New age-old

social media

The social-media prism/Brian Solis and JESS3 via Wikimedia Commons

Update: This story was revised on March 26, 2019 to reflect the findings of a gross necropsy on the dog that died in the Iditarod.


When Richie Beattie’s dog Oshi died at the end of this year’s Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, the kennel of the Two Rivers musher quickly turned to the internet for help, and soon the money started flowing in to cover medical expenses.

It was not the first time someone involved in a sport steeped in the traditions of an Alaska long gone grabbed for the social-media lifeline of the 21st Century here and now, and it will certainly not be the last.

Social media in Alaska, as everywhere, is influencing everything. It has invaded the so-called “Last Great Race” in ways big and small.

Long before the 2019 Iditarod began, Wisconsin’s Blair Braverman was everywhere in the tubes, soliciting funds to finance her sled-dog dream and building a new and creative backstop for Iditarod success: a small army of Twitter followers that Iditarod organizers could not ignore.

When Braverman’s team quit on the Kaltag Portage, the unseen army clearly came in handy.

“So some interesting things have happened,” she told NPR after the race. “I was sitting in the cabin. I think I was there for about 20 hours. And I called the race judge. And he’s like, do you have enough dog food?

“And I said, not really. And he goes, ‘There’s a crew of three mushers ahead of you. They’re traveling together. If you can catch up to them, maybe they would have extra dog food. Then you may continue the race. So I mushed for three hours. We get to Old Woman cabin, and what do you know? But there’s three dog teams parked there.”

A race judge taking such actions to keep a back-of-pack (BOP) musher in the race is unprecedented in modern Iditarod history. The history is that race officials try to squeeze out struggling BOP mushers.


After a snowmachine crew trailing the race in 2010 helped 58-year-old Kathleen Frederick wrestle her dogsled out of the waters of Dalzell Creek, the 5-foot, 3-inch woman got call from a race official on the Iditarod’s satellite phone at the Rohn checkpoint.

Frederick was given a simple choice: She could be disqualified from the race for receiving “outside assistance,” or she could drop out.  The former librarian and former teacher turned practicing attorney tearfully scratched.

Such is the norm at the back of the Iditarod pack where the less capable mushers have long dealt with the reality of established and arguably justified double standards.

When two-time Iditarod runner-up, 16-time top-10 finisher and longtime race favorite DeeDee Jonrowe of Willow lost her team three times in the Dalzell in 2014 and then asked some news reporters and others for help in getting the dogs out of the Gorge, there was no ultimatum to be answered.

Frederick and Jonrowe were, however, decidedly different competitors. Jonrowe, an aging veteran, had shown she knew how to get a dog team to Nome. Frederick, a rookie, had convinced some she wasn’t yet ready to do so.

It was a harsh judgment, but harsh judgments have long been an Iditarod norm. And pre-Braverman, it has always been different at the back.

Back of pack musher Robert Loveman from Montana was so irritated by Iditarod double standards that he in 2009 sued the race, arguing it shouldn’t have withdrawn his team as “non-competitive” when it was still within an Iditarod timeline intended to define competitiveness.

Loveman lost. An Alaska judge ruled the Iditarod had no legal obligation to follow its own  rules.

Rules and rules

“Modern day Iditarod rules allow the elimination of teams that are not “in a position to make a valid effort to compete”. Specifically; “If a team has not reached McGrath within seventy-two (72) hours of the leader, Grayling/Galena within ninety-six (96) hours of the leader or, Unalakleet within one hundred twenty (120) hours of the leader, it is presumed that a team is not competitive,” Morgan Buckingham later wrote in her 2012 “Run for the Red Lantern Blog” as she attempted to make it into the Iditarod field.

“Winners of the Red Lantern Award in this day and age may not even be the last team on the trail, they might be the last team allowed to finish the race. In 2009, Rob Loveman was withdrawn for non-competitiveness. In 2010 Hank Debruin was forced to scratch or be withdrawn due to non-competitiveness, even though he was well under the Unalakleet time limit.”

Debruin’s ouster was in some part his own fault. Back of pack mushers understand they are on their own and can expect no help from race officials.

Debruin was but 12 minutes behind Montana’s Celeste Davis at the Nulato checkpoint in 2010. If he’d left Nulato with her or simply refused to answer the phone when Iditarod race marshal Mark Nordman called minutes later, Debruin might have been allowed to finish.

But he answered the phone and the rest is history. Davis that year drove on to collect the ceremonial red lantern given the last musher to finish the race.

Her time of 13 days, 5 hours was 14 hours faster than Braverman’s time of 13 days, 19 hours this year. Davis, a nurse back home in the Lower 48, finished despite breaking her nose in a crash in the Dalzell early on. She hid the injury from race officials confident that if they found out she would be quickly tossed out of the race.

Braverman, to her credit, eventually reached Nome fourth from last this year. She was more than a day in front of rookie Victoria Hardwick from Bethel, but then Hardwick had an old-fashioned backstop to buy her a little extra time if necessary.

She has a long association with the Old Friendly Dog Farm in Bethel, an Angtsman family operation. And Andy Angstman, one of the younger generation of Angstmans, now sits on the Iditarod Board of Directors as the representative of the Iditarod Official Finishers Club.

