has to do with simple facts. people keep pets for their personal human interests. no more. no less. you might be a kindlier slave master or less kindly. i don’t know you so i have no clue.
        but if you want to define pets as slaves, and that was your term not mine, then all of us who own pets are slave masters because we keep them around to serve us even if its only to have something to cuddle to make us happy.
        i’m honest about my agenda here; it’s to maintain a factual discussion.
        i’m not sure what your agenda.

      • I guess you can only relate to people keeping “pets,” as you call them, for some selfish purpose, because “selfish purpose” is all that you can relate to.

        Believe it or not, some people step up and rescue what the selfish among us have created, and we try to atone and apologize for what the selfish users do. We don’t keep “pets” because we want to cuddle. But, once again, you divert away from the subject at hand, distance yourself from the crimes committed in the Iditarod, breaking a canoe paddle over your dog’s backside, and try to do a little kiss ass by stating that your dog is sleeping on the couch.

      • bad example, Suki. the worst dog nightmare i ever saw was a “rescue” operation. i was actually involved with a group of mushers who tried to kidnap the dogs out of there because they were mangy and near starvation and puppies were running loose among adults where they were sure to get seriously injured.
        but near starvation is not starving, and in the end no one wanted to risk theft charges. so everybody just left feeling sick. the state did eventually intervene when it got even worse. by then most of the dogs had to be put down.
        the owner? she was in her own mind the antithesis of selfish. she was picking up dogs on the street and at giveaways and “saving” them. and because she was “saving” them, because her motives were pure, it couldn’t be possible the dogs were abused no matter how horrid their living conditions.
        people keep pets for their own selfish reasons. period. those reasons vary significantly, but they all come back to people.
        so climb down off your high horse. if you have pets, you’re doing it for you. if you’re rescuing pets, it’s because it makes you feel good about yourself. it’s all about feelings, and that’s fine.
        but when talking about how other should treat their animals, let’s stick to facts.

      • Well, this is interesting, I see in my mailbox that there are two replies from other people that are not appearing here. It also states at the top that there are 103 comments. Is there somewhere to look to find the rest of them?

    • “Positive punishment” is a strange sounding term. I’ve trained several of my cats and friends’ dogs using only positive reinforcement techniques, which I learned in a psych class I took decades ago. The class was basically a course in Behaviorism, which was popular in the ’60s. The training was called operant conditioning, and we trained rats in Skinner Boxes. We read about the punishment part, using electrical shocks, but never had to do that, thank heavens.

      I hike with my friends’ dogs, usually some version of husky, and take them out all day sometimes. Since I feel a huge responsibility for their safety, I put them in doggie seatbelts in the backseat. And when I first take them, I spend the first two weeks training them to come when I call and or gesture. If you use the right reward, Carr’s grilled deli chicken torn in strips works well, it doesn’t take long. At first I reward them every time, praising them as they run toward me. When they’ve got that down, I switch to a “variable reinforcement schedule” in which I don’t reward with food every time. I still give praise. The random food rewards mean that the behavior doesn’t extinguish right away. You still have to periodically use the food as well as praise.

      Then I can let them run free. If I see a person or dog with person in the distance, I call the dog to me, and snap on the leash. Once I called my friend’s husky off a snowshoe hare he started chasing. He was close, too. Took three calls, the last in my most commanding voice, but he broke off the chase and ran to me. I gave him some “good boys” you bet. And treats!

      I agree with Craig that before a team can be entered in the Iditarod, or other commercial race, the musher should be able to show that the dog will come when called. That’s pretty basic training, and is not hard to accomplish using the method described above.

      Another thing: I don’t see dogs as slaves. I try to always be kind to them. They are at our mercy. Their lives and happiness depend on us. They have an easier life than wild canids, but they don’t have freedom. We owe it to them to give them as much freedom as we can. They give us so much more than we give them.

      If mushers think they have to use harsh methods to train their teams, maybe we should question, is it worth it???

      • Maxine: i’ve trained dogs both ways. positive reinforcement works great on some. read one of my other posts. it doesn’t work at all on others. and most are in between.
        there are some things on which it just doesn’t work, one of them being fighting which i simply will not tolerate.
        i’ve never had to do much physically to get dogs to pull in harness other than tap them on the tail with a ski pole when they weren’t keeping the tugline tight. i have had to on occasion use some of that “positive punishment” as Kiersten calls it (it was always simple negative reinforcement to me) to get them to stop.
        i don’t like dogs that don’t know whoa, and i don’t like dogs that take off like bat’s out of hell on downhills when we’re going fast and i unclip for everyone’s safety.
        it’s tricky to train them to stay in front but not too close and to stop when they’re off the tugline and to come on command so you can hook backup, or to go “easy, easy, easy” to kill some speed, so you can grab the towline while still moving.
        i’ve always seen dogs as more like children than “slaves.” they should be allowed the maximum freedom acceptable within the bounds of reasonable behavior. my daughter grew up with rules in the house, too. negative reinforcement was used regularly. she spent some time in “time out.” she might have gotten a swat across the butt once or twice. she was grounded in her teen years more than she might have liked.
        she had jobs at home and at the stable. jobs are good. teaching kids a work ethic is good. it makes them better people.
        oh, and Katie loved to run… lots of animals do.

      • Obviously it isn’t just mushers who think harsh training methods are ok. Maybe people treat kids and dogs the way they were treated as children. People usually think the way they do things is the best. But it’s good to put yourself in the other’s paw to get some perspective. I don’t think I’d like a canoe paddle to be broken over my pelvic area, thank you! I would not do that to another sentient being.

        I also love ski-jouring with my friends’ dogs. I’ve been lucky I guess. The dogs seem to catch on right away. To be sure, they are older dogs, mature and steady, and they already are used to hiking with me. When we come to a fork in the trail, I yell out “this way” and point with my ski pole, and they go the way I point. I’ve never had to tap them, maybe say “tsk tsk” or some such.

        As for work ethic: that’s not whipped into someone. Either you’ve got it or you don’t, I think. Look at the kids in the same family. Some are lazy loungers and some are workaholics. Some are slackers; some are conscientious. All need training and KINDLY guidance. Same goes for dogs, I think. If they don’t want to ski-jour, don’t make them…If they don’t like running in harness, they shouldn’t have to be beaten, whipped, yelled at, shot or be killed in any way. That’s just wrong!

      • how do you know you wouldn’t like it? Maxine. have you tried it? there are, i am told, people who like getting spanked.
        it’s a canoe paddle. if you understand physics, you’d know it has a large surface area. it’s not like a bat. the pertinent question is: did it hurt the dog?
        he didn’t yelp. he didn’t sit. he basically didn’t respond. he acted like he was some 30-year-old father with six-pack abs asking his 6-year-old to punch him in the stomach as hard as possible.
        i supposed i could have just let him do whatever he wanted in the canoe and drown us all. would that have been better?
        dogs like humans have different tolerance levels for discomfort.
        and their all slaves. they aren’t any less slaves because you’re “kind to them.” they’re sill slaves. and that’s what pets are. we keep them for our desires, not theirs. the relationship might be symbiotic to some extent, but we’re in control.
        we’re the slave masters. no matter what techniques we use to condition dogs, we condition them to do what we want.
        and it’s OK. they’re not fellow humans enslaved. they are animals bred to be slaves over tens of thousands of years. it’s their role in life.

