UPDATE: This story was updated from the first version to include Nic Petit’s decision to drop out of the race.
Bad judgment is among the most normal of human behaviors, and Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race leader Nic Petit put it on display Monday.
Some might fault him for this, but the reality is that the responsibility for Petit’s actions rests with race organizers, not Petit. Petit pushed a dog team until it quit because he wanted to win the race.
The Last Great Race years ago reached the point where mushers were forced to run this risk if they hoped to win, and race organizers have been unwilling to do anything about it.
Petit this year tried to help them out by disguising what happened with a story about a dog fight and the team getting flustered because he raised his voice. It’s garbage. His team has heard his voice raised before, and Iditarod dogs are so tired by the coast they lack the energy for much of a fight, if any.
Petit’s team quit for the same reason Brent Sass’s dogs quit in White Mountain in 2016 and four-time champ Jeff King’s quit on the Kaltag Portage in 2012 and Petit’s on the Portage in 2014 along with Hugh Neff’s on Golovin Bay later in that same year.
The dogs quit because they’d been pushed too hard. It’s that simple, and it’s been going on for too long.
Ask Rick Swenson, the winningest musher in Iditarod history. His strategy in the 1987 race was to make defending champ Susan Butcher drive so hard along the Bering Sea coast that her team would blow up. The plan didn’t work.
Instead it backfired at Safety, the last checkpoint on the trail. Swenson’s team quit on him there. It was the darkest moment in the career of the state’s premier dog driver, and he would never be the same after.
Swenson won one more Iditarod in 1991 to cement his place as the best, but it was a bit of a fluke. It was about Swenson himself being tougher and bolder than anyone else in the race.
When a trio of mushers led by Butcher turned back for the safety of White Mountain to sit out a hellacious coastal storm, Swenson rearranged his team so the most heavily furred dogs were to the windward side of their teammates, put coats on dogs he thought needed more protection, and then went to the front of the team, took the gangline and led them through the storm himself.
It was a different time with different dogs and a different trail when a musher could still win by stepping up as the proverbial “toughest dog in the team,” but the race was already changing. It wouldn’t be long before Swenson would be simply unable to compete.
After ’87, he clearly could not bring himself to push a team to the razor’s edge of exhaustion to win. Not that he was all that good at it before. As a young reporter on the trail in 1983, I can still remember getting lectured by Swenson on how he wasn’t going to “burn up a dog team” trying to catch Rick Mackey that year’s eventual race winner.
Swenson would never have done what Petit did on Sunday in making an 11-hour, nonstop run from Kaltag to Unalakleet, a run that was noticed by many familiar with the sport if not by the asleep-at-the-wheel Alaska media. There were those who wondered immediately if Petit was going to pay a price. There were those who predicted what came to be the inevitable end.
Petit made it through one more checkpoint before his team quit on him. Dogs aren’t robots. They can only give so much. They are dependent on the judgement of driver, and Petit’s judgment was bad.
Snowmachines from the village of Shaktoolik were eventually sent out to pick up Petit and dogs and haul them back to the airport. The Iditarod, in a media statement, said the musher had scratched from the race “in the best interest of his race team’s mental well-being.”
Back in the last millennium, Iditarod lacked the technology to help put an end to this problem of burning up dog teams. The technology now exists to change that. It has existed for some time. Iditarod organizers could years ago have reformed a race wherein the path to victory has become pushing dogs as close to exhaustion as possible without going over the cliff.
For the dogs
There are now two global positioning system (GPS) tracking beacons on every dog sled. The beacons tell Iditarod exactly how much time the sleds spend moving and how much time they spend stopped with the dogs resting.
The Iditarod can easily write a rule requiring every musher have X hours of rest in the team by the penultimate checkpoint of White Mountain, and then require that a team that hasn’t banked enough rest by then stay until it has satisfied the rest requirement.
Such a rule would end the race to win the “grueling” Iditarod by exhausting dogs. No musher in his or her right mind is going to want to burn up a team getting to White Mountain only to sit there and wait as a parade of other teams driven by mushers with better judgment goes storming past.
But Iditarod has refused to even address this idea. The organization argues the lone, mandatory, 24-hour rest somewhere along the trail, the mandatory eight-hour rest somewhere along the Yukon, and the mandatory eight-hour at White Mountain are adequate.
Clearly they are not.
Over the years, there has been enough recognition of the problem that from time to time Iditarod has talked about adding more mandatory rests and turning the event into something of a stage race. That’s a bad idea. A series of sprints between mandatory stops are harder on the dogs than a steady pace.
There’s no sense setting up a system that encourages mushers to make things harder for their teams when it is possible to set up a system that encourages mushers to make the race easier for their teams.
If you go back and crunch Iditarod numbers over the years, you will find the race doesn’t always go to the musher with the fastest dogs; it regularly goes to the musher whose dogs can survive with the least rest.
The data for last year’s race shows that Joar Leifseth Ulsom from Willow didn’t have the fastest dogs on the trail. There were faster dogs behind him at almost every checkpoint and especially so along the Bering Sea coast.
But Ulsom was able to grab a lead by resting his dogs less and then hold on. By the time the race reached the key, 80 mile leg over the Topkok Hills between White Mountain and Safety, there were teams behind Ulsom a full 2 mph faster than his, but Ulsom had a big enough lead they couldn’t close the gap.
Petit ran a different strategy last year than this year. He rested his team more, and it showed.
On the 20-mile run in from Safety to the finish line in Nome, Petit’s team was trotting along at better than 10 mph. Ahead of him, Ulsom’s dogs could do only 7 mph. This is the difference between a marathoner runner ticking off six-minute miles and a marathon jogger taking nine-minutes per mile.
In marathon terms, Ulsom had gone out too fast and hit the wall. But it didn’t matter. By then it was too late for Petit – who’d run a sensible race with adequate rest for his team – to catch the slower team, and so he finished second.
Petit obviously tried a new strategy this year. It was the strategy the race rules encourage mushers to play. It was the strategy that risks pushing dogs until they drop.
And so they did.
I can already hear Iditarod fandom starting to sputter, and I can see the spittle forming on the lips of know-nothing boosters who live in the Iditarod echo chamber of see-no-evil, hear-no-evil and good-God-don’t-speak-any-evil.
Yeah, yeah. I know. Anyone who doesn’t think today’s Iditarod is God’s gift to dogs has to be some sort of animal right’s nut job, maybe a closet member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
The truth is that I’m a guy a lot like Petit. Maybe too much like Petit. Probably worse than Petit on the PETA scale. I’ve without doubt killed more animals than Petit. I’m good at killing.
Still, like Petit, I have a soft spot for dogs. I let them in the house and on the couch, as he does, although I admit this wasn’t always the case and the couch sitting is allowed on only one couch. But if the dogs were to move from here to live with someone else, I’d be damn picky about who, as Petit is in dealing dogs, because there are people in this state who see dogs as nothing more than commodities.
Like Petit, I’m also a pretty competitive guy, and that is something not always easy to contain. And I’m someone known to fall victim to bad judgment now and then because that’s what we, as people, do.
I’ll freely admit to being there when several dogs dropped from heat stroke or exhaustion because although I knew I was asking for a little more than they had to give, I asked anyway.
The Iditarod as it is run today encourages rather than discourages this sort of behavior.
The Iditarod might proclaim that the race is “all about the dogs,” but there is a double standard.
Yes, for a majority of the field, “all about the dogs” is arguably true. All Knik’s Jeremy Keller is trying to do out there is cover the 1,000 miles from Willow to Nome with a gang of family pets.
The same is the case for most of the other Iditarod BOP (back of the pack) mushers as they have come to be called. The race is to them about their dogs and their personal adventure, and not about winning anything.
But to a handful of the others at the front, the Iditarod “is all about the winning” – not all about the dogs. The dogs are interchangeable and expendable parts.
Top mushers at least used to be honest about this. More than one over the years was heard to remark that he or she just wanted to “win the damn thing so I can retire.”
When you want to win, you do what you need to win. The things you need to do to win are not always pleasant or even within the rules. Nobody talks about the Iditarod cheating that has gone on over the years, but there is Iditarod cheating that has gone on over the years.
The new rule that popped up this year saying “a musher may not be accompanied by or accept assistance from any motorized vehicle that gives help to the musher, including aircraft and snow machines” didn’t arise by accident.
There was a reason. There were indications the rules against “outside assistance” got bent to help a musher or mushers last year. The Iditarod has a history of this. The late-Susan Butcher and husband Dave Monson bent the rules on the way to her first of four victories; as a result, Teller musher Joe Garnie ended up second.
Butcher was an extremely talented dog driver. She was always destined to win an Iditarod or more, and she showed that by winning three after the rules were changed specifically to make sure Monson wouldn’t be following her along the trail to assist with tactical advice or more.
Winners become winners by doing what they need to do to win.
If that means cheating, well, as defrocked Tour de France champ Floyd Landis – the man who brought down Lance Armstrong and is responsible for cycling finally making a good faith effort to clean up doping – put it so well, “it was either cheat or get cheated. And I’d rather not be the guy getting cheated.”
And if winning means pushing dogs to their very limits and sometimes beyond, there are people who would rather not be the guy holding back because at the Iditarod finish line in Nome there is one race champion getting a lot of attention and a long list of forgotten and forgettable losers.
And therein rests the description of an event in which animals need protection from the bad judgment of people. It’s easy enough to provide in this age of technology, too.
All Iditarod has to do is step up.
Categories: Commentary, News
Craig, here is Petit explaining what happened to his team: https://www.ktuu.com/content/news/Nicolas-Petit-talks-about-what-happened-Iditarod-2019-Shaktoolik-507260971.html
Don’t mind saying that this is almost exactly as I suggested some days ago.
Have to say from that picture that he doesn’t look like he is having a good time. Article seems to be a bit “fluffy” to me.
Bill you have to be joking. Petit is actually CRYING as he reflects on having (figuratively) beaten the crap out of those same dogs in the same spot during last year’s race. And then he cries the dogs missed out on winning. WTF? The dogs don’t give a shit about winning, it’s all about him. So will he make the same mistake three times…or leave the “mental” dogs back on their chains in Girdwood next year?
Apology accepted Laura. Heheh!
Bill apparently my sarcasm over the whole “mental” thing didn’t quite come through. Personally I think Petit is spinning the psychological crap to cover for the fact that he drove those dogs too hard. I think those dogs were physically exhausted…to the brink of collapse. But when you stop and think about it, it’s kind of one in the same though…break the dogs’ bodies, break the dogs’ spirits…either way the dogs are broken.
You are reaching here, Laura. When the facts change some can change their minds and some can’t.
What facts Bill? Just because Petit’s dogs looked chipper at the Shatoolik checkpoint after 125 miles of running doesn’t prove anything…maybe they were excited to get to what they thought was their next campspot. But that push wasn’t enough for “Daddy” so he chucked a heavy bale of straw on the sled, probably some more supplies, and ran another 12 miles. Maybe the dogs said fuck this…maybe they ran out of gas…maybe they stopped and their muscles “tied up” as I have sometimes seen happen to horses. But Nic’s grown man crying act has no facts to present…how about some testimony from the vets who cared for his dogs after he scratched? Did the dogs receive any treatment or medications? That might present some facts to support his version of events. Just as Dallas was exonerated by his storytelling…a musher’s word is now being taken for fact…and it shouldn’t be.
Like I said Laura, you are reaching here.
For someone with absolutely no mushing experience we are all just hanging on your every word about what has occurred here. Media will no doubt be pounding your door down wanting your expert opinion. Heheh!
Bill if the media wasnt coddled up to the Iditarod for all the money it makes them, this race would have been done years ago. But when a musher says jump, the reporters all say how high? Hell the media (as in GCI) directly pays for the Iditarod to exist…they have zero incentive to criticize the race, nonetheless report the truth.
Laura, so now it’s the media that’s the problem with you “drugstore” mushers? Isn’t that Don Trump’s line?
Bill I would not consider myself a drugstore musher…I have no interest in mushing because I could not afford to do it right. I do however have a lot of insight as to what is going on behind the scenes at some of these kennels, and I care very much about the welfare of the sled dogs. I haven’t been too impressed with the things I have seen and when I shared my concerns with the local mushers they not only callously dismissed them but threatened retaliation. And I got it. So no, I don’t think the Iditarod plays fair, and I don’t think the media does either.