  14. Hi Laura . I respect your opinion as I always see sincerity in your statements. My question to you is how do you know fern was sarcastic? Do you know her that well ? Yes I have had to sign a few autographs. Do you think that is a pleasant experience for a reclusive musher ? Who grew up eating spawned out salmon and bear meat interspersed with homegrown vegetables? As to money earned you and I both know it was all spent to care for animals and was earned through me my friends and my teams extreme efforts. Sadly this was but a drop in bucket compared to the total cost . I work average 10-12 hours a day to amass enough money to care for these gallant animals hand and foot . Another question? How did you find what I will earn this year ? I asked itc directly they refused to say until last musher off the trail . I was hoping it was more so I could invest it more dog care . I love to feed and care for dogs any penny less reduces my ability in that area . As to me calming down it’s nice of you to care . It’s just pretty disturbing when someone from outside our state uses half truths to paint an incomplete picture and hurt animals and people I care about . I feel we should all be upset when people do that .its not a documentary if it colors according to the author feeling . At that point it becomes propaganda.

  15. Katherine Keith’s dog . Let’s throw accuracy into conversation. Throw bakers issues to the side as he is an extreme case . Katherine’s dog was very loved by her . It was her working loyal partner . I saw first hand her tears and personal destruction inside . This was her forever favorite dog . Loosing a leader is similar to loosing a husband wife or child as to feelings involved. That dog was there for her during her hardest moments. It was probably more loyal than her fiancé John baker . It will be many years before she can bond correctly with a new leader . I know this from being closely involved with sled dogs and mushers for over 40 years . Loosing a leader always effects mushers this way even if they don’t know it at the time . Loss of partner /leader is usually the down fall of a competitive team . Often throwing a musher into depression for a long time and unable to accept any other dogs in that position in their heart .

    • Whether or not Katherine feels bad about the situation is irrelevant. Given two dogs in a row are dead from inhaling their vomit it is only fair to ask: did she push those dogs too hard? It sure seems like a troubling pattern to me. And the fact that she is John Baker’s fiancee cannot be tossed aside either. He has been accused of beating dogs and shooting a dog on the gang line in front of a kennel employee. If Katherine is okay with that behavior then she is enabling the abuse to continue.

      • I agree to the concern to the pattern but luck can be fickle . My suggestion to Stu head vet was and is a no fault requirement that all dogs and musher of a team survive . If for any reason a dog / team member dies the team cannot complete the event as it’s no longer the same . Also a two year hiatus would be required before eligibility to sign up again . Obviously abuse would be permanent d-q . A hiatus would give a musher chance to anylize his program . These would be no fault requirements as bad stuff can happen but it would acknowledge the dog was in mushers care and it’s his primary job to assure survival. I’m not even sure I would make exceptions for sno go , avelanch , moose , dogfights, cars ect . It’s to painful for all involved when a dog dies in this event . It defeats the purpose of entering. I would hate to have a hiatus enforcement on me but it would be understood as I take my dogs survival very personally. Perhaps if a dog died out of mushers care say after it was dropped there could be leeway. In 70s my dad preferred to give dogs to friends along the trail as that was safer than leaving in official care in that era . Now as to John baker I’m sorry but you must separate all views of him and Katherine. I know way more than anybody on this forum as to this subject. Trust me John is at one end of spectrum Katherine at the other. I don’t know Katherine as to how she treats people but that has appeared fine .Dogs she treats them best possible. John is from another culture. To much to explain but weakness is not allowed as it comprises the group survival. He trains in worst weather imaginable where in ancient times if you didn’t return in 2 days they gave your family to another man . He trains on frozen water that moves around. Group survival is imperative. The old people would sit on ice to freeze so as not to be a burden. All that’s historically accurate. Can be looked up . All that said baker must take responsibility for his behavior. I know more about first cases than most so not worth discussing. He is opposite of Katherine so don’t group them or it’s inaccurate.

      • Ramey,
        Sounds like U are ready for politics.
        Maybe U can follow in Vern’s footsteps?
        These dog deaths are not bad luck, anymore than a mother who lets her children play in traffic may experience bad “luck”.
        Truth is, U dropped 7 dogs on the way to Nome…
        Finished in the top 10 again,
        Collected nearly 25K plus sponsor’s money all year to maintain your level of “care” which silently means all your vet bills for sick and injured dogs….OR…
        Maybe U are like Dalllas and cannot afford to take all injured dogs to the vet.
        How many of your 7 dropped dogs received pain meds after they were out of the race?
        I thought U might help with change, but U are just giving “lip service”….the same lines of B.S. we have heard from the top ten for over 30 years.
        Bad luck is not racing dogs until they die from aspirating their own vomit….
        That is pure abuse….tears do not remove the crime from happening, they just distract from the mental illness at the root of this “dog lot” lifestyle in AK.
        Maybe U should pray for your own Salvation!

      • I have no idea how that liked (by me) showed up on your post, Steve.
        Let me just say that your horse is too high, for me. I’m thinking you’ve wigged-out here and just cannot think clearly on this subject.
        Bias is impossible for most people to get a handle on, once it sets in, and yours is blatant IMO. I suspect that praying for salvation is another subject that you are “out of your league.”

    • Accuracy, yes, let’s! Truth, yes, let’s! Katherine does not attach herself to the dogs! The first thing she told me is not to get attached to the dogs because they don’t usually last! She has absolutely no emotions to those dogs. I mean sure, she gets happy when they listen and obey, that’s it. She constantly changes the lead dog depending on how it responded that week, which is by no means a bad thing. Katherine did not show any special or specific attention to Blondie, or any dog for that matter. I’m sorry her little head bow and tear was enough to make you feel differently. It was a show for the public. Look at the beginning of the video, she nonchalantly says there is nothing they can do, this type of thing happens. Then she is seen laughing and carrying on very chipper. She may have thought about it for a minute, but I assure you that’s it! I base this on my time living with her and those dogs. She was hardly ever there, always off in MN or around AK, and when she returned she definitely did not go out and see the dogs! She always had Pato Geron run her team for her, many times she was in Kotzebue and could have run them herself. Pato had to alternate between John and Katherine’s teams, and when he was out I had to run the yard alone most of the time, feeding, playing with, checking for wounds, changing bedding, spending time with them try to keep their attitudes happy, or responsive. Nobody else there did that! Not even Katherine. She views the dogs as tools, nothing more. She doesn’t have a great bond with any of her dogs, she just uses the ones who respond the best, which is also ok, but don’t think a head bow and sniffle on camera carries any real emotions.

  16. Craig, you say the dogs are not “forced” to run. Please define what you mean by the word “forced.” Dogs are whipped, kicked, thrown, beaten and bitten when they won’t run or won’t run fast enough. I’ve concluded that “force” is used.

  17. You can argue this back and forth, the truth is the public and sponsors no longer support animal cruelty. The tide has turned, which is why circuses are closing down and Sea World is losing millions in profits. The millions of people worldwide speaking out for animal rights is unprecedented. And the new generation of youth are demanding that we protect our planet and the species that are living within it before more wildlife become extinct.
    Europe is way a head of us in declaring dogs as sentient beings, but we are catching up quickly and before long the Iditarod will end. Just like greyhound racing, will become illegal, the Iditarod will end.
    I could say more on that but my film “Sled Dogs’ is my voice for the commercial sled dog industry. Besides, Im too busy signing autographs and counting my millions.

    • Hi Fern. I’m so happy to see your comment and be given the opportunity to personally give you my own take on your film. Sled Dogs pandered to the uneducated, uninformed and unreasonable. It reached out to milk the people most shackled to their extremist ideology. It lacked coherency, it rambled, and in it’s quest to wed certain edge cases in Colorado and BC, it more or less lied. I think that last line is kind of what sums up what your ultimate goal was: to sign autographs and laugh all the way to the bank with your “millions.”

      The irony is, you’re one of the few people actually making real money off of this sport.

    • Hi Fern levit ,glad you finally told the clear truth. You made this film for personal glory and money, to steal from and lie to uniformed so you could become rich . May truth come out and people see you for the theif and dishonest person you became . You are a parasite on good people and animals . I feel sorry for all the people you bilked . Did you know when you damage mushers and their kennels you directly make sled dogs lives harder . Or is that your dark purpose? Your own words speak best you have no time for truth as you are reveling in your millions- the root of all evil ! May god have mercy on your soul for dealing in lies and miss truths . You should donate every dime of your stolen blood money to the nearest animal shelter. All of it you creep !

      • Calm down Ramey, Fern was being sarcastic…the film isnt exactly selling out at the box office. The $24,262 you just won plus the $505,803 you’ve earned in previous races over the years far exceeds any projected revenue for an animal rights documentary. And certainly you’ve signed more autographs throughout your career as well.

  18. The Iditarod and others like it should be outlawed worldwide, and state legislation is called for.
    In the interim,boycott the races and their sponsors. Money talks,everything else walks, including ethics and morality.

      • Interesting comment, Craig. “…nothing wrong with dogs working like everyone else.” Especially in connection with the mantra: “Iditarod dogs love to run” as justification for the race.

        You apparently like to read, study and write, and you do a lot of it. And very well. What you write is always worth reading. Now just imagine that you were the property of something more intelligent and powerful than you, say some AI robot of the near future, and it kept you in a little room, fed you, and keeping you on leash, took you to the most glorious library every day, and made you remain there for several hours, working away on your lovely essays, while your fans sent checks to your owner, who took credit for your work. How long do you think that would be fun?
        You may actually feel that is your life now,, anyway, but at least you have a choice. You may not think it’s so fun if you’re forced to read and write when you just want to lounge a bit and have a beer while watching the clouds float by.
        Dogs are slaves of their owners, unfortunately for some. Would you rather be a dog yard dog, or one who gets to go romping off several hours a week on a nice hike with an outdoorsy human, sniffing the smells, and running free (in defiance of some ordinance) and then enjoying some down time at home with the rest of the “pack?” I know what I’d choose…

      • There are 2 basic conditions under which we work: there’s regular, voluntary employment and then there’s slavery. There’s also the matter of working a 40 hour week, and then there’s 80 plus hours per week. So, yeah, we all work, but we do it voluntarily and usually for 40 or so hours a week. So let’s apply that to the dogs since you brought up working. They do all of the work in the Iditarod and they don’t get a choice. And yes, they do love to work as a team and pull a sled. The ethical problem is being driven for 1,000 miles in sub freezing temperatures so the musher can win prize money and a truck. That’s insane. My dogs love to chase balls, but if I hit balls to them until they died or were injured just so I could win some money, that would not be okay in the mind of any reasonable person. Therein lies the problem and that’s what the Iditarod is all about.

      • Claire: i’m confused. do the dogs “not get a choice,” or do they “love to work as a team and pull a sled”?
        meanwhile, subzero is actually good for them; the biggest problem most dogs have when exercising is hyperthermia. that’s why dogs sometimes die chasing balls.
        yeah, chasing balls can be pretty dangerous in warm weather. heat stroke kills a lot more dogs than Iditarod.
        some die from heatstroke just from being left out in the yard in the heat without shade.

      • Maxine: i’m horrible at lounging, probably because i don’t much like it. and i know sled dogs that like to “go romping off several hours a week on a nice hike with an outdoorsy human, sniffing the smells, and running free (in defiance of some ordinance) and then enjoying some down time at home with the rest of the ‘pack?'”
        in fact, when i was up at Rick Swenson’s place the summer before last, i couldn’t find the dogs. the kennels were all empty. went snooping around to find out if anyone was home. eventually ran into Kelly coming home with the grand kids from a hike with the whole damn pack.
        there is a lot of variability in how sled dogs are treated here. Martin Buser used to regularly let his off the towline to roll around and sniff and before resting because he thought it made them more comfortable. that ended when some other Irod mushers complained.
        me? i think there should be an Irod rule that in order to get into the race, a musher has to go down to Mulcahy Park in Anchorage (which is fenced), go to the far side of the park, have someone let all the dogs out of the truck, and then get them to come.
        we’ve had problems in Iditarod’s past with dogs getting loose and the driver not being able to get them back. and a rule like this would require those mushers with leased dogs, of which there are quite a few, to develop a relationship with those dogs well before the race.

      • My main point here was that I’m concerned that people are taking “dogs love to run” and are spoiling it for the dogs. Making them run more than the dogs would chose to do if given a choice. Even wild wolves probably cover less ground proportionally in a year. If they run 36 miles one day to bring down a moose, feast on it for 4 days, lounging around digesting after meals before having to run down another one, they only cover between 3 to 6 thousand miles a year! Not a hundred miles a day in all weathers for a week or two. The Iditarod is asking an awful lot of these guys, not to mention the mushers themselves. And if a person is that driven to accomplish death defying challenges, that’s OK. But to make an animal who may not share the same goals wholeheartedly participate in that, is questionable. And many are questioning that…

  19. One dog death is one too many, and the fact that 5 dogs died one year, 6 dogs died another, etc., as well as the hundreds of dropped dogs (illness, injury, exhaustion) every year, it’s beyond time to end this race, as well as the other 1,000-mile Yukon Quest. Keep in mind that these are the fittest dogs in the world. These endurance races are too grueling for the dogs, considering the length, weather, and terrain, yet they will race beyond their limits, due to their loyalty. It was reported that “champion” Mitch Seavey raced with tired, sick, and aching dogs. They are put in harm’s way, anything can happen to them, which has, and for no good reason,–just a once-a-year, totally unnecessary race (no serum run) for only 67 mushers. This, I feel, as do many others, is blatant cruelty.