Take Mitch Seavey…a picture from his doglot was featured on PETA’s muni bus ads in Anchorage…was this fact reported anywhere else but here? All the stations covered the story but no one mentioned who’s dog it was despite this being clearly stated in the press release. What about the former handlers who have come forward witnessing Mitch shooting dogs, beating dogs, culling dogs…? Even fellow Iditarod mushers have leveled allegations of abuse against him. Obviously Schandlemier isn’t allowed to print what he really knows in ADN but in his latest article he states: “There is undoubtedly abuse in the sled dog world. Abuse in racing kennels has been documented.” And more people undoubtedly would come forward if they weren’t afraid of retaliation.
So don’t act like there is not cause for alarm about what is happening to these dogs during and after Iditarod. And the heartfelt purpose to all of this? Money and ego. Like I said before…how many of Petit’s dogs were treated with drugs before being released by the ITC? Those facts would tell us a lot more than Petit’s dramatic display for the camera…which wasn’t even an “interview,” rather Iditarod produced pay-per-view propaganda.
Laura, I have no quarrel with your concerns about kennels and the abuse that may go on there. Of course there will be abuse of dogs namely because we know there are abusers of their own children. It may be ignorance or just the feeling that their God gave them the dominion over the animals that some can take as “anything goes.”
That said, when you go off on the “drugs” that ITC administered to Petit’s dogs you lose me and everyone else that does have mushing experience IMO.
From what I’ve learned I would be surprised if any of his dogs needed anything other than something to combat dehydration from his pretty clear moving away from his planned on feeding schedule.
I apologize for the drugstore musher label as you are more of a drugstore expert on all things Iditarod. And you may have some cred in some areas but not in the mushing category IMO.
what did you expect him to say, Bill? “we were running along fine when half the team just dropped like stones, and then i couldn’t get the team to go again. goddamn dogs. i’d like to shoot them all right here if i could get away with it.”
of course, he’s going to say the politically correct thing. it was all in their heads. they weren’t the least bit tired. i feel terrible. they were my best friends.
everything he says he could be true.
Funny that he should come up with the exact same story that I suggested-maybe he read it in your blog. It’s a good story even if I do say so myself. Heheh!
His dogs sure didn’t seem tired, at least not enough to give up. I’m sure you’ve seen teams that get tired drop down to 3 mph without giving up-say when Rick Mackey caught up Larry Smith for his win (Cowboy’s dogs didn’t quit they just kept slowing more).
that was then. this is now.
alkaline batteries versus lithium batteries. slow fade versus boom; they’re done.
Cowboy’s dogs also had hair. and they broke trail across most of the southern route from Ophir to Shageluk because there were no real trailbreakers then.
Likely story, Craig.
I spoke earlier of the late Bill Vaudrin speaking of dogs that can be driven-I believe that Larry’s dogs were of this group. And few competitive mushers today allow their dogs to slow, intentionally.
i’d say Larry was old school, Bill. as i said, that was then….
Not to mention if Petit’s dogs were not totally “blown out”…
Don’t you think he would have rather rest an extra day or two and then FINISH the race?
He knew his dogs were done and that is why he aborted the trail with a rescue on snowmachine (towing) his dogs on the sled.
Bill knew his excuses cause they are the same ones that Irod mushers have been telling the press for YEARS!
Boy Steve you have outdone yourself on BS with this post. I’m in no way connected to Iditarod other than to have run it one time in the early 80s. And my reasoning on what happened to Petit has nothing to do with Iditarod, either-it was based on my own experience of mushing dogs for many years. Further, my experience was with a team that was not stressed (physically) either.
I gave my impression of what occurred immediately after it occurred and the non-mushers on here poo-pooed it just because they insisted on the physical burn-out model they have developed in their minds. Some started half-stepping after DeeDee weighed in from the scene and only the craved ideologists on here are still pushing it after viewing Petit’s dogs just prior to his problem.
Petit could have rested longer but not without additional food and water-so essentially that argument is also BS along with the rest of your post.
If Petit has NO extra food, cannot melt his own water for dogs and cannot STOP and rest an extra day when his team requires it, then how is this a humane event?
If the the husky genes are less and less each year…
And snowmachines with “groomers” break trail, what is left to preserve out there?
I never travel in the backcountry without an MSR stove and a small pot to melt water in emergencies.
(This can save your life)
This race is now a parade of hypocrisy from the “fake start” in da city, to the “check point” to check point mentality with no extra food or gear (like a small tent) carried on board the sled.
This is why times are faster each year…
Not better dog handlers.
We saw last year what happened when Lanier and the “Mushing Mortician” were stuck in a storm and could not make their own bivy…they also had a snowmachine “rescue” and the press made Heros of them as well.
Steve, the issue is how long can one spend with a large team of dogs before their food and fuel run out. Not whether/not one takes twice what they need just in case a “once in a lifetime event” takes place. I suppose one could fault airlines for not carrying full tanks in order to save fuel, too.
Anyway, this is clearly no longer a “travel in the backcountry” event with most of these teams sprinting from checkpoint to checkpoint-Quest is more of a slog but essentially similar.
A new thing is the button that can be pushed to evacuate yourself and your dogs whenever you decide the issue is important enough, which is what Petit did. Nobody is thinking he was on the edge, just that he was not able to wait until his dogs worked out their issue. He had already used up his xtra day-you seem to think he should have prepared for this. How many days would you suggest each team leave each checkpoint with??
There are a few specific places on the trail where conditions can become crazy and most mushers are aware of them-winds on the Coast this year made for problems for many, so what? There is just no issue of serious danger (for dogs or musher) IMO.
Anyone who watched the video of his team in Shaktoolik should see the obvious: they looked incredible and were clearly not being abused–it couldn’t be more obvious that the issue was a mental one, and probably would have been avoided if he’s just pulled over in Shaktoolik for a break instead of continuing on to the shelter cabin 12 miles further on. I too feel that my evaluation on the day it happened was spot on; professionally embarrassing, check. Disappointing for his sponsors and fans, check. Indicative of abuse, not at all. Further, I see no reason not to take him at his word, and also no need to worry about the fate of his dogs; even though they’ve showed weakness, they are still quite valuable at the very least, and he does seem to genuinely love them. Nobody goes neckline free through Shaktoolik that doesn’t love their dog.
” but the reality is that the responsibility for Petit’s actions rests with race organizers, not Petit. Petit pushed a dog team until it quit because he wanted to win the race.”
That comment is anything but “reality”. The responsibility for how a musher drives his/her dogs, lies firmly with the musher. Period.
Undoubtedly, race organizers have a responsibility in how they structure such events, but the responsibility and conduct of mushers taking part in them, rest firmly on the mushers shoulders. Lets get this reality right.
Totally correct, Dave. Sleep deprived mushers, who also happen to be pathologically competitive, may drive themselves over the edge, and push their team with them. It’s a real danger. Once when I was 30 I walked myself into the ground. A 35 mile hike per two mountain passes with a 25 # pack when I weighed 110. The last few miles were exhilarating. I felt like a machine who could go on indefinitely, until I couldn’t. You don’t feel it coming on. Something like that might happen with the dogs, and even the mushers, as they get near the end.
The race definitely needs to be structured better.
But you’re absolutely right! Ultimate responsibility lies squarely with the mushers.
Petit bares some responsibility, but only a part, Dave. i’d refer you to Dominique Grandjean, a one-time Iditarod vet from France who quit and never came back after the ITC refused to back him went he wanted to DQ a well-known musher for mistreating his dogs.
Grandjean started France’s Lekkarod. go look at the way that’s set up. and note that the race falls under the jurisdiction of AFLD, the French government anti-doping agency because doping is a crime in France.
there would have been no Dallas Seavey mess there. a serious investigation would have taken place and whole lot would like have been found out.
So now he bares “some responsibility” ? Thats a start at least! But, as I stated above, ultimate responsibility lies with the musher.
I know Grandjean, the Lekarod…yes, a stage race…hardly even “apples & oranges” in this context.
Don`t blame a race for a musher driving a team to a standstill.
If you have specific issues with the way an event is structured, address that, but don`t use that as a cover up for poor judgement on the part of the person responsible for a team. After all, plenty other teams manage to finish such races in fine shape…they just make different, smarter or more ethical choices in how they manage their dogs.
Dave: i touch upon this some more in the story i just wrote.
Jason Barron talked me into some sympathy (maybe even a little empathy) for Petit, who from all i can tell is something of one of the good guys in all of this. he cares enough about dogs he has people he won’t sell to, which should tell you something.
and his team did look truly phenomenal in Shaktoolik. if you watch the video linked in the story, it’s hard to believe that those dogs went out and crashed shy of Island Point on some of the easier trail on the whole Iditarod.
and, of course, we had other people crashing all along the coast. it was an interesting year.
Speaking on how the lack of rest in these Irod dogs leads to a build up in Lactic Acid and eventually Nausea and Vomiting that can lead to Aspiration Pneumonia…it sounds like one of the “dropped dogs” from this year’s race just died in Anchorage. I wonder how many other dogs die at their home “dog lots” after Irod and go unreported?
From my library research it doesn’t take much aspirant to cause pneumonia. Common cause of death in human elders.
Shouldn’t be a cause of death in healthy young dogs normally.
I just watched the video of Seattle’s obviously sick dog being hauled out of the sled bag, and attached to the tagline at the end of the race. Then the Race Marshall trying to get the team away from the reporter. Beatrice says his dog is just tired when asked if she’s ok. Two days later she’s dead. The video was just depressing, leaves a sick disgusted feeling. If she hadn’t run the race she’d most likely still be alive.
Something is wrong – deep down wrong – with this race and the people who think a dead dog here and there is just fine.
Sorry, spell check changed Beattie to Seattle, and I didn’t notice.
Then it changed his name to Beatrice. Hate spell check!
Then it changed tug line to tagline. And no matter how much I try to correct it it keeps changing it back. LOL. I had to finally separate it into two words.
Again, I support the race but, on the other hand I think 139 miles in one day might be asking too much out of any animal. What about stretching it out to say 12 days, 85-90 miles a day (which still is plenty), and with possibly 3 mandatory 8hr rest periods spread out, and each mucher is sent out with their lead times at the end of each break? Dogs are happy, mushers are happy, vets get plenty of time, etc.. If something isn’t done, I think the howls of the PETA crew will grow louder, and we all know how manipulative and unhinged they can get. There has to be a better way to massage this for all involved along with a better image?
By what objective standard do you arrive at such a clear cut, mathematical formula, Bryan? The facts are quite simple: Mushers have been running at the top levels at this kind of pace for nearly 20 years now on the coast.
Jason, understood. Again, I have mixed emotions. I am more on the side of the race but, just throwing out some ideas. The dogs still run the miles, the fastest still wins, everybody gets rest, the vets get their checks, and a compromise is met.
Bryan, you are clearly wanting to change the race without any good reason IMO. There are a few on here who are only after their own biased reasonings (mostly wanting to outlaw it) without a clue about what has gone on, especially this year. You are wanting to throw in with them-like Jason mentioned, what is behind your reasoning?
Sorry Bill, I thought I explained previously my point and that is that I feel 139 miles in one day is a lot to ask from an animal. Not throwing in with anybody. Just saying, when 61% of our youth want to live in a socialist country, manipulation falls easily upon those rubes. The squeeky wheel gets the oil if you will. Some of those loons would kill a baby and not blink an eye but, god forbid you harm the hair on a dog. So, this year there might be 30 PETA loons, next 100, and 500 after that. As you know, I am the furthest from a liberal and their causes but, I have to ask, what is next – an 8 day run?
But Bill, you have me in a corner. Ha. A corner I prefer not to be in because I am all for the race..
It sounds like you want the race on your terms, Bryan!
Doesn’t make any sense, to me. The old wet finger in the air doesn’t cut it-I’m sure there are plenty on here who would think that 50 miles/day is too much for their own reasons.
Absolutely not Bill. I have no specific terms at all. Let the games begin….Just thrrw out some recommendations. Nothing more. I am good either way.