    On top of that, more cruelty with the dogs short-chained 24/7, except when they’re training. Yes,–it’s considered cruel in many communities, and illegal in some. Add to that the culling of the dogs, who aren’t “good” in the first place, or have become “done”, and the continuous breeding (one musher had to drop two dogs who were in heat) to get the best dog, is reprehensible. The Iditarod is Alaska’s shame, and the sooner this is realized, the better it will be, especially for the dogs.

  20. Dog deaths are a fact of any animal ownership. I pick up horses and cows throughout the year from Delta Junction farmers. Probably a larger percentage of house pets die than working animals. However….. quite a number of years back, when I was very involved in the CB 300, I pushed a rule through that said if one had a dog die during the race, then that musher was out. The ITC adopted it the next year. Swenson had a dog die in an overflow incident and was withdrawn. He sued the Iditarod, they backed down and rescinded the rule. The CB300 lacked the balls to stand their ground and also rescinded their rule.
    The idea was that the race was not necessarily blaming the musher for doing something wrong, but that since the driver of the team put the dog on the trail where “things happen”, then the driver must accept responsibility for that death.
    I see Jeff King has suggested that rule again. It is good rule and Jeff is right.
    Anyone can have a dog die. If I let my house dog run and he is hit by a truck…..hmm….that might show a little negligence? If I did the same thing next season, you would think me an idiot and extremely negligent. So what do I think of Katherine?

      • Why should he – the notion is a bit silly. Every time somebody wants to suggest a rule change they are obligated to follow that rule themselves first? Really?

    • JS–The fact that he “changed his mind” is kind of obvious, no? I was simply noting the hypocrisy.

      My problem with the rule is that it changes nothing for the dog(s). The only purpose of such a rule would be to throw a sacrifice under the PETA bus. Why anybody cares about appeasement to the fringe crowd is beyond me. It won’t have any effect on dog care within the race, which clearly is quite good barring accidents, it will simply be a punitive measure that serves no purpose other than to get a pat on the head from the kooky, out of state crowd who gets no closer to the Iditarod or outdoor, subsistence living then Facebook and Nat Geo specials, a pat which wont be forthcoming because the end game for this crowd isn’t modifying the race/industry, it’s annihilating it utterly.

      I feel bad that Keith lost a dog, but it was ruled an accident, so I’m not quite as willing as you to turn her into scapegoat or fall guy for every perceived problem in the sport. But I do have a lot of respect for her determination to finish under difficult circumstances; if only all mushers who started the race had her determination.

      • Jason: how do we know she finished under difficult circumstances? that might be true. it might not. i’ve known some dog deaths that almost broke my heart. i’ve known some others that didn’t. and maybe a few to which i responded, dare i say this, with a feeling of “good riddance.”
        what i also know is this: Rick Swenson ran 37 Iditarods and in all those races had one dog die in a freak accident. Katherine Keith has now lost two dogs in five Iditarods.
        has Mitch Seavey ever had a dog die on the trail? i can’t remember any. i remember Joe Redington losing one in his 19 or 20 Iditarods. it went into a tree well on the run from Finger Lake to Rohn in a deep snow year and broke its neck, if i remember right.
        i believe, i’m going on memory here because there is no easy way to look this up, that Martin lost one in his 34 races. and of course Jeff lost one a couple years ago when it was run down and killed by a snowmachine, which is certainly no fault of his.
        and Jeff, Martin and Rick go back to years when vet care was nowhere near as good as it is now. i think it’s safe to say that in recent years we’ve had a good number of dogs saved that would have died in early races. you don’t read about it. i guess the Iditarod doesn’t want it getting out that the vets sometimes do heroic work. but i know of several of these saves.
        there are legitimate questions in this case:
        what kind of shape was that dog in when it arrived at Koyuk? what did Keith tell the vets? what were they doing to treat it? had it been having problems keeping food down prior to Koyuk?
        this is not to say Keith is a bad person. as far as i know, she’s a wonderful person. i’ve never heard anyone say a bad word about her. but not everybody, for whatever reasons, is equipped to run dogs anymore than they’re equipped to drive race cars or, for that matter, highway vehicles.
        i’m color blind (red/green), and i’ll tell you it’s a significant handicap in dealing with dog foot care. i’m not suggesting people who are color blind should be kept out of the Iditarod. but if some color-blind dude were coming into every checkpoint with dogs with bloody feet stomping around i’d suggest that the guy would be someone the Iditarod should tell to find another sport if for no other reason than that a bloody trail makes for bad TV.
        i was around, too, when the Iditarod instituted the rule that if a dog dies, you’re out. i thought it was a good rule. it coincided, of course, with the only dog death Rick ever knew on the trail, which caused a big blow up and the rule went away, as John Schandelmeier noted. there’s no doubt the rule was unfair to Rick, and if you were around then you will remember he had to endure a fair amount of debate as to whether he was responsible for that death because he was or wasn’t running with a headlamp lit.
        you’ve been on the trail enough to know what a friggin’ judgment call that is. sometimes you can see better with the light and sometimes you can see better without the light. i can’t think of anyone with much more experience than Rick in making the call as to which would be better in a given circumstance, although some level experience doesn’t matter.
        you can either see better or you can’t see better. as your eye doctor would say if you’re getting fitted glasses: “1 or 2. which is better? 1 or 2.”
        that said, in retrospect, i’m not sure getting rid of the rule withdrawing anyone whose dog dies was a bad idea. King runs the DenaliDoubles race with that rule. it doesn’t seem to have caused any problems. and i can think of a black-and-white case in which it would have prevented at least one Iditarod dog death, and any dog death prevented is a good thing for Irod.

      • I think this is a measured, well thought out rebuttal to my post(s). I don’t necessarily agree with you, but I appreciate you taking the time to clarify your own thoughts and position. Yes, I was around when Rick ran afoul of that rule, and I think it’s somewhat ironic that he was on board with promoting it at the time.

        Having run sled dogs for 3 out of my 4 decades on earth, and yes, regrettably had some expire on me while in harness, I guess I just have a very pragmatic way of looking at things in regard to the hazards of the trail that few people who haven’t shared my own experiences are going to identify with. As you well know, my own background is as grounded in subsistence living in bush Alaska as it gets, and I’m afraid that my tolerances don’t align very well with the majority of your commentators. My personal feeling in regards to Katherine is that it is indeed troubling that she’s suffered dog fatalities in two consecutive races, but I’m not ready to throw her under the bus. As you said yourself, we lack information.

      • Jason every dog death in the Iditarod is ruled an accident, never the fault of the musher, as was the situation with the dog that died on your team in 2005. So what do you believe caused Oakley’s sudden death (or the deaths of others, as you specified you’ve had “some” die in harness)? If you have regrets, then surely there were things that could have been done differently to change the outcome in those situations.

        And certainly there are mushers who seem more careless then others. In 2015 Lance Mackey had two dogs drop dead in the same race…then there are cases like Hugh Neff and Brent Sass who have pushed teams beyond their limits on multiple occasions only to turn around and play the victim. Blame it on faulty genetics, or whatever, but even a preventable dog death is never the fault of the musher.

        The reality is that way more Iditarod dogs die off the trail then on it, which is a much larger problem to eliminate.

      • Laura–My regret about Oakley stems from the fact that I miss her, simple as that. She was a good dog that my wife and planned from breeding to birth to her maturation as a working dog. I knew her (and all of the dogs in my care over the years) better than the average person knows their spouse, and I loved her. When she went down in harness, my wife and I were running a non-competitive journey to Nome in the middle of the pack (30’s) with no attempt at competition or “tough pace.” There was absolutely no expectation whatsoever of a paycheck, or glory waiting at the finish line. We were taking a lot of rests and breaking up the runs into halves and basically just camping out, nowhere near finishing in the money. I draw the distinction because if your back-grounding me then you also know that I’m fully capable of running competitively as I’m a top ten finisher as well as holding multiple championships in 200-400 mile races over decades of racing, so I know the difference between what is required of the dog and musher running a harder pace.

        It wasn’t in the cards that year, so my wife and I were just having a very expensive camping trip; Oakley dropped in harness 11 miles from Nome with no warning–one minute she was looking and running perfectly, and the next her step faltered and she stumbled. I stopped and ran up to check on her and she was giving the signs of having some kind of seizure. It was like someone flipped her breaker. I worked on her for a while right there on the trail, but when it became apparent that she wasn’t going to come out of it, I bundled her into the sled and got her to help as fast as I could.
        She died during the ride into Nome, and when they conducted the autopsy, it was reported to me that the cause of death was a cardio myopathy. For 900+ miles she had ate, drank, and ran like an athlete in top condition who was happily doing what she loved, fantastic weight & hydration, and then suddenly without warning, she wasn’t.

        I regret that she died. But the question you may be asking, probably the REAL question is: do I regret putting her onto the race in the first place where something like that COULD happen and the answer is no. Not in the slightest. She didn’t want to sit in a backyard being some random pet who hardly got attention or did anything fun or ever had adventures, she wanted to be great. She wanted to cruise down that trail loping to see what rabbit fox or ptarmigan was around the next corner. She wanted to be more, to serve a purpose and fulfill a destiny, and in the end she died doing what she loved. Life is full of risks, Laura, and the only way to avoid them is to just sit on the couch while life happens outside, which, incidentally, is how I feel most people approach the subject who are commenting on this thread and holding self righteous judgment on a topic that is no more real to them then the latest Facebook blurb on the happenings of a foreign country.

      • Jason thank you for the heartfelt explanation, and I’m sorry for the loss of your friend and teammate. On two occasions in the backcountry I have cared for hikers who suddenly dropped from exercise induced heart attacks, neither survived. The sense of helplessness in those situations is profound, and so too the fragility of life.

        I can accept that Oakley’s death resulted from a physiological anomoly beyond your ability to prevent, however, both the Iditarod and Yukon Quest have disproportionately high dog death rates when compared to mid-distance and shorter races. I recall one year Paul Gebhart and Nic Petit each had a dog die during the T200 from pulmonary edema, but dog deaths during shorter races are for the most part a rarity, and generate significantly more dialogue then Iditarod and Yukon Quest dog deaths, which have come to be expected.

        I can also concede its possible a well conditioned team of huskies can run 1000 miles without suffering from illness, injury or death. But it sure seems like the risks to the dogs increase exponentially given the distance and time spent racing. And rather then implement changes to reduce these risks, Iditarod officials have callously dismissed them for way too long. One example is race veterinarians touting Pepcid as the miracle remedy for the historically deadly gastric ulcer. The necessity to medicate healthy dogs, even with an OTC antacid, completely misses the bigger picture. If the evidence indicates that large numbers of dogs in long distance races are developing ulcers, then maybe the vets should further study the dogs’ “natural” limitations and structure these events so as not to push beyond them.

        But the bottom line is the Iditarod does not want make changes to reduce risk factors for the dogs, and given that reality, the only way to fix it is to end it.

      • Jason – that’s an excellent post on Oakley, and i share your pain. i have been blessed with not having dogs die in the field or in harness, but there have been some damn close calls. and i almost had a fit healthy dog die in the kitchen once. long story there, but just to underline that dogs sometimes just die.
        the question as regards Iditarod is this: what about the ones that AREN’T “fantastic weight & hydration”?
        i don’t know of a vet whose worked the coast who hasn’t expressed concerns about dog weights these days, and more than a couple of musher have confessed to me they now think it a good idea to put coats on dogs before they get to Nome because a lot of them look awfully skinny.
        the faster the race goes, the more calories the dogs burn and the harder it is to keep weight on.
        and i don’t think you or I or even the diehard Irod fan base are representative of where most Americans are today on this subject, for better or worse.
        Irod is in something of a cultural war. it’s not going to win that war with an attitude of “we don’t care how they do it Outside.”
        as you know, i’m not big on appeasement. i’ll be honest. it pissed me off when Susan and Dave hooked up with the anti-trapping, anti-hunting Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). it was a self-serving move that was like a poke in the eye to traditional Alaska subsistence activities, ie. hunting and trapping.
        but with that said, i think the Iditarod’s problems will only continue to grow going forward if they don’t start doing something to show that the race is “all about the dogs.” it’s why i suggested an equal run/equal rest rule so it doesn’t look like mushers are pushing dogs ever harder to go ever faster to get to Nome.
        i’d like to be able to say: “look, the dogs love to run. they get an average of 12 hours rest per day. they’re well fed and healthy as all get out. and they appear to be having a lot of fun.”
        if i’m honest, i can’t say that now. there’s some dogs that don’t look like they’re having much fun. as one musher’s wife messaged me, “they ought to videotape every team leaving those coastal villages.”
        she thought that might make some mushers think twice about asking too much of a team on the stretch run to Nome. all i could think was that it would not be good for Irod. i don’t know what the hell she was thinking.
        remember Brent Sass. that shit show was enough to anger Iditarod veteran Sebastian Schnuelle, and he’s not exactly a PETA type. remember what he wrote:
        ” In my position I am running a delicate balance of telling the true story, while trying to be respectful at the same time. It rubs me a bit the wrong way reading comments about how Brent ‘did things right by his dogs’ with returning to the checkpoint. I am sorry to having to point this out, but it was not Brent who made that choice, itwas his dogs who did, When dogs refuse to go, a mistake was made.”
        Seb went on to make nice about how the dogs would recover and everything would be hunky-dory. i don’t necessarily agree with that. i know mushers who’ve told me they pushed dogs to this point, and they were never the same; that they would ever after hold a little back when things got tough.
        there are fine lines here. the best mushers, the very best mushers, can walk that fine line and get away with it. others can’t, which is why it would be a good idea for the Irod to define a broader line.