While disagreeing with you, I do understand where you’re coming from Bryan. I consider your gut level responses to this issue to be genuinely in the interest of the dogs, and not as agenda driven as many other comments we’ve seen over the last few days.
Thanks Jason, that was my only intent. Just throwing some ideas on the table for the health of both dogs and mushers. Again, I just think a few things can be tweeked. Nothing more.
Rest times for humans and dogs should be based on physiology. Humans need 7-8 hours per day; not sure what does need, but I’m sure that amount has been determined. Animal physiologists and veterinarians should be the ones setting parameters.
Also Bryan (whoever you are) it’s apparent from your comment that you are more concerned about image, silencing the howls of people concerned about treating dependant animals humanely than about actually treating animals well. That’s a huge part of the problem with dog racing and the entire dog farm system supporting dog racing.
Maxine, I appreciate your comment. But, personally I think PETA are a bunch of whacks and they are. Just full of mentally insane people. Their looney actions speak louder than words. As we noted before, they kill more dogs than anybody, so those hypocrites can go to hell as far as I am concerned. Not sure what “image” I am trying to uphold? I am all for the race.
You know what is funny. I ran in a race this past weekend for St. Patty’s Day. There was a 3 miler and a 6 miler. My kids were at the finishline and told me a man after the 3 miler was throwing up. Was asking this man to run 3 miles and push himself to the point of throwing up “inhumane”? When is enough enough? I do feel 139 miles for one day might be asking a lot from both dog and musher. Am I saying “cancel the race”? Hell no, I am merely saying possible adjustments for the good of all might need to be revisted. But, I’d hate to see PETA ger their way because after all, they kill more dogs then the Irod ever has. Isn’t that right Maxine?
Careful there Bryan-remember that having PETA folks around makes trappers almost mainstream.
Bryan, if you haven’t seen the Insider video of Nic Petit gathering supplies to go through Shaktoolik you really should. That team looked immaculate, literally barking and screaming to go. I’ve been a part of this sport for about 40 years now and I’ve never seen anything like that at that point in the race. Nobody can watch that video and hold to an “abuse” case, it’s simply not possible. Another thing to consider about mileage, since that seems to be an issue that keeps coming up–not all miles covered are equal, so you also have to factor in hours, too. Nic traveled 80 miles to Unalakleet and it took him 11 hours, but his gps speeds indicated that he had taken a medium length rest on that stretch to feed, and reboot dogs. Then the five hour break in Unalakleet, followed by a blazing fast 5 hour run over to Shaktoolik, and anyone who acts like that’s a long run is simply not informed about dog races. He quickly packed his sled with food and straw with the expectation of camping 12 miles later at the shelter cabin, and his dogs stopped just before he got there. It’s unfortunate, but in no way abuse. His team stopped because of the fragile mental state of leaders, nothing more. But don’t take my word for it: watch the video–it’s to the Iditarod and this narrative what the hour long tape of the Covington kid/native elder encounter was, it literally blows it into oblivion.
Jason: only about 35 years for me, but i couldn’t agree more with this observation:
“I’ve never seen anything like that at that point in the race.”
ditto here. it’s like they might have run a few lines of coke before the checkpoint or leaving UNK, because i also agree the team’s speed to Shak was very good.
but none of that gets me to the conclusion that “his team stopped because of the fragile mental state of leaders, nothing more.”
that’s certainly possible. the dogs were running along fine, and then they stopped for a second, and their heads weren’t in it to get going. possible.
but i have a couple problems with that conclusion.
#1 (and a big one): it relies solely on Petit’s account. see Jussie Smollett. Petit could be telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. he could also be fudging things a little or a lot. if i’m Petit and a couple dogs or more collapsed, i’m gonna come up with some good cover story instead.
#2: my experience with both dogs and people, including myself, is that there is a point when the result of a break is that when you stop, there’s the danger of realizing you have no gas in the tank. as long as your moving, momentum and the placebo affect keep you rolling.
but when you stop, there’s an all-systems shutdown, and then it’s monumentally difficult to get going. i’ve had to almost drag some dogs home. and i actually have some HR race data from an old ski marathon to document my personal crash in this regard.
i went out too fast, HR peaked and then plateaued. i managed to hold the plateau for a long time, but then there was a slow down almost to a stop, and my heart rate crashed. i never did get it up again.
i gutted it out a couple miles to the finish line solely on force of will, but it was nightmarish and a struggle with my head because my HR never really came up, and it’s hard to do much of anything without oxygenated blood moving to your muscles.
too bad the vets didn’t pull some blood from Petit’s dogs. there’s some interesting research out there on cardiac fatigue: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ954517.pdf
Yes Bryan, i think we both agree that changes are needed for the good of both mushers and dogs regardless of whether or not PETA is a factor.
The more closely you look at the entire dog racing world as a disinterested observer with no investments in the activity, the more corrupt it looks.
Dog yard owners aren’t going to change unless forced to do so by outside pressure. The Iditarod Trail Committee seems pretty corrupt, attempting to improve the image without sincerely improving dog care.
And it’s not just crazy PETA people that are concerned. It’s killed a lot of pets to be sure, and has it out to kill the Iditarod as well. But this isn’t about who’s killed more dogs, PETA or mushers; it’s about reforming a sport that uses dogs as disposable tools. Many people, individuals not connected to any animal rights group, myself included, feel very squeamish about what we see and hear about this race. We are not so sure it should go on.
I’m not a musher, not even a dog owner. I’m an older Alaska Native who happens to feel responsible for the welfare of animals we share this lovely planet with. I know my ancestors were sometimes unbelievably cruel to dogs in their care. A lot of brutality goes along with living intimately in a stone age world.
But thankfully we have it easier now. And we can try to meet the needs, physical and psychological of our domesticated companions, who like children, depend for their happiness, and even their lives, on our benificence.
I once was a fan of the Iditarod, thrilled when Libby Riddles won, and so happy that Susan Butcher gave full credit to her great leader, Granite, and allowed her dogs to hang out with her in her home
But when I learned more, the sleezy underside of dog racing turned me – and a lot of former fans – into horrified onlookers.
I’ve been following these posts with great interest, and my conclusions are that people who build their lives around these races do not have the best interests of their dogs foremost in the minds. The main issue is the ethics of pushing these animals to their limits. Or beyond…
And the background of breeding and culling, grueling training, lack of proper housing and veterinary care, and exploitation of foreign dog handlers, and off- season boredom, etc. Etc. Leaves the average non-musher disturbed to say the least.
So much of this discussion have veered into what Leanne Baker called over-analysis. She’s right. Craig’s article had a simple theme: the dogs are being pushed too far, too fast. The race needs to change. To be slowed down. The dogs need more rest and so do the mushers. Sponsors and fans are disappearing. If gastric ulcers are inevitably part of the race and aspiration pneumonia comes to mind when the word Iditarod is mentioned, you mushers have to admit this isn’t right. When you start looking closely at this problematic dog world, the people involved don’t look too good. I wouldn’t trust my dog (if I had one) to any of these famous dog yard owners.
I think it’s time animal welfare laws were extended to dog yard owners. They are not doing too well under the honor system.
I liked the original photo of Nic that was posted on this story…
What happened, too many Irod emails?
Yes I agree. Let a tool look like a tool.
Just wanted to add before I go and never take part in such an over-analysed breakdown of a simple situation- dogs shouldn’t be made to run 100 miles a day for 10 days bitches- even the transportation of these poor animals in those coffin like compartments for 800 miles is abuse. A dog should be able to sit, stand, turn around and lie down as per transporting regulations on airplanes. That itself is claustrophobic torture, also I may be wrong, but from his comments, Bill seems like a 400 pound, unmarried man who lives in his mother’s basement and take’s long baths and cries when no one is around. Also, if and when you grow a uterus, you can tell women what to do with their bodies.
LeeAnn, from reading your response you don’t sound like a woman at all. I am going to guess you have short hair, wear mens clothes, and act like a man. So, answer me this, if a baby can and does survive outside the womb at 23 weeks would you consider this a living human baby? I don’t need a uterus to tell me killing a baby past 23 weeks for convenience is murder. So, piss off with that feminazi garbage. Care more about a dog than a human baby. Whack job!
Thanks for stepping into LeeAnn’s windtunnel Bryan, especially since she had singled out a “Bill” that seemed like me on size of dog compartment but is clearly not me on wanting to control women’s bodies.
Obvious she is a “whackjob” but my guess is she just not in her right mind when she comments-could be alcohol related. Just my opinion.
Bill, I was guessing the whole babble about her Uterus was meant for me. When she called us “bitches” I figured the smackdown was inclusive. Alcohol or mental instability or both. So, welcome to the LeeAnn “tunnel”.
I will say that I have encouraged my wife to get into some “submissive training” classes but I’m not having much luck. My guess is that LeeAnn will need this training. Heheh!
More teams quit because of females in season than any other cause. Please wait for facts before being so judgemenal .
Rick, that “S” in your handle wouldn’t happen to stand for Swenson, would it?
Speaking of Rick Swenson, an old-school strategy he and Susan used to use was to fly their teams to Unalakleet prior to the race and run the coast to Nome to familiarize their teams with this stretch of trail. We always used to think this was a brilliant, albeit expensive, strategy. I’m curious why no one does this anymore…
And Jason it seems doubtful that Rick Swenson would make such a totally off base comment…although its seemingly a better cover than the “Daddy yelled” bullshit that Petit came up with.
That’s a good question. I would have loved to do that myself, but as you said it was pretty expensive. Look at the days when those drivers were doing it, they were the golden days of the Iditarod. That period of time was relatively speaking much better off financially for top mushers; nowadays even the winner is going in the hole, payouts are minuscule and the cost of doing business is dramatically higher than it was then. Just no money left over for stuff like that.
Judgemental? 652 miles into the race Petit rested his team at Kaltag for 5 hours. He then ran 85 miles to Unalakleet in 11 hours, where he only rested 5 hours before running 40 more miles to Shatoolik. He blew through that checkpoint in 8 minutes (hardly enough time for the veterinarians to thoroughly examine his dogs) and made it 14 more miles before the dogs finally gave out.
So in a 24 hour time span Petit’s dogs covered 139 miles with only 5 hours of rest. One might fairly argue they were tortured until they dropped…but dogs in heat is certainly not the reason Petit required a rescue to get his team back to Shatoolik. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist, or even a musher, to judge that these dogs were PHYSICALLY pushed beyond their limits.
Laura, I felt the same way and agree with your observation. I was following Petit actively and thought, damn, he is pushing them pretty good. Even caught myself saying, those are dogs, right? I fear there are those that envision an 8 dayer goal, which in turn would do more harm all around than good.
Laura, it certainly helps if you are not a musher to buy that crock!
Bill do you really believe its fair to the dogs that they pull 139 miles in 24 hours with only 5 hours of rest?
Laura, fairness is something that is undefined but we all know it when we see it, right.
I suspect that Nic made a blunder from his own lack of rest and he has certainly paid for it. I don’t think those dogs were harmed (physically), in the least either. I just haven’t seen any physical issues in this year’s race to warrant all the grief that is passed on by those whose only real bitch is that they want the race shut down.
Both you and Steve fall into that category and you can’t see beyond your own biases. That’s how I see it.
My only real bitch is that I want the Iditarod shut down? That is not the truth Bill. You cannot see beyond your nostalgia for the Iditarod of the “good old days” when dog deaths were shrugged off without a record and nobody outside Alaska gave a shit about the dogs or their drivers or what happened along the trail. Those days are long gone, and the teams now chasing the money have lost sight of what the Iditarod envisioned by your generation was seeking to preserve.
I suspect I do have more experience dealing with today’s competitive mushers then you do, and here are my observations: they overbreed their dogs, they cull (or let die) their unwanted puppies, they dump their aging dogs with local shelters and rescue organizations, they strike their dogs, they permanently chain their dogs to plastic barrels, they shoot their dogs instead of providing them with veterinary care or humane euthanasia, they overwork their dogs in races and in training, they dope their dogs, they do not support laws to protect sled dogs from abuse, they exploit their handlers and employees, they attract people who cannot afford to maintain a dog team to the sport, and then they parade around like heros, or victims, depending on the circumstances, but always without fault.
And just so you know, I really do love dogs, and I believe the Iditarod is not committed to a high enough standard for their care. If it cannot be fixed, or if no one wants to even admit it needs fixing, then yes, I do think it should end. But at this point I feel like the mushers are proving themselves to be a much bigger threat to the Iditarod then “people like me” ever will be.
That’s how I see it, Laura.
It’s not unlike why people with known biases are regularly asked to recuse themselves when they are in certain positions (judges, for example). They don’t even know their bias is what forms their opinions.
If you feel:
“It’s not unlike why people with known biases are regularly asked to recuse themselves when they are in certain positions (judges, for example).”
By this philosophy, you might as well dismiss ALL of Dunleavy’s administration.
The oil guys in charge of the pipeline.
Comm fish guys on the board of fish.
Safari hunting guy in charge of wild animals in Alaska.
All the way down to the Mayor of the Mat Su borough who operates a “dog farm”.
Give me a break, we ALL have biases…
Just like Dee Dee’s “reporting” from the field.
Mitch’s dogs crashed as well, cause he was trying to keep up with Petit’s insane pace…
139 Miles in a day for dogs with 5 hrs rest is nuts.
Steroids or not in the off season, no animal can endure that pace and that is what we saw PROVEN once again this year in the Iditarod.
Steve, politics trumps most everything it seems.
B of Fish situation is special IMO and it works pretty well over all IMO. CI is particularly strange case that is due to too many seeking those fish from the huge influx of population to that area. I know of no way to improve on the process but confirmation system will provide for the ability to influence the Board IMO.
I would even take it a step further and say “Corruption Trumps Logic” in American Politics these days.
I can not think of one commissioner, politician or board member that is not biased in Alaska.
From the ITC all the way up to the Oil and Gas commission, there are no voices from “outside” groups included.
If the ITC really cares about “animal rights” for sled dogs, maybe they should start to listen to the voices who speak up on behalf of the animals in AK.
The belief in speaking for those without a voice is not new, yet everything from fracking to fish management is controlled by special interests and sled dogs are no different.
Until the majority of disenfranchised folks gain a seat at the table, protests like those done by PETA are the only avenues to change in this neo con capitalism society of control.
And this race structure is in desperate need of change.
Actually we saw the opposite. Pete’s schedule from Kaltag to Unalakleet to Shaktoolik was mathematically speaking very similar to Nic’s own; Pete stopped a bit shy of Unalakleet and took 5 hours, then ran to Shaktoolik for a 3.5 hour break. The only thing functionally different was that Nic traveled all the way into Unalakleet to take a 5, then was only going 12 miles past Shaktoolik to rest there. Not much of a difference in physical terms.
And anyone watching the Insider video of Pete’s team in Nome knows the truth that dogs at those top levels can handle the pace as his dogs were literally jumping and barking to go in the chute. Laying out some blanket statement that dogs “simply cannot do such and such” just makes you look ignorant. And what’s this constant bashing of Mitch for how his race wound up? His dogs decided that the pace was too much so he wisely decided to give them a bunch more rest and finished up strong in Nome; where’s the problem? Where’s the abuse? In fact, where’s the abuse in ANY of this race? Far as I know there have been no dog deaths on this run. I wonder how many dogs animal shelters around Anchorage put down over the last ten days. For that matter, I wonder how many dogs were euthanized by PETA during the same period?
excuse me? “Nic traveled all the way into Unalakleet to take a 5, then was only going 12 miles past Shaktoolik to rest there.”
so you believe Nic’s Island Point stop was a planned rest?
Craig–he had straw and supplies as seen in the Insider video where they first interviewed him after his leaders quit. Clearly he was intending to camp at that cabin as he and many others have done over the years.
and what did his tracker say?
Jason: i’m willing to bet you a case of beer that if you go back through the tracker data you will find that every minute of the two-hour lead Nic Petit had at Unalakleet was built on cutting rest from the 24-hour stop on.
which brings us back to that original question of rest. you don’t seem to think it’s an issue. i do.
sleep deprivation has been linked to all sorts of health problems in humans, (https://docs.wind-watch.org/Sleep-Disorders-Sleep-Deprivation.pdf) and there’s no reason to believe the situation is any different for dogs.
maybe somebody should get OSU veterinarian Scott Davis who has done a lot of research into the metabolic responses of racing sled dogs to energy demands to offer some advice here. clearly dogs, like all animals, need a certain amount of rest to recover from exercise to avoid metabolic damage.
clearly there is the potential for dogs to be abused without the “look” of being abused. poor old Huge Mess’s Boppy didn’t look “abused,” the dog was simply dead.
i’d guess Iditarod vets would say the same about most past dead Iditarod dogs, ie. they didn’t look abused; they were just dead. and i’m not saying sleep deprivation contributed to any of those deaths, though it could have. there are links to cardiovascular problems. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3403737/
but i’m more interested in long-term effects. dogs don’t seem to able to run as many Iditarods now as they did a decade ago. a lot of teams seem to be made up of a lot of young dogs. where do the old ones go? is the performance of dogs falling off significantly after one or two Iditarods? if so, why?
just because things “look” fine doesn’t mean they are fine. i suffered through a pulmonary embolism last winter and “looked” fine the whole time. looks are deceiving.
it just seems foolish – at least in the long term interest of Iditarod – to not recognize the rest issue and deal with it. yup, nothing bad (ie. no dead dogs) has happened so far this year.
it’s also been very warm out there. what happens if it’s not warm. what happens if it’s 20- or 30-degrees-below zero, and we have a musher who has to camp out somewhere in the open with a bunch of depleted dogs because that won’t go because they haven’t been getting enough rest to recover?
i personally know one vet with a long history with Iditarod and a lot of sled dog knowledge who sees that as a nightmare scenario. so why wouldn’t one try to find a way to add some rest without altering the character of the race?
a little more sleep might even be good for the mushers because the health consequences to people of sleep deprivation are well warranted. the Geneva Convention considers it a form of torture if you’re rendered a prisoner of war.
As far as I know it said that he was just a mile from the cabin, and from that it’s easy enough to deduce that his dogs halted before he reached it. What, you think he was carrying a bale of straw for laughs? Nobody carries a bale of straw unless they intend to camp. Ergo, my math adds up and the comparison to Pete’s schedule is very accurate.
If the point is that there is anything inherently wrong with running a schedule similar to his or Pete’s or any number of top ten drivers for the last 15+ years then you’re fishing in the wrong hole. You’re looking at this too simplistically and trying to understand a complex subject with addition only. The truth is more complex. Drivers pushing with little rest on the coast is nothing new. Just, some get away with it better than others.
i thought it showed he went past the cabin and came back, and i never saw anything about his grabbing straw in Shaktoolik. if he did, i wholly agree with you on the cabin stop conclusion.
and, of course, we all know people have been cutting rest on the coast for years. hell, they’ve been cutting rest on the coast almost since the race started. it doesn’t change the fundamental argument:
dogs aren’t robots.
they need rest in order to recover, and we both agree that a shit load of rest has been cut off the front of the race, don’t we?
You make some good points.
With lack of rest, dogs build up more and more lactic acid.
We then see the majority of finishers with ulcers, so the dogs are now medicated with drugs like pepcid to slow this acidosis process down.
Dogs with too much acid become nauseated and vomit as their bodies attempt to purge lactic acid.
This is why Katherine’s dog died last year of aspiration and probably why Misha’s dog died this year on Yukon Quest of aspiration.
Without adequate rest and hydration, these dogs will always accumulate huge amounts of lactic acid and the beta blocker drugs will only mask deeper concerns without treating the cause.
Good article, Craig. Without completely “cleaning house” within the hierarchy of the ITC, there will never be changes that favor the dogs. They didn’t step up when I was racing the Iditarod, they did not “step up” when I was a Race Judge and they’re not stepping up now. Their efforts are too focused on how best to manage public opinion than rogue drivers. All the attention is on Pettit but there are a host of “competitive drivers” who clearly have hit the proverbial wall this year on Norton Sound… Jessie Holmes, Mitch Seavy, Matthew Failor, Jason Campeau… just to name a few. Where are the race judges? Where is the Race Marshal? It’s their responsibility to protect the canine athletes and they’re failing miserably…again.
Mitch did have some problems with the wind on the Coast, according to DeeDee. Evidently took larger toll on him than his dogs. So………………………not so much of a canine athlete problem here.
Mitch returned to Elim because he ” needed more coffee “… seriously? You don’t turn a dog team around and return to a checkpoint for more coffee.
Bill: it’s as good an excuse as he turned around to join the family to finish together as one big, happy group because that should be “a big story. three generations of Seaveys finishing together.”
that was in 2001. and Mitch screamed at me after the race for reporting that his team stalled, which it did, and that he turned around and went back, which he did, and ignoring that “much better story” about his rejoining the rest of the Seavey clan so they could all finish together.
the only problem with the story was that up until the time the team quit, Mitch had been racing. and boy do i remember Mitch ranting at me after that race for reporting his team quit and he turned around. he thought it a deliberate attempt to embarrass him. he actually seemed surprised to learn about Swenson’s team doing the same thing at Safety in ’87, which is mainly why i remember the Mitch conversation so well.
hard to believe that he wouldn’t have known of that, but apparently he didn’t.
So what’s your point, Bill? Mitch came back for whatever reason, rested longer, then continued on to White Mountain. Where’s the problem?
i think his point is that teams are like batteries: they need to be recharged or they stop working.
Bill, my point was that it was an issue with Mitch, rather than his team. See DeeDee’s comments below on Mitch’s issue with wind (caused him more problems than his team).
my question again, Bill. have you spent much time in the Caribou Hills?
and Bill, remind me who finished second in the 2016 race, and what happened to Aliy Zirkle, the musher who had been poised to win that race.
i think she was holed up at Safety, wasn’t she? why was she holed up there? i can’t remember.
Craig, I answered your question below. What does that question have to do with anything??
OK Craig, enough with the riddles.
It appears the wind has caused problems for mushers and dogs over the years. We are talking this year and how it’s caused grief for both Petit and Seavey. In the case of Petit, for whatever reason (lack of training in wind or on the Coast), it seems to have been the dogs that it bothered. In the case of Seavey it appears to have caused the musher the grief.
Your bit about batteries needing charging is your opinion here but few (other than Steins) are agreeing with you IMO.
CONGRATULATIONS PETE ON A MUCH DESERVED WIN!!!!!
When I hear the word Iditarod, the first thing that comes to mind is aspiration pneumonia.
Back in the stone age when some wolves were considering the pros and cons of joining up with humans, the wiser ones were cautioning their peers: ” No, No! Stay far away from them. Their food scraps and warm fires are a trap. They will get you dependant on them, and then tie you up, beat you and give you awful food to survive on. They will drown your pups and even eat you when they’re starving. Much better to stay independent of such cruel creatures.
Why can no one just admit that this race is an abomination? All about the egos of these ridiculous men and some 1000 mile long ppossing contest? If some drunk like Lance Mackey can win this thing literally sitting down and sleeping half the time; what kind of athlete is that! This is animal abuse all around. From the culling to get good racers, to the deplorable living conditions, to the FACT this race is held in a state with no animal welfare laws, to these poor slaves being run to death so some ass can win a pickup truck, this whole farce has to end. The dogs sure as he’ll know when to stop. And how many stories of abuse do people need to hear about those psychopaths, the Surveys before theyre barred?No other sport would allow that.They wrote books on how to abuse dogs. The Emperor is no wearing ANY clothes and it would be nice if everyone would a knowledge it!
among other problems, Leeann, you’re being a sexist.
I take it that you are unaware of the fact that there are three women running in the top ten?
LeeAnn, you sound like a Feminazi. Unhinged really. Do you realize there are several WOMEN in the line-up? A woman came in 3rd. Migjt boost her ego? What is all this man-hating, drunk babble talk?