      • Not entirely sure where this will end up in the format of things but this is mostly in reply to Laura Stine’s March 19 reply: Will ending Iditarod really fix it? If I believed that I would be all for it. But is the lack of dog fatalities in shorter races because they are shorter or because they are regarded as preliminary and mushers make different decisions in preliminary events? In other words would eliminating Irod simply transfer the problem to a different venue? Would another race, or series of races, become the prize with the same problems/mentality as the Iditarod? A fairly substantial number of dogs have successfully completed both 1000 mile races in the same year. Has one ever died? Not that I can recall but correct me if that is not true but total miles may not be the core issue. It is musher decision making (or lack thereof) that is the root of the problem is it not, hence the slow down Iditarod proposals. As I started with; in the real world, will ending Iditarod really fix things? Dunno.

  21. Well Jason your definitely entitled to your opinion, let’s look at the truth though. I witnessed John shoot his dog after a run in a fit of anger as he often displayed, I am not OK with it. After telling John I was contacting people and telling everyone about it he sent people to the house to escort me out of there and drive me to the airport, at gunpoint, with a ticket to Anchorage, where I don’t know anyone. That was the beginning of March. After I persisted to contact people, who in return contacted John, he made a claim to police what, 3 months later after I left that I stole something and used his credit card without permission, well we all were able to use this card for everything and had permission, and I even signed my name on every transaction, not that any of this matters but now you know the real deal and can maybe assist the Kotzebue police investigate, since they are firm in telling me there is no active warrant for me. See, I would answer for any and all things I was responsible for, where as people such as yourself would rather make excuses and deny obvious animal cruelty, comparing PETA deaths to an Iditarod dog death, the difference is Katherine has a history of this, 2 years and running, in the same area, and she had a choice, she choose to complete the race at any cost rather than scratch, it’s clear as day, and even myself with not much dog race experience can tell a distressed dog, especially since you work with them every day, and look at her speed change, drastically low after she dropped to 9 dogs, then lower, all that strain on the dogs for no reason, but you have your opinions, which as stupid as they are, are yours to have.

    • Rick,
      You are not the first one to witness a musher kill a dog either through beating or gunshot…it is totally allowed under AK law.
      Dogs are property…not “sentient beings” to the court.
      Many handlers leave in fear and the mushers laugh, that they got rid of their unwanted help.
      My wife and I talked with Abbie for a few hours after she left Dallas’s kennel last fall.
      She was very upset and “traumatized” by what she had witnessed in lack of care towards sick puppies and abuse towards dogs by other handlers.
      Several handlers who had worked with Mitch recounted similar stories of witnessing abuse towards dogs.
      No one should come to Alaska for work and be forced to witness dogs beat or shot dead in the head.
      This “sport” is way out of line with modern culture and accepted beliefs throughout America.
      The ITC is the reason PETA is in involved in the protest, cause the board always takes the “low” road when issues arise…they have for 40 years.
      Keep your narrative alive and remember that not all Alaskans are happy with the “sufferfest” to Nome each March.
      Walk, Run, Ski, Bike, Snowmachine, there are many ways for competitive minded souls to travel the old Iditarod trail in Spring.

      • So is it legal in Alaska to shoot and kill a perfectly healthy dog because the dog wasn’t listening to your commands how you wanted? And then in a fit of absolute anger leave it attached to the lead line , walk in the shop, get a gun, return and just shoot it dead, for no other reason? I mean, I have lived all over this country, am no stranger to having to put down a fatally injured or dying animal, and have witnessed blatant abuse, but I’m fairly certain I’ve never been anywhere that the law,says you can do such abuse and killing freely. The fact remains, people that can’t care for animals properly should not own them. The fact that it may be legal is one thing, but the people who choose to beat and kill and mistreat the animals have obvious mental health problems. It is not healthy to have thoughts of, and acting on, such impulses. In John Bakers case, he has progressed into abusing people as well. Many know what I’m talking about, have seen his anger, and have been on the receiving end. To sum it up, it says volumes about a person’s character when they decide to abuse helpless animals. It’s disgusting.


        Rick, in Alaska dogs are considered property and can be “humanely” disposed of for any reason. Overworking or overdriving an animal is not considered a crime, and sled dogs are universally exempted from almost all of Alaska’s animal cruelty statutes. It is perfectly legal for mushers to kill healthy dogs, and a bullet to the head is deemed “humane” euthanasia by Mush with PRIDE, who even provides a diagram for where to place the barrel.

        Some boroughs and communities have their own animal cruelty statutes; Mat-Su Borough mayor (and Iditarod veteran/tour operator) Vern Halter recently supported regulations defining sled dogs as “livestock.” Ironically however, sled dogs are specifically exempted from the USDA’s Animal Welfare Act, which prohibits permanent tethering of ALL other animals kept for commercial purposes.

        The hypocrisy of the mushers is equally matched by the media’s one-sided coverage of them, which often reads more like paid content then factual reporting. But contrary to Jason’s perception that only the “kooky,” “PETA,” “fringe” crowd opposes the Iditarod, I know LOTS of Alaskans, from all walks of life, that do not like this race nor the treatment that many of these dogs endure.

      • That is interesting to say 5he least, unfortunately John didn’t follow the guidelines that you described. He just walked up and shot the dog in its middle, like a gut shot, it was terrible, the dog did not die immediately. I guess I can stop talking about it because with what you said, I’m sure nothing will come of it. It’s a shame that people feel the need to do such things. I understand people’s view on,”It’s just an animal ” but what person kills for no reason other than to kill? I guess I learned you kill for a purpose, such as food, or to end suffering, not for your own sadistic pleasure! I guess I will never understand that mentality, that is a mental health issue sure!

      • Rick,
        That is a very sad and terrible event that John forced U to witness.
        Gut shots or middle of the body is Animal Abuse even in Alaska.
        You should report this event to Alaska State Troopers…even after the date.
        Good to go “on record” and especially if other handlers witnessed it.
        This type of travesty is why I am involved as an advocate for sled dogs.
        I have heard far too many tales like this…it has “dampered” my accomplishments and love for Alaska.
        Our land and state are second to none, but some of the inhabitants and politicians are of the “scum of the earth” and those are the people who prop up this “dying horse” of a barbaric sporting event.
        Thank you for sharing your story as I know how hard it must be to recount those events.
        I would file a complaint with AST….let them investigate.