You are so right, men certainly have not cornered the market on cruelty to animals. I mean wasn’t it Susan Butcher who said she “had to breed 300 to get 5 good racers”? That’s alot of dead puppies with rocks around their necks. It is true that Dallas Seavey has admitted to falling asleep for long stretches of time while the dogs pulled. I can’t think of any other sport where one can literally sleep on the job. I don’t know about you, but it does leave a bad taste in my mouth to think that a “Champion” Musher like Seavey is riding along to victory wearing mitts made of the fur from dead dogs he has killed, because they were too slow, had white pads, or whatever really. It is Alaska after all, with no rights for these slaves. Are we that short on hero;s in teh barren landscape of Alaska that we need to look to a group of egomaniac, dog abusing drunks to put on a pedestal? Or is it just the right place to run dogs to death with no penalty because there are no Animal Welfare laws for these dogs?
Craig…have you noticed no real dog mushers with the exception of Jason are commenting or even care about your article. You and the other animal rights activists are so off base here it is astounding. Nic’s dogs were in great physical shape, Jason is exactly right when he says the dogs were mentally unwilling to continue. No cruelty here as Nic respected the dogs decision to stop. Had he used physical force to make them continue, then that would have been wrong. Nic did the respectful and honorable thing here and you all are vilifying him and the race for it. Shame on you, Craig. How about supporting the race and mushers that you seem to like writing about so much?
ok, you obviously have no experience with dog training, but thanks for the post.
Just an Iditarod finisher along with several other mid distance races. That certainly doesn’t make me special, but does give me some insight. I really can’t figure out why you like to bash sled dog races so much. It doesn’t seem to me that you care about the dogs. Just a few months ago you wrote about how the YQ “railroaded” Hugh Neff and completely overlooked the truth of the matter that his dog was in very poor health even before the race started. However, that gave you an opportunity attack the YQ, so you did. Now it suits your agenda to make the Iditarod look bad so you have become a dog lover. You should really try to stay consistent.
Yes it is a clearly a violation of the Iditarod ethos for anyone, especially a journalist, to dare tarnish the belt buckles of the finishers club. Everyone knows only “animal rights activists” criticize sled dog racing…maybe Medred hasn’t been eating enough meat.
Or maybe the Alaskan media, who makes a shit ton of money off the race, has spread so much propaganda that even the mushers now believe their own lies. Interject a bit of reality into the race coverage, however constructive, and one instantly becomes the target of a Danny Seavey-style whitewashing campaign. Nothing to see here folks. Nic’s dogs looked so fantastic they couldn’t even walk…now let’s all give that guy a pat on the back for doing the right thing and mush on!
really? you’re an Iditarod finisher, and you don’t know that these races do vet checks?
or are you trying to tell me that the vets let dogs “in very poor health” – you didn’t just say poor health, you said “very poor health” – start these races?
what i think about Hugh Neff is irrelevant. the issue isn’t Neff. the issue is the treatment of Neff.
there are certain things i believe all journalists should believe. the first is tell the damn truth. the second is do what you can to see to it people get treated fairly in a world that is often unfair.
i’ve gone through the Boppy necropsy. i’ve talked to vets about it. despite various claims as to poor health, i’m comfortable saying the dog wasn’t in that bad of shape at death, and it doesn’t appear to have been “infested” with worms.
so if it was in “very poor health even before the race started,” (were you there to perform a physical?) Neff must have done a world-class job of team care on the trail to make it better before it died.
as for the rest of this nonsense, i apply the same standard to dogs as to people: dogs should be treated fairly. i don’t know if it’s fair to run a dog team 18 hours with 5 hours rest in a 23-hour period, which is what Petit did in the lead up to this crash. but i’m not going to pass judgment on that decision.
what i do know is that the incident raises questions worthy of discussion. so do you think Neff was fair to the dogs? when you turn of Iditarod Insider and get up from your East Coast easy chair, do you plan to take your Chihuahua out for nice 12-hour run to ensure that little yapper will sleep well?
or let me rephrase that since it appears clear you’re not a runner, do you plan take your Chihuahua out chase your car for 12 hours?
I fell in love with the vast land that is Alaska by way of the Iditarod. I’ve walked on it’s frozen rivers and lakes, visited and stayed in native villages and transversed the Alaska Range by plane and vehicle. There are no words to express the majesty of this land. I followed the race casually by way of social media in 2012. Then, I started studying, watched every video, read all the books and every musher blog. I became familiar with the equipment, training, strategy of run rest schedules and what to feed. I became a fanatic, knowing as much as possible about the race from studying. I followed the smaller races and knew who was a contender. I knew the mushers, how they trained, their dogs etc. I went to the races from ’14 through ’17. Then, there was the Dallas thing with all rumblings of doping dogs, if not him there were others. The ITC (I was a member) handled that terribly. Rumors and I had some fairly good sources about using drugs in training. The Brett Sass big lie. His dogs run to collapse ’17 Quest. Hugh Neff’s dogs run too hard in The Quest last year and a preventable death if he had dropped the exhausted dog. It has saddened me to see all this from a sport I thought was really about the best care for dogs and training them to the excellence they were capable of achieving. Until, as Craig says the ITC steps up and makes a few changes, I’m no longer a fan of the Iditarod.
Want to slow the race down, how bout mushers carry there own supplies, with perhaps one resupply.Whens the last time a musher broke trail for a substantial distance for his team in modern history?
Then the sport will vere back to the Husky freight dogs of old.Real iron men and woman will step up, they won’t have any choice.
That would be possible by limiting the dog food drops to fewer checkpoints, Dave. The Quest is run along those lines with longer distances between checkpoints and so teams leave with heavier sleds.
It would change the race a lot IMO. But will not get anywhere near the freight dogs of old IMO. Example: Look at number of teams that run both races with the same dogs. So, depends on what your goal is- to slow it down or make it a race with freight dogs.
Dave, I like what you say and think you are on to something.. Would be nice to revive the past sorta speak and take the race back to its iconic roots. But, like all things, technology streamlines and creates improvements in every “sport”. Plus, there will ALWAYS be cheaters and “short cutters” no matter what, I am sad to say.
This sums you up Craig.
C S Lewis:
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience”.
great pull quote from one of my favorite writers, Tim. but you need to read the whole essay to understand the context. here’s the link: https://just84465.weebly.com/uploads/5/0/5/9/50596861/god_in_the_dock.pdf
it’s an essay about “monotheism and dualism — between a single, good, almighty
source of being, and two equal, uncreated, antagonistic Powers, one good and the other bad.”
your pull is actually hilarious in its parallel to the PETA view that Iditarod is a battle between good and evil. it’s not.
I am so sad and disheartened by everything I have read by Craig and the comments. At least in the Boston marathon and others like it, people command their own bodies to exhaustion if they are are so intent on winning the fame and fortune. I was naive enough to believe these mushers who say their dogs come first. It’s okay to demand so much of yourself that you have a stroke or a heart attack,but to risk a devoted animal’s life for your own greed should be illegal but never will be because it sounds like their whole group are only in it for money and fame. I NEVER thought I’d think that horrible thought, but after your article, I think Satan is the real winner here.
Great Craig, thanks for writing this article. But I am tired of hearing that same old argument of how much the mushers love their dogs. If you truly love your dog, you would not subject your dog to a 1000 mile race where the race so strenuous that each dog requires anti-ulcer medication before the race because of stress. If you really love your dog you would not subject your dog to a race that has a strong possibility of causing the dog injury and in some cases death. No one who truly loves their dog would ever subject them to this race. Its an false narrative that needs to end. And thankfully much of the public including many of the sponsors realize that and dropped out and will continue to drop out until this “race” comes to an end, which it will inevitably will.
The public is growing less tolerant of abuse of animals, especially of our 4 legged best friends.
Love it Fern – “public is growing less tolerant of abuse of animals, especially of our 4 legged best friends.”.. while these same people grow more tolerant of killing late term babies. Go figure.
Fern, would you have rather we’d have left the dogs to the super-fast disappearing path they were on in the ’60s and early ’70s, or begin saving them back then with creation of the Iditarod Race? Today, would you keep up what it takes to maintain excellence of performance in distance dogs or abandon the genetic upkeep it takes by limiting them to a house pet or reduced exercise existence?
Some folks would keep a wild wolf indoors to save him from the privations and savagery of the wild pack. What is truly best for a sled dog hard wired for such performance as distance racing gives him makes for a good discussion. Who really knows what goes on in the mind of a wolf or sled dog? We can only surmise. But I think if a bottle-raised wolf that has received all the love and care his owners could provide found the door left open, he would bolt to join the first wild pack running by in full chase and never return. Same, I think, with a cooped-up sled dog of top competitive breeding if he lived down the road from Nic’s and had the chance to bolt to join the action.
Every time someone speaks out about animal abuse, invariably someone like Bryan will say, “Shouldn;t you be worried about real issues like children starving in Africa and blah, blah, blah” No bryan I’m worried about these exploited dogs for little men’s egos and them wanting to win a pickup truck. It’s disgusting and appalling and if you want to talk about killing babies, how bout the thousands of puppies and dogs killed or what is the nice word? culled for this INDUSTRY so some drunk like Lance can have dogs that die of heart attacks and still get awards from his fellow mushers. The guy could literally sleep while the dogs pull. What a farce! That’s an athlete. That’s the town drunk. And the Seavey’s have literally written books on how to abuse dogs to the top. “Lead, follow or get out of the way.” Despicable. Disgusting, his dogs freezing to death, chained to their plastic barrels and eating their own excrement to survive. Beyond hell, and shame on all of you cowards that won’t speak out against this in Alaska. I would rather die than keep that to myself. Thanks for the article. at least someone has some balls in Alaska. And I’m sure it’s no coincidence this race is run in a State where there are NO protection laws for the dogs. Deplorable.
LeeAnn, I am not talking about kids in Africa..I am talking about the kids and HYPOCRITES here in America. The same HYPOCRITES who decry “culling” dogs but, find it acceptable to “cull” late term or already born babies. These same HYPOCRITES “cull” 60% of the black race in NYC while “culling” 40% of the black race nationally. All the while saying “what about the children”? One of Gosnell’s “patients” said “hell, that baby was so big he could have walked me to the bus stop”. All said with a laugh. What about the women who abort because they have to maintain their figures? I mean afterall, they are town ho’s right? You mean that ego? I mean, “shame on all you cowards who will not speakout against this”. “Disgusting, despicable, and deplorable” as you say. See how that works LeeAnn? Maybe some people just treat dogs like their babies? Deal with it.
if you leave the door open, my experience is most dogs will leave and then you will have to go look for them.
Rod, Saving them back with the creation of the Iditarod Race? This race and the whole industry that revolves around it, is responsible for thousands upon thousands of dog deaths. “Would you keep up what it takes to maintain excellence of performance in distance dogs or abandon the genetic upkeep it takes by limiting them to a house pet or reduced exercise existence?” Ahh, they are breeding dogs with all kinds of running breeds to get a faster Iditarod dog and in the process, losing the double coat and body weight needed to survive the -40 temps in Alaska. Oh well, just use the ones that don’t freeze in the barrels overnight right? And that sorry old narrative that if a dog isn’t an Iditarod dog, chained to a barrel eating some soup mixture, he is lying on a couch in New York eating twinkies and weighing 200 pounds is OLD.
I feel it is too early to draw conclusions here about all of the factors that played into why Nic’s team stopped on the Bering Sea. Certainly one of the factors could be his run rest schedule. He did do an 11 hour run prior to this happening. I understand though that Nic utilizes a somewhat different schedule to begin with, not all distance mushers utilize the same schedule. So without being able to back now and look at his data, which we can’t because Irod takes down the gps data for a musher when they scratch or are withdrawn, I can’t make this determination. Did he regularly use longer runs throughout the race. I believe I saw that he did employ at least o ne earlier.
What other factors could be at play? What were temperatures, wind, snow and ultimately trail conditions on the coast? How long has Nic been running at the front of the pack breaking trail? How many leaders did he have to strongly power the front end of his team? What was the team’s general condition at the time that they stopped? Was there something about the sea ice that bothered the leaders? What was Nic’s general condition at the time? How impacted was his judgement by sleep deprivation at this time in the race? How did the team behave coming into and leaving SHAK the checkpoint immediately before where his team stopped? Could the tension between some of the dogs played into general stress levels within the team? Could Nic’s response to the fight overwhelmed his team? What were the vet’s impressions of Nic’s team in SHAK?
I could keep going….
I just feel that in this case Craig, you are building a case for changing Iditarod without a clear understanding of what caused Nic’s team to stop. Without understanding that, the whole argument falls apart.
OK, i’ll simplify this. In the 24 hours leading up to the crash, Petit’s team ran 19 hours with four hours rest.
Is that a good thing in good conditions?
The case isn’t about Petit per se; it’s about the race setting a standard that makes mushers show better judgment than Petit showed. he did what he did – and i have a no doubt sleep deprivation might have played a part – because cutting rest is the way this race is now won.
against that backdrop, you don’t think Iditarod should figure out how to establish an overall rest requirement? you think sleep deprivation is good for dogs?
if that’s the case, should Iditarod throw out the 24 stop, too, which any physiologist will tell you really isn’t the best way to rest dogs, and maybe the two eight-hour stops, though those are better thought out?
I feel this is one of your most honest assessments of this cruel race ever.
“Petit pushed a dog team until it quit because he wanted to win the race.
The dogs quit because they’d been pushed too hard. It’s that simple, and it’s been going on for too long…
But Ulsom was able to grab a lead by resting his dogs less and then hold on.”
This sums up what happens EVERY year and from communications that I had last spring with a musher (after the race) who watched Joar while he was on the Irod trail with him last year, I was told that Joar will do “whatever it takes” to get his dogs to Nome.
That musher would not elaborate on what “whatever it takes” actually meant, but he said it had to do with his dogs.
Looking at how 4 of Dallas’s dogs tested positive for Tramadol back in 2017 and how Dallas got to keep his prize money, you can see there is little to no repercussion for drugging your dogs when they are beat.
Only solution is to end this race and return mushing back to a form of recreation & transportation in AK.
Steve, you don’t save the working sled dog by ending what saved them. How old were you in the 1960s and where were you living? Were you witness to the almost total disappearance of the working dog used for transportation? Did you note that few outside of in-town/near-town folk recreated with dogs? To save the dogs, something was needed that only they could do–something that could not be replaced by a machine. The Iditarod and the mania for sled dogs it brought are what gave them purpose and turned it around. Those of us who were intimate with the turnaround watched the Iditarod become the fountainhead of what I am guessing you saw when you arrived on the scene.
The wonderful genetic packaging (capable of 130 miles a day, day after day) that you see in today’s distance sled dogs only came about through motivation to evolve a winning dog. No, as Craig and I bemoan, being traditionalists, they are not the dogs of yesteryear. However, in the face of that I realize sled dogs have always evolved to meet changing conditions and Iditarod and its spinoffs are now their environment and the function they are hard wired to crave.
We originals could have never conceived of a 130-mile-a-day dog. What has rocketed the Iditarod “caste” ahead so wonderfully is just what this discussion is about: finding where dogs quit wanting to see what’s around the next bend in the trail until they get a bit more rest. It is at or near that point the breeder is able to select who to breed and who to spay and neuter.
And as I said elsewhere, their mental governor gives them a big margin against that point hurting them physically. A couple or three days curled up in the straw and they are again screaming to go.
Geneticists speak of “Drag of the Race.” Without continual testing that distance racing provides, sled dog use that does not test the dogs allows in too many negative factors, resulting in regression in the caste. Some folks wouldn’t care. A lot of this hubbub comes down to disagreement over whether, THEY, AS A CASTE, ARE WORTH SAVING.
Wow! Rod, I know, I know, and while I support the mushers and race, seeing your statement “We originals could have never conceived of a 130-mile-a-day dog.”, sent chills up my spine. Crazy and amazing at the same time. Come to think of it, I cannot think off-hand of any animal that runs 130 miles a day? Again, I am a supporter of most involved but, there might come a time when we are asking too much and to quickly from our 4 legged friends.
Bryan, I believe that wolves can travel that far under the right circumstances.
Bill, I don’t believe that to be correct. Think of the ole “freighters”. Wolves, 40 miles a day maybe.
Bryan, I’m not talking about wolves in harness but wolves in the wild.
Rod…you need to think Lance Armstrong here…”superdogs” do not exist. These dogs are doped year round, and the Iditarod provides competitors with clearance times for all the prohibited substances because they don’t care what happens during the off season.
Let me start by saying I have been following this race for years and the one thing I have noticed is the absence of purebred dogs. I have seen upwards of between 4-6 purebred Siberian husky teams and one year even a team of purebred Malamutes. I also used to see races take upwards of 14-20 days to finish, what happened to those days?? While I don’t entirely blame the Iditarod, it doesn’t leave the individual mushers off the hook either. How many folks can sign up for a race – fully knowing ALL the risks, and still turn right around and SUE them because they lost due to a broken sled?? That musher shouldn’t have been allowed to come back, but it did take losing a dog to get him banned. I would also question the mushers REAL intent for running the race. Are you planning on using this as a stepping stone in DEVELOPING the dogs, or are you going to run them into the ground, or are you going to sabotage another team just for the sake of winning your 4 Iditarod?? Nowhere does it say to run the dogs into the ground, and if a musher is REALLY concerned about the dogs, than they take rests regardless of what is being said around them. I recently started follow the YQ and I was excited to see a team of Inuit Dogs/Malamutes finish this race. And I have to wonder why something like this doesn’t happen in the Iditarod. From what I saw of the maps the YQ looks a lot tougher with all of its hills and mountains. So that being said I look forward to Iditarod opening up a purebred class/division of this race. Because as it stands, I don’t see this event a training point for many purebreds.
I agree that Nic ran his team “too hard” in a sense, but mostly because he misjudged their mental state. From watching multiple videos I wouldn’t say his dogs looked bad at all for that stage of the race, and in fact looked much better than most. The fact that his dogs gave him the finger and pulled over isn’t sign of abuse, but rather a clear indicator that the leadership wasn’t there. In which case I wouldn’t use it as a tool in the growing arsenal to clamor for “change” in how the Iditarod is structured. There are no changes to rulings that are going to leave the race intact that would also fix the perceived “problem.” I put perceived in quotation marks because I don’t agree that there’s a problem that needs fixing from a regulatory standpoint; ie Nic’s dogs look physically healthy, so where’s the problem? He’s suffering the professional consequences of his error in judgment and that’s where it should be left.
His team seemed to be in high spirits and had good appetite and hydration levels, so no abuse, just a break-down in leadership from the front end dogs. I do think there’s probably more to the story going on from last year in that area that had an effect here, as it seems too coincidental
You go, Jason. IMO your observations are spot on target.
Jason: I have the full necropsy on my desk of the dead dog that got Hugh Neff disqualified from both the Quest and the Iditarod. That dog wouldn’t, as you put it, “look bad” compared to a lot of dogs on the Bering Sea coast. It’s skinny, but not starving.
I raise this only because its no easier to see metabolic breakdowns than it is to see aspiration pneumonia. I don’t think the Iditarod’s canine psychologist interviewed the dogs so we lack for that data too.
Long ago, this sort of thing happened to Mitch Seavey on the Yukon. He shut them down for several hours, then turned them around and mushed back to the next checkpoint. I might buy the “mental” issue if that was the case here. I think Swenson was down for three hours or so in Safety in ’87 and got them going again.
Yes, dogs can have mental issues. But when you can’t walk them out on the trail and get them going after a decent rest, I’m not buying a simple mental breakdown.
Why? Because I’ve seen people taken to this place, and one can talk to people, and I have. And it is clear from talking to them that they can reach a point where no matter how much they might want to go on they can’t will their body to go on. I’ve been close to that place, too. I ran a Boston Marathon in which I went out too fast – way, way, way to fast – and bonked.
Going out too fast is the short version of not getting enough rest in Iditarod. The only real difference is the fatigue is rapid versus accumulated. I barely made it to the finish line. I’m stubborn. I’m confident that if I’d been part of a team and one or two of the other members had at the time said, “I quit,” I would have quit, too.
So it’s mental to that point I guess, but it’s mainly physical.
Now a question for you or maybe two:
1.) if you think nothing should be done now, how much rest should we allow mushers to cut from their teams before something is done, because Iditarod speeds appear to have gone up in significant part by reducing rest, which leads into #2.
2.) since you raised the issue of abuse, at what point does sleep deprivation become abusive? a dog’s natural sleep cycle gives it 12-14 hours of rest. they’re not getting that in the Iditarod, and i doubt they “need” it? so how much rest do they “need?” the Geneva Convention considers sleep deprivation abusive: https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/customary-ihl/eng/docs/v2_rul_rule90_sectiona
shouldn’t Iditarod establish some reasonable sleep requirement before the antis come after it for treating dogs worse than if they were prisoners of war?
I may not have run the Iditarod since 2010 as you accurately pointed out, but in the 30+ years spent in the industry prior to that date I gained plenty of experience both competitively and non-competitively that I feel gives me a decently informed perspective on the sport as a whole, and certainly lends me some insight into the canine athlete’s mental/emotional balances under stressful conditions. I submit that for the purposes of your article and many of the subsequent posts that have followed not enough credence has been placed on the mental aspect of a driver’s team in the late stage of a long race, indeed that for most people it is wholly tempting to reduce what happened to Nic and his team down to a simple mathematical formula in order to make a confusing situation where there are hardly any facts to rely on more understandable, as well as fulfill anti-Iditarod agendas.
Let me share a brief story from my personal experience (one of many) that may yield a bit of insight into a lead dog or entire team’s state of mind under similar situations: I was running a 2-year old dog named Clumber in the 2007 Iditarod, a young leader who had performed spectacularly all season in training and middle distance racing. This dog was both a high spirited athlete in the general sense, plus had the rare ability to really generate electricity whilst in the lead position. Can’t tell you how pleased I was with this awesome dog and all of his youthful potential..
Anyhow, I was running out of the Iditarod checkpoint in the top ten at that point, competitively but a bit behind the real leaders of the race. I had taken an 8 hour break in the checkpoint and the dogs had been eating like bears, so all looked very good for my prospects. I pulled into Shageluk after a moderate run, and since the dogs looked so well and were eating so heartily I decided to continue on to Anvik, which under good conditions should only be a little over three hours away.
As soon as I left the checkpoint, the heart just fell out of the team. Not so much physically, but mentally, it was like someone had dumped sugar in my gas tank–they ran looking back, tails down and not pulling very well. I was committed by that point, so I decided to continue to Anvik and take another 8 and sort of reevaluate my priorities. About 5 miles before the Anvik checkpoint, Clumber quit. He just stopped mid run and sat down. He’d been running perfectly up to that point. After checking him for injuries which there were none loaded him in the bag and hauled him to the checkpoint. When we got there he was happy and vivacious, so I was relieved on one hand, but a little disappointed because I felt that it was a simple mental break, and those can’t be fixed usually. Obviously I dropped him and continued on.
The next two years I focused primarily on middle distance including back to back wins at the Beargrease 400 with Clumber as my go-to leader, a job he did spectacularly well. After those two seasons of racing I would have told you that I could drive through hell on Sunday with that magnificent dog in lead such was my faith in him. Him quitting in 2007 seemed like a distant memory. Fast forward to 2010 Iditarod, and once again I was running competitively in or near the top ten, but nothing crazy, just solid competitiveness. Anyway, I had just left Cripple after an 8-hour rest and was making the run to Ruby with Clumber in the lead and the entire team looking awesome eating drinking and running very well, all very happy. About 30 miles shy of Ruby Clumber suddenly came off of his tug line and dove off of the trail into a snow-bank and sat down. No warning, no sign of fatigue, just running one second and quitting the next.He was done. Similar to where we had been in 2007 when he did the same thing, we were roughly 500 miles into the race at that point. He was physically healthy in all respects.
The point is: sometimes dogs quit. It’s frustrating, it’s embarrassing, it’s hard for the musher to admit. But it happens and it isn’t because they were driven to the mathematical point of physical exhaustion as so many of you seem to believe. That is far far too simplistic a way to look at the issue. I LOVED Clumber, and telling this story now breaks my heart. I camped right there, and from that point just kind of muddled my way to Nome in the thirties, just to get there. Some dogs only have so many miles in them before they decide they’re done, and when they reach that point it doesn’t matter how you were driving, or how little/much rest you were giving, they just quit. And all it takes is that one all important leader to quit to shut the entire team down, even if the rest of the dogs want to continue; without leadership you aren’t going anywhere.