  22. We humans like to attribute human feelings to animals. We
    anthropomorphize. When my dog wags it’s tail I assume it is “happy”. Or it “enjoys” chasing after a duck in cold and wet mud. flats. I know that I feel good when he wags and chases ducks. But I am attributing my understanding of happy and feeling good to my dog. Since he does not appear to be howling in “pain” I assume he is “content”. But, really, I do not know what he is “feeling” A lot he does could be simple genetic or instinctive behavior. Dogs may chase and run because it is in their genes or because of some animal instinct. I don’t know. When an animal in our custody dies doing what is instinctive is that cruel? Maybe. I believe that because we are of a higher order of IQ we have an obligation to prevent those creatures that do not know the consequences of their actions or why they engage in them from doing damage to themselves. Animals and humans.
    I am feeling a bit “depressed” about the whole Iditarod thing.

    • Alaskans first – Nice attempt at being humorous, but you don’t know how to read dogs because self-centered people just don’t have the ability to perceive beyond their own wants. You’re trying to weigh in on something that is foreign to you.

      If one has a higher IQ and an obligation to animals in one’s custody to prevent them from doing damage to themselves, then it would naturally progress to also not doing damage to the animal, oneself. And, that leaves Iditarod mushers out of the equation.

      • Because I cannot see beyond my own wants? Nice attempt at being civil Sue. It was unsuccessful, however. And even after having many dogs in my life I admit that sometimes I just do not know what a dog is “thinking”. So to that extent it is foreign. Wish we all had your unique ability to understand everything about dogs.

  23. May all the betrayed dogs who die so horribly rest in peace forever after their “lives” being owned by exploiters who soullessly view them as soulless things. Irony at its saddest and most outrageous…

    Search: “Sled Dogma – YouTube” and when there click on Play All (videos), and see the hidden side of this “sport.”

  24. “Aspiration Pneumonia”
    Stomach contents (Vomit) enters the lungs as dogs are sick, exhausted and still forced to run tied into the gang line.
    This barbaric race needs to end.
    This may be the only dog we know is dead, but the top 3 leaders dropped 21 dogs that were sick or injured.
    No one I speak with has any respect left for abusing dogs…
    “Passive Aggressive” animal abuse is what I see in these mushers.
    Oh we love our dogs so much, we run them to death.
    Something needs to change.

    • as a factual manner, nobody is forcing any Iditarod dogs to run. at most, you could argue that in some kennels – though far from all – the dogs are aggressively conditioned to run. in most cases, however, it’s pretty obvious the dogs run because they like to run as do most dogs.
      and none of the 21 dropped dogs you refer to has died. the Iditarod is actually pretty good about reporting dog deaths these days, even the deaths of dropped dogs.
      if you’re interested in why the dogs are dropped, here’s the latest study:
      you’ll note the main reasons for dropped dogs were shoulder and wrist injuries from which the dogs pretty quickly recover.

      • As a factual matter….you opinion is the dogs like being tethered to a gang line and run 100 miles a day.
        The fact is….U do not speak “dog” and do not know if they enjoy being tied together and forced to keep up with the leader’s pace (if they stop they will be drug in harness).
        This is why so many have ulcers from constant stress.
        That is why Davis has them pumped full of Pepcid….rotten guts from being forced to run.
        That is my take…
        Worth as much as your 2 cents.

      • my two cents are based on watching a lot of dogs in a lot of Iditarods, Steve; i’ve never see one be dragged along in harness. that sort of thing isn’t even practical. i would radically slow a team’s pace.
        and none of us speak dogs because dogs don’t speak. but they do express themselves with body language and facial expression. i’ve seen a good number of Iditarod dogs that made it clear they DIDN’T want to run.
        i’ve seen more that wanted to run. when they’re lunging into their harnesses and jumping up and down, it’s not because they want to get going. i’ve known some old running buddies who were the same way.

      • Bark, bark, howl, moan…
        Mr. Medred,
        You are wrong.
        Dogs speak volumes of excitement, concern, fear, love….
        Just cause you do not speak dog, they vocalize plenty of sound to communicate with other k9’s. (Along with their body language)
        I would argue they communicate better than the average mellineum tied to their I phone.
        I live next to 120 sled dogs that can wake me up at night and by their tone, I can tell if a moose may be in the area or if it is just a cold 3 am howl on “da chain”.
        Aside from this discussion,
        The fact remains….
        Many sled dog die this way.

  25. So, some scapegoating going on here, I see. Anything to protect the low consciousness taking place in this arena. The fact is, at least 153 deaths recorded in the race, which represents thousands more lost behind the scenes from culling and being chained up short in the off season.

    “‘I want to say something . . . about this humane thing,’ [Susan] Butcher said. ‘There’s a lot of bad stuff going on in dog mushing. We wouldn’t, as a group, pass anybody’s idea of humane treatment of animals. As a group, we don’t pass my standards of humane treatment of animals.’”

    “I bought one of my dogs from a musher who bragged about beating him with a shovel. The musher’s son collaborated* this and was amused by the abuse.” – Jones, GB. Winning the Iditarod: The GB Jones Story, Wasilla: Northern Publishing, 2005

    “Call his name and a command, like ‘hike up.’ When he doesn’t respond, stop, go up to the dog, pull back on his tug line and with a pre-selected will stick about 1/2 inch in diameter and three feet long, give him a good whack on the butt as you repeat the command. You have to whack him good, too.”
    “Distance racing does have its negative moments (gasp!); time when Fluffy would rather not do what I want him to do, like pull the dang sled.
    ‘Fluffy, hike up!’
    Fluffy thinks, ‘No thanks. Actually I’m a little tired here, and pulling would be a negative experience so I don’t think I would like to pull the sled. No, I definitely don’t want to pull the sled right now.’
    ‘Fluffy, quit-your-screwing-around-you-miserable-excuse-of-a-fur-covered-garbage-disposal-before-I-whack-your-worthless-hiney-so-hard-you-will-need-two-stamps-to-send-back-a-postcard.’
    Collect yourself a stick, give the verbal command ‘hike up; stop the sled, pull back on Fluffy’s tug line, and whack Fluffy’s butt.”
    – Seavey, Mitch. Lead, Follow or Get Out of The Way!, Sterling: Ididaride Publishing Company, 2008

    So much more, and so little space within to share it.

    Please wake up. Torturing and exploiting the beings who would gladly give their lives for you (in return for a little kindness and respect) just for some prizes and your own simple minded idea of “glory” is despairingly sick.