Jason: i totally agree some dogs aren’t up to the Iditarod distance. i’ve had many mushers over the years tell me stories exactly like yours. exactly:
“the dog is great in a mid-distance race, but beyond X miles, he/she just shut downs. no physical problem. it’s just in his/her head.”
so my questions would be several:
1.) how did you finish that 2010 race? why didn’t Clumber force you to scratch in Ruby?
2.) same for 2007 when you finished in the top 20? why no scratch in Anvik?
3.) given 1.) and 2.), how is the in any way analogous with a whole team deciding to quit? i totally buy the argument that one dog can have a big influence. i’ve long thought that if Swenson had had Andy in 1987, it might have been different – that Andy might have been able to pull his stalled team out of Safety.
but the dean of Alaska dog mushers himself recognized that he had in that case asked to much of the team physically and they needed rest. he rested them and then got back on the runners and mushed into Nome to finish second. we’ve seen a bunch of folks this year apparently make similar decisions about over-driving dogs only to take long rests and carry on.
am i to believe there was some sort of contagious mental illness going around on the trail?
or is it more likely that the conditions this year led people to ask too much of their teams early and as a result see them run out of gas later?
given the temperatures during the race, i even wonder about cumulative heat stress. were mushers resting long enough in the slow going from Ophir to UNK that body temps returned to normal by the end of the rest? we’ve all known for a long time that heat stress is the big limiting factor on the performance of Alaska sled dogs as some argue it is on people:
maybe it would have been a good year to slip the dogs some uppers:
Craig, DeeDee Jonrowe felt it was the “wind and ocean ice” that was the mental issue (after visiting him at cabin he was holed up in) for Petit’s team. She spoke of it also as a mental issue-my own feelings are that his dogs that had been there the year before started it off. Maybe it was what he referred to as a dogfight but something cause his “yelling” and the rest is history.
DeeDee also mentioned something about taking these competitive teams to the Coast during training to get them used to it-my guess is that he will definitely need to work with his leaders out of Shaktoolik.
been where the year before? a.) that trails move from year to year. b.) the problem last year was that the trail wasn’t there when Petit arrived. c.) having spent a lot of time with dogs in insane levels of wind – levels up to dogs getting knocked off their feet- i agree with DeeDee wind can be a big issue. so how hard was it blowing?
Is Dee Dee following the trail on a snow machine or something, Bill Yankee? That basically echoes my observations from 2500 miles away, and if anyone knows about this kind of stuff it’s her. During her storied career that woman has seen it all.
Jason, here is a link to her report: https://www.ktuu.com/content/news/Dispatches-from-the-Trail-DeeDee-on-Nicolas-Petits-dog-team-slowdown-507009811.html
I’m not sure of her exact contract for her reporting but I sure agree with your opinion on her experience on the trail.
Craig, as to how hard it was blowing, ask Mitch Seavey. Also according to DeeDee it was this wind that caused the grief for Mitch, more so than the grief for his dogs.
Also, you seem to think it is something to do with the trail but I don’t believe it’s that specific. Just that this part of the race, for some reason has become a mental issue for Petit’s team (perhaps for Petit, too).
You seem to be hell-bent on some kind of physical problem but few on here (with any cred) are on board with you. DeeDee was there in the cabin with Nic and she gave her opinion that it was mental. You can choose to argue with her but you just don’t have her cred with dogs IMO.
Here is DeeDee speaking of Mitch Seavey’s issue with the wind: https://www.ktuu.com/content/news/Dispatches-from-the-Trail-Shaktoolik-to-Koyuk-trail-beats-up-veteran-mushers-shifts-trail-507052611.html
Bill: have you spent much time in the Caribou Hills?
I’ve spent some time there but not mushing dogs. Have a daughter in Kenai who is part of family-owned cabin there and I’ve been there a couple of winters with snow machine.
Not sure of your point but expect it has to do with wind.
it blows like hell with some regularity in the mountains up there. people who train in that country know about wind. i always credited that for Dallas and Mitch finishing one-two in 2016 while Aliy was hiding out in Safety waiting for the wind to calm down and Jeff was out because he got blown off his sled.
the Seaveys, in my opinion, kept going because they were comfortable enough in the conditions to do so. but Mitch is old. maybe over the course of three years he’s forgotten about those winds.
’cause God knows, there’s not a musher in Alaska who’d try to spin a story, let alone Mitch.
Craig: I’m not really defending Nic as I do agree that he should have spotted the problem(s) brewing earlier and taken steps to prevent it. I’ll use what Mitch is currently doing as an example, or even Matt Failor & Jesse Holmes who were also obviously having trouble; they pulled over for an impromptu series of unscheduled rests and got their teams’ heads back together and are continuing on down the trail. Heck, if Nic had gutted it out on the ice another 12 hours or so he’s probably have salvaged a finish. These guys’ leaders are quitting, the teams themselves aren’t dying. It’s professionally embarrassing, but hardly an apocalyptic event pointing to the inevitable destruction of all that’s whole and good in the Universe.
To answer your questions, though: 1–in 2007 Clumber was just running as a team dog in the middle of the group, so his quitting didn’t have the impact on me that it later would in 2010. I simply shared that part of the story to demonstrate the mental aspect of a good sled dog’s makeup and the pattern that was beginning to form. 2–in 2010 it completely gutted me. He was the only experienced lead dog I had in the team then. There were two other yearling males who were willing to continue in the lead given the fact that from that point on I couldn’t pass up a checkpoint, and gave between 8-12 hours rest at almost every stop.
Again, my point wasn’t to compare 100% with Nic as I’ve always been wise enough to pull the plug before I reach that point, but simply to share a view that isn’t being given enough credence on this thread; lead dogs can quit, even if they are physically capable of continuing, and if the driver doesn’t have enough other leader options, or if they’ve suffered the mutiny of leadership between several of their remaining leaders, then they aren’t going anywhere, even if there’s a bunch of dogs barking to go behind them.
Replace these top twenty “mutinies” with back of the pack or even middle of the pack dog teams and ITC would jerk them from the race so fast it’d make your head spin.
i agree with you on leaders, Jason. i will add only a couple observations of significance:
in all my years of Iditarod, i never saw a team barking to go at a coastal checkpoint, and that includes the team of Canadian Ross Adam who did a gentleman’s tour of the Iditarod in 2010 that saw him getting about 8 hours of sleep every day.
if you don’t believe me, you can go look at how much time he rested: https://iditarod.com/race/2010/mushers/349-Ross-Adam/ it was ridiculous: 8 1/2 in Skwentna, 10 1/2 in Rainy, almost 18 in Rohn, more than 9 in Nik, 24 in McGrath, almost 18 in Cripple, and it went on all the way to the finish in a time of 13 days.
still, i never saw his team barking to leave a coastal checkpoint. they were, however, always happy to leave, as in “OK, let’s go boss.” i can’t honestly say that of all teams.
over the years, i’ve seen a lot of mushers at the front of their teams walking dogs out of checkpoints with one of those “trail leaders,” as Old Joe used to call them (ie. any dog willing to go) at the front. and there’s not a damn thing wrong with this.
i’ve had to be nudged out of a few stops to get going myself over the years. and once you get moving, everything is usually fine as long as there’s gas in the tank. it appears no different for dogs. as long as the dogs behind that leader have some gas in the tank, they’ll fall in and start marching as soon as whoever is at the front strings them out.
but some people think they need to have something in the tank both physically and mentally. as Rick Swenson long ago observed: they’re not snowmachines; you can’t just put gas in them and go.
so let’s stop arguing mental or physical here because i think we both agree the dogs have to have juice in the batteries – whether those batteries are mental or physical – to keep going.
which brings me back to the question you haven’t answered: how little rest is too little rest? or does that point not exist? i find it hard to believe that you’re in the Bill Yankee camp that believes the batteries never need recharging.
Craig: Rest from a regulatory standpoint, or rest from a common sense standpoint? As far as the rules go, I think the mandatory rests in place are sufficient, and from a personal “if I were to get back in and run again” hypothetical my own leanings would be far more in line with the old Swingley 6 on, 6 off until the coast and then anything goes.
rest from a purely physiological standpoint. how much rest does a dog need over a span of 9 days? veterinarians say they need 12 hours per day. i think that’s hogwash, although Swingley’s six on six off comes out to 12.
to get by on 12 hours per day to the coast, and then maybe 8 hour per day for a few days to Nome, is one thing. but what’s the minimum per day averaged over the course of the race in your mind?
Craig, you have misrepresented my comment about charging batteries. I am only speaking of this situation with Nic Petit. His team may have needed some mental charging but I suspect he was lacking in his training in the area where his team (and he perhaps) faltered.
Actually I’m in the camp of finding ways to slow down these teams but am unsure of how to go about it. I don’t feel there has been any significant issues with this year’s race to say that it’s obvious there is a problem with speed (or rest), however.
i’m sorry if i misrepresented your comment, but it was what you wrote.
Petit appears to have run 18 hours and rested 5 in the 23 hours leading up to his crash. do you know anyone who does that in training to prepare their dogs?
my only interest here is in in Iditarod figuring out a way to encourage mushers to use good judgment instead of bad judgment, because i can see consequences from bad judgment that could kill this race in one last, great fit of stupidity.
OK, and maybe i harbor a little bit of guilt in my senior years. i certainly managed to overlook a few things as an Iditarod reporter, but i certainly never became this kind of goddamn propagandist:
“All three blew through Unalakleet within less than 10 minutes late Sunday afternoon, about two hours after Petit’s team marched on to the next checkpoint: Shaktoolik. A well-rested Petit came and went from that checkpoint by 8:05 p.m. Sunday.”
Petit ran 11 hours straight from Kaltag to UNK where he rested five hours. he then ran 5 hours to Shaktoolik, stopped for what looks to be eight minutes, and kept going. about two hours later the team gassed out near Island Point.
11+5+5+2 = 23.
was he trying to establish a new sort of Iditarod race schedule? 11 on, 5 off? that’s about the schedule he’d have been on if he’d made it to Koyuk.
please tell me you DON’T think this enough rest to recharge a dog team’s batteries.
Craig, I suspect Nic will be on board with his blunder here (not knowing his team under these circumstances). Jason said he was usually able to spot problems before the team quit but perhaps enough musher lack of sleep is what contributed to this judgement failure.
I can’t imagine training that way but can certainly see where some competitive kennels could have a trainer do exactly that with a team with enough miles on it. How else could anyone possibly know what to be expected on the big push on the Coast.
Always possible Petit was planning on resting at that cabin out of Shaktoolik and his team quit before it-again his own blunder.
Setting aside the fact that Nic clearly over-estimated his team’s capabilities in this specific scenario, there are two (at least) important points to consider: 1–Nic was traveling with supplies intending to stop at the cabin on that point, so an 80 mile run followed by a 60 mile run, not an extreme move at all by the standards of the last 15 years or so. Which brings me to my point 2–people have been running from Kaltag to Unalakleet and then in many cases straight to Koyuk, resting briefly before running nonstop to White Mountain for many years now, so there’s hardly anything new here. In hindsight that’s really just one point, but worth breaking up to make more digestible.
Anytime now Steve…
Been following Petit progress all week. He was pushing his team pretty hard..hoped it wouldnt happen but, expected it just the same. Will Joar make it?
You said it.
We ALL know dam well he ran those dogs into the ground.
Like where is a dog psychologist when U need one?
Plan and simple, those dogs could not even tug back to their last checkpoint.
As for Joar, maybe his dogs get better “supplements” to make it to Nome…
Tramadol has been shown to get U into the winners circle even with a team of “blown out” Huskies.
Remember Bryan, dogs like to run, but not 100 miles a day for a week straight.
Luckily for mushers and ITC, Tegan is there to publish a “smoke screen” through ADN.
Something ADN has offered Irod culture since Medred was out on the trail with mushers years ago.
As Art Chance would say, “the stupid is strong today!”