    • Sue: in fairness to Iditarod, the number of deaths is skewed by the early races with large and estimated dog losses at a time when not much was known about how to run a 1,000-mile race. deaths in recent times, when corrected for miles runs and differences between lifespans, put the Iditarod death rate in line with the death rate for humans in marathons.
      life is a journey to death. that some dogs die on the trail is sad, but they are likely happier to go that way than a marathoner who dies on the road. i’ve never known a dog that wouldn’t prefer to get out and run rather than hang around a kennel or a house.
      still, as the late Susan Butcher observed, there were some less than perfect individuals associated with Iditarod back in the day, and there are likely some less than perfect individuals involved with Iditarod today. animal sports of any kind are decidedly not a place for people who lack for self control or for those who are driven to win at any cost.

      • “Win at any cost” is ALL of them. You may be able to fool yourself, but you can’t fool me. I know that these dogs are made to run beyond their endurance, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg in this “sport” for the exceedingly selfish.

        Let me explain to you that people who are not self-centered, who really care about dogs, don’t ask “what can those dogs do for me?,” but do ask “how can I make those dogs happy”? Hint: It doesn’t include breeding and culling, chaining, or making them pull a sled for 100 miles a day (for any reason, let alone for prizes and some twisted idea of “glory” at their expense). And then, trying to pass that off as any form of caring about them is ludicrous.

  26. This race was positive overall. One dog death to pneumonia is barely significant, and it was proven that all it takes to “slow the race down” was a return to a traditional route and some more normal weather conditions. Hard to see how it can be spun up for legitimate negativity. I mean, using a dog death to dig into past tragedies? That’s pretty dark tbh.

    Also, I think if I were Rick I’d put a lid on it until the investigation was complete. Right now he’s just digging the hole deeper and not looking very good in the process.

    • Well Jason, it’s definitely your lack of care that is the attitude that gets dogs killed and the actions overlooked. One dog dead and things look pretty good overall? Wow! How about no dogs dead dude, how good would that look? And how do the dogs die of pneumonia? Well one way is to run them to hard and overwork them causing them to overheat, and allowing water to build in their lungs! There was absolutely no reason to continue a race with only 8 dogs and over 5 checkpoints remaining when she didn’t even have a chance to have a top 10 finish! So, 2 years in a row she allows a dog to die in the race, but that’s normal? And as far as any investigation, who is conducting any? Not Johns great friend the chief of Kotzebue police! He’s the same guy that won’t return a call from a person with a “supposed” warrant for his arrest in regards to how to proceed! And it doesn’t matter what is on court view, the Kotzebue police themselves say there is no warrant for my arrest! So, what hole is being dug? I’ll tell you, it’s finally coming out that John Baker and Katherine Keith abuse and kill dogs, cheat, and view dogs as disposable! Apparently I’m the only one with balls enough to say so! And I can’t make myself look any worse than ADN already tried to do !

      • A couple thoughts: my “lack of care” is rooted in simple practicality, Rick. Of course a sled dog dying is a sad thing, but lets keep our hats on and consider the bigger picture: In a collection of pet dogs the approximate number of those which started the Iditarod this year, a single fatality from natural causes in a 12-14 day period isn’t unlikely. Now, look at how many dogs were put down in shelters around the country during the same time period and the number rises precipitously. Just look at Shandelmeir’s recent story about dogs being put to death in PETA’s own shelter in Virginia and the numbers are staggering. So, let’s not act like a single dog dying on the Iditarod is somehow an event calling for the pulling of our hair, the gnashing of our teeth and gibbering in tongues while racing around defecating ourselves, okay? Under the conditions the drivers were racing in this year, I’d call a single fatality a clear sign that drivers by and large DO take phenomenal care of their athletes. And so would anyone else who didn’t come into the conversation with an axe to grind.

        The fact of the matter is that this dog dying, as sad as it is, is just another tool to be used to either give the Iditarod a black eye, or to try to take down an “enemy” such as you want to do with Baker. On that topic, all I see is a disgruntled former employee who couldn’t hold down his job there and felt free to use their credit card as if it were his own throwing as much dirt as possible at a man who trusted him. Hard to see where the “balls” are in that, Rick.

      • Rick,
        Keep up the fight…
        Don’t let ADN bring you down, as an old ADN employee once told me:
        “The Iditarod week is the only week ADN makes good money from advertising”.
        So, you can see why they go to great limits to discredit any opposition to the race.
        Sled dogs need human advocates, now more than ever!

    • “Win at any cost” is ALL of them. You may be able to fool yourself, but you can’t fool me. I know that these dogs are made to run beyond their endurance, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg in this “sport” for the exceedingly selfish.

      Let me explain to you that people who are not self-centered, who really care about dogs, don’t ask “what can those dogs do for me?,” but do ask “how can I make those dogs happy”? Hint: It doesn’t include breeding and culling, chaining, or making them pull a sled for 100 miles a day (for any reason, let alone for prizes and some twisted idea of “glory” at their expense). And then, trying to pass that off as any form of caring about them is ludicrous.

      • With an attitude like your’s we would have never left the cave’s, Sue. Thank God somebody had the presence of mind to domesticate animals back in our family tree.

      • Jason: Ugh, your head’s so swelled up it’s about to blow. Such egocentric people belong in padded cells as opposed to caves…great accomplishment. Domesticate your ego.

  27. Where to begin! Well I’ve never actually claimed Katherine abuses the dogs other than the way she flips them to put on booties, not natural and painful for the dogs. But what do you say when she works with John and agrees with his “techniques ” which is all stemming from beating the dog to make them do what you want? I am not the only one to make claims of animal abuse, just the only one speaking out, there is a several year long history of Johns abuse from well before me ever working there! How many dogs need to die before someone actually steps up and talks? How many dogs does John have to kill before people admit what they know? Last year Katherine and John faked vet paperwork, which I witnessed, and she had dog deaths, this year another dog dies because clearly Katherine believes the dogs are expendable! She does not care! She dropped to 8 dogs with over 5 checkpoints left, and was not even in the running for any lead position so strategy played no part, why would you continue to put all that stress on your animals for no reason unless you didn’t care and just wanted to finish the race at any cost? And didn’t John say she was running his team because of his withdraw? But her dog died? And The lies just continue and the dogs keep dying! I emplore you, fin a handler that worked for them that has only good things to say aside from the 2017 handlers, Pato Geron, Raelyn Shover, ( they are a married couple ), and Scott Engbretson, they all have something to lose by speaking against John because they all assisted John in his vet scam and doping, but that apparently won’t get mention. Bottom line is John and Katherine kill dogs, cheat, and have a very long history in doing so. I have been discredited, which is fine, I’m not the one killing dogs, and the guilty will always do all they can to make others believe they are innocent. I didn’t wait years, I spoke out immediately, and made to look like a criminal, that’s ok, they still kill dogs, how long will it continue? Thank you Craig for your unbiased article, you print the facts, and the fact is if we had reports of all the times they mistreated animals, weather the source was “Discredited “, it would show a paper trail going back at least 25 years!

    • Rick,
      It is standard “Good Old Boy” politics in Alaska.
      Tossing criminal allegations at the opposition is a standard play from what I have seen in my personal experience with the ITC “Dog Mob” in AK.

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