Steve, folks like Jason Barron and I would probably bend the knee to you in realms like gardening. And I would never say, “Shut up, you have no right to voice your opinion.” However, you phrase your statements as so unarguably authoritative, based on experience with sled dogs, maybe even superior experience, with a goodly amount of historical perspective mixed in. Where did you come by it all? Just wonderin’…
I have no need to make this personal with U, why do you think my perspective is as you put it:
“…your statements as so unarguably authoritative…”
I can easily place the same claim to your views of “dominance” over animals in your time in AK.
A story written about you on Joe Miller’s website stated:
“Through the years his employments have included work on a moose research project, guiding big game hunters, and operating his commercial fishing boat in the high-risk, high reward waters of Bristol Bay, the world’s richest salmon fishery.”
Steve, nice job of avoiding Rod’s questions there. I can understand why you wouldn’t want to give your expertise in this matter since it amounts to no expertise (other than living near some mushers and an occasional ski jour).
I equate your spiels on here as in the same category as people without children giving advice on raising them.
Just my opinion.
If you think living and homesteading in the heart of “Musherville” in Willow along with traveling on the Iditarod trail for thousands of miles over the last 12 years (on snowmachines) gives me no experience in this debate, you should stick to quoting Art Chance.
I have also rescued Irod dogs from kennels in bad situations in the dead of winter, assisted handlers in their time of need and corresponded with Irod mushers along with sitting down with one old salt and drinking coffee to 1AM.
I have also worked for property owners that had doglots many times over my 10 years in small business in the valley.
Lastly, I have worked with animal control and the Mat Su borough assembly to move legislation forward to protect sled dogs from abandonment at unattended kennels…
This while always caring for a few Huskies in the cabin and running them mostly free in the hills while I ski…occasionally hooking them up to harness for ski joring around the hood.
But for guys like you and Rod who both are members of the finishers club, I just don’t have the “buckle” that you guys do…
Or maybe you guys are just mad that the race has never interested me in the slightest?
Here is a video I shot of a Jr Irod kennel that just rolled into town and had TWO dogs stuck in each dog box for the entire ride up the Al Can….Real Humane!
Steve, I also had a few double dog containers in my own dog box. The dogs were quite comfortable in there, too. What’s the inhumane part?
Like I said, you have no expertise to be making the statements you make IMO. I think you’ll admit that you are biased against the race, but we are talking here about a very specific thing: what caused Petit’s dogs to crash? You could have no idea about by the very fact that you’ve not done any mushing of dogs (again IMO).
You certainly can voice your opinion, but nobody on here will give in any credence and you, of all people, know why.
You are plain out of your element on “this” subject. I’m only referring to this specific subject (by the way). I value your opinion on many other subjects.
I understand your position well on this issue…
I remember how U have the autographed photo of Sarah Palin in your old Irod Sled.
That is fine with me, but to say two dogs are comfortable in a standard dog box is not accurate.
You can see the truck in this video, it looks “average” to me…not to mention these dogs traveled over 4,000 miles like that from Wisconsin I believe.
Do those dogs look happy to you?
I have and never claim to be an “expert” in any field, just feel my opinion and observations have equal value as do yours and Rod’s and Jason’s and “Opinion’s”.
Who I am sure would have a lot to say if he was not currently out on the trail.
Steve, what you cannot see from the picture is the depth of that container. I can’t say what its depth is either but in my own case I had deeper container for two dogs. Obviously it can get crowded towards to front when both dogs are wanting to look at what’s going on outside.
As far as the trip, if those dogs are dropped regularly the trip length is not an issue-I can’t even respond to your “do the dogs look happy?” There doesn’t seem to be a single humane issue involved IMO.
Anyway, all I’m saying is that you are out of your element here on what happened to Petit’s dogs-not on any other aspect of the race. Other Irod mushers will have the best examples of similar situations but even other mushers will weigh in on what they’ve experienced with a team of dogs that have been stressed similarly. This is what you are lacking IMO.
By the way, Sarah was not in my Iditarod sled as her pink coat matched another training sled’s bag better (it was her choice).
Craig, very interesting and will cause a lot of talk. It’s up to the mushers who run this race to come up with a better plan. But, using the not so flattering photo of Nic is not a good idea.
Why is that not a good idea to use that photo of Nic?
It looks like a still shot from “One flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”…
Nic, like most distance musher’s (including myself), was gifted with a face for radio. That was probably the best picture that Craig could find;)
Gee, Craig, remember in our recent phone conversation that I said I made it a practice never to start an argument with the guy who holds the mike or buys his ink by the barrel? Although I agree with almost all of this piece, I will offer this general truism that IMO gives some of what you are saying about sled dog exhaustion a slight bend.
As I often tell the public when speaking on this subject, unlike a human athlete, a dog does not have goals. And that’s his salvation. He does not set performance bars that he drives himself to his utter limits to achieve. A dog mostly goes a thousand miles out of his own ‘druthers. After he decides he has quit enjoying covering the ground, he will give a little more out of training, but not very much more and not for very long. What this gives the dog is a ‘druther-rest-than-run governor that may pretty much be depended upon to stop him short of hurting himself physically. They don’t fold from sheer exhaustion as a human athlete might, but just decide it’s no longer appealing, say, to heck with it, and lay down.
If those teams mentioned that shut down during past races were to be hooked up after a mental break of a few days, they’d be screaming to go and not display the least physical damage.
Your idea of measuring rest is not one I had thought of as a tool for throttling back. It should be considered, and perhaps even experimented with.
I have another way of throttling back. Some used to call it the “Rod Perry Rule” of the first Yukon Quests. It was the one I ranted and raved on until the others gave in during our drive back from Whitehorse where we had just met in the first Alaska-Yukon organizational confab. It might or might not be as effective as yours, Craig, but it HAS been race proven. I am not willing to discuss it in the media before talking it over with some of the IOFC and race officials, I will say that it resulted in only 27 total dropped dogs on the first Quest as the teams trotted into Whitehorse in great shape. For someone knowledgeable enough to read between the lines, that should convey a load of information. And it fits Joe Redington’s original idea that it should be entirely up to the musher to set his own run-rest schedule.
Of course they can leave as is and continue to see the decline in $ coming in.
Thank you Rod for your well thought out reply.
The race is too long. Sure, dogs like to run, and I like to hike. But I don’t want to be sent on an 11 hundred mike death March, and dogs shouldn’t be asked to run 11 hundred miles either.
To regain public interest it needs to be cleaned up and turned into a relay.
Joe Redington was an animal abuser with 500 dogs in his kennel at one point. He let them die in the sun and in the snow. In fact this race has NOTHING to do with him at all-The Iditarod is the Super Bowl of sled dog racing, and has no ties to the original life-saving Serum Run. The race was in fact patterned after the All Alaska Sweepstakes, and named in honor of mushing legend Leonhard Seppala (who happened to participate in the Serum Run). The race has become so industrialized that mushers factory farm and warehouse sled dogs in order to consistently field competitive teams. The Seavey family, alone, has grossed $1,300,222.32 in Iditarod purse winnings over the years. This is not a humane event, nor is it in any way traditional.
Sled dogs have been present in North America since before European settlement, where they served in a necessary role as working draft animals – used to transport people, supplies, and even mail. Where sled dogs were once a part of daily life in order for native cultures to function and survive, the Iditarod has transformed them into the short-coated, Maserati versions of traditional village dogs. Iditarod dogs are often unable to even run without wearing coats and booties, and are required to be constantly treated with gastric ulcer medication to prevent them from forming life-threatening stomach ulcers due to the grueling, stressful nature of the race. This race commemorates nothing and honors no one, and I will continue to speak for the dogs who are used and discarded by the industry to keep it afloat.- Ashley Keith- Humane Mushing
We may eventually learn exactly what occurred out there.
I suspect it had much to do with Petit’s last year situation and further may have affected Petit just as much as his team. Just too coincidental that it happened near the same place IMO.
As far as limiting mushers from “blowing up a team”, perhaps stopping their use of sit-down systems on their sleds. This penalizes some but might just make it more difficult for some to push that hard.
i wouldn’t be against banning the sit-down sled, and i’m sure Rod Perry would be wholeheartedly in your camp.
and it’s quite possible, in my view, that what happened last year could have played a limited role. some dogs have extremely good memories for trails. but that said, mere confusion over trails or even a lot of unnecessary gee-hawing has not in my experience led teams to mutiny.
mutinies are almost always a result of two things: poor training (i don’t see that being the case here; we’re not talking about some bumbling rookie) or plain, simple, old-fashioned exhaustion. i can remember a Terry Adkins team that had to get airlift out of the Topkoks after almost 24 hours out there.
they still weren’t willing to go. they were worn out and essentially saying, “that’s it. beat me, kick me, shoot me, i don’t care. i can’t go.”
i’ve had a couple wilderness travel friends like that. one was in such crappy shape he fell asleep in a creek when we stopped to cook some warm food try to keep him going. it didn’t get much better after that. it can take a long time for people or animals to respond to being totally pushed beyond the limit.
My point about last year was we don’t know that much about that either, just that Petit lost the lead near a cabin between Shaktoolik and Koyuk.
There may have been some extreme (to the dogs) behavior by the musher that is imprinted on those dogs memories. When they approached this same spot they may have slowed (not from exhaustion) but for their own reasonings and the musher was unable to correct things. And Petit may well have had his own concerns about what would happen and he may have telegraphed those concerns to his dogs.
Petit’s dogs were able to return to Shaktoolik so they also could have continued but for some reason they did not. I suspect there will be a song-and-dance reason for his scratch along the lines of the dog-fight.
“Petit scratched in the best interest of his race team’s mental well-being. Petit and his race team were brought back to Shaktoolik by snowmachine and trail sled for transport through Unalakleet and then on to Anchorage.”
Bill that is a direct quote from the ITC’s press release from their PR firm. Petit and his team actually required a SAR response to get back Shatoolik, those dogs did not willingly continue.
Laura, you could be correct but I suspect that as time went on Petit’s situation for dog food was becoming an issue. The decision to scratch was, no doubt, brought on by his team still not responding to Petit’s attempts to move on. It appears he made several attempts with little success.
Clearly it was impossible to move on (not enough supplies) and appears he wasn’t able to move back-whatever occurred between Petit and his team, will be of interest to many. Like the official release, mental well-being seems to be front and center.
Mental issue Bill? Seriously? That was propaganda written by the ITC’s PR firm to cover up for what is clearly a burned out dog team. That is why the ITC pays a PR firm…to keep their fan friendly narrative front and center. If food and supplies were the issue than the snowmahines would have delivered them and the dogs would have kept going under their own power. They had nothing left to give, Petit drove them into the ground. Hopefully they all recover physically, but having spent a significant time around rescued sled dogs, they probably will not recover mentally when they return to spinning around the dog lot. So what becomes of the dogs who won’t go? Hopefully they don’t rot away on chains for the rest of their lives…or get the bullet to the brain.
Laura, I think we can agree that this team was “burned out.” Where we disagree is on the reason.
I agree with that assessment, Bill Yankee; food and water was the limiting factor for how long Nic could reasonably be expected to wait out there for his dogs to get into gear. The situation was nowhere near as extreme as people like Laura are painting it.
It is not that those dogs were physically incapable of trotting back to Shaktoolic or Unalakleet, it’s just that they didn’t want to until they logged a good rest. And they could not know the best rest was not there where they stopped, but back in the villages behind them.
People like Laura? WTF is that supposed to mean Jason? If it wasn’t an extreme situation then the whole damn team wouldn’t have required mechanized transport to get back to the checkpoint. They could have brought Nic enough supplies to get the dogs moving if they weren’t physically shut down.
Just what I said, Laura. His team shut down mentally, not that big a deal in the great realm of things. Professionally a bigger deal than practically. I find it tiresome when people (yes, such as yourself) make it out like it’s a Federal case; his team got tired, the leaders didn’t want to continue out onto the Sound (a phenomenon which is far more mental than it is physical) without a tree in sight, they stopped. By all reports they’re in good health, so everybody move on. This situation required nothing more than a rueful shake of the head and a “Hope you learned your lesson, sport” before continuing on to the next story.