Small-town politics

Since the beginning of Iditarod, personal connections and politics – big and small – have imposed their influences as they do in all things. Iditarod functions as a small town with all the good and bad that accompanies the same.

Social media has only leveraged off that base.

Braverman brought with her to Iditarod almost 80,000 gung-ho and well-meaning Iditarod followers. Her #UglyDogs fans raised $4,000 to help send Nikolai fourth graders on a trip to Anchorage and said their Igiveaord campaign brought in a whole lot more for other good causes.

The organization claims almost $104,000 in charitable giving, a number widely reported by Alaska’s mainstream media. But it’s hard to tell how much money was raised. It might have been well more than $104,000; it might have been less. There is no accounting.

“We do not take donations ourselves, but help direct potential donors to school and community projects listed on the crowdfunding website DonorsChoose,” Igivearod said on its website.

The organization maintained a spreadsheet listing 123 DonorsChoose projects – 119 of them in Alaska – for which it recommended contributions. It’s fund-raising conclusions come from totaling the money donated to those projects, but there is no real way to tell if the money came solely from #uglydogs or if there was some from #supportiveparents or #friendlybusinesses.

Whether Igivearod raised thousands of dollars or tens of thousand of dollars is, however, largely irrelevant. The organization backed well-meaning causes and generated significant positive buzz for a race that has long been under attack from animal rights activists and reeling in the wake of accusations that one of its top mushers – four-time Iditarod champ Dallas Seavey from Talkeetna – doped his dogs in 2017.

The race in 2018 it announced it had cleared Seavey, but the claim rang hollow given the organization has never identified any other possible suspect. Seavey and dad, Mitch – another Iditarod champ, has argued he was sabotaged by another musher or animal-rights activists, though there is no evidence of any such tampering. 

And Iditarod covered up a scientific analysis that concluded Seavey’s team was most likely doped in Nome a half-hour to an hour before it was tested. Team Seavey members were at that time reported to be in the dog lot tending the team.

Although Iditarod imposed no penalty again Seavey even after identifying his dogs as doped, he used social media – primarily YouTube – to wage war against the Iditarod and the tactic appeared to work.

Morrie Craig, the director of the race’s anti-doping program was ousted, and most of the Alaska volunteers who had been the boots-on-the-ground heart of the doping program quit. They have avoided social media, at least to date, and refused to talk about the program when asked.

Off the record, one offered a simple response to a question as to what was wrong: “Icarus.” Icarus is an award-winning documentary about hidden Russian sports doping.

Ground war

Documentary films and books remain the air power of modern information wars and the mainstream media the rusting armored divisions. But social media is now a massive, uncontrolled army capable of launching human wave attacks.

Canadian film maker Fern Levitt bombed the Iditarod, and sled-dog sports in general, with the movie “Sled Dogs” in 2016, but Iditarod and Idit-a-fans have been biting back on social media across a broad front ever since.

At least in Alaska, they seem to be winning.

After only three days on GoFundMe, musher Nicolas Petit was more than two-thirds of the way to raising the $2,500 he says he needs to return with his team to Shaktoolik where the dogs mutined during this years Iditarod.

Petit wants to return to Shaktoolik to retrain a team that mutined on the Bering Sea Coast this year, forcing him to quit Iditarod 2019. Petit contends the dogs have mental issues that needed to be resolved, and he has found a strong vein of support for that idea.

“Go Team Petit!! from a vicarious musher and Dog Lover,” Bev Dawson posted above a photo of herself and her dog on his GoFund Me page. 

The out-pouring of support for Beattie was similar after his kennel posted this on GoFundMe:

“It’s with incredible sadness and heavy hearts we acknowledge Wildthingz lost a critical team member, our sweet Oshi, Saturday, March 16th.

“Our gofundme campaign is in honor of a warrior dog who died living her life to the fullest & having the time of her life.  Her memory will carry on through the years as Wildthingz recovers from this devastating loss.  Wildthingz will move forward as a staple to our great Alaskan dog mushing culture.

“Financial expenses for medical treatment and memorial services are substantial.  We welcome your support in honoring our beloved Oshi.”

The kennel promptly raised $2,900 – $400 more than its goal. Almost half the funds came from seven women who from the comments clearly viewed Oshi as part of the Beattie family.

“My heart aches for all at Wildthingz Dog Mushing, with the loss of amazing Oshi. She was the leader of the pack,” one of them wrote.

Dead dogs

The Iditarod first reported Oshi died of aspiration pneumonia, an illness caused by dogs inhaling food particles or gastric fluid, but later revised that to say a gross necropsy performed on the dog determined Oshi died of pneumonia of an unknown origin.

Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs that can be sparked by bacteria, viruses, fungus, parasites or the inhalation of foreign material.

The foreign material that kills canines in sled-dog races is usually regurgitated stomach that is then inhaled. This is aspiration pneumonia.

Three dogs have died of aspiration pneumonia in the last three Iditarods. All of the deaths have come in the stretch run along the Bering Sea Coast.

Healthy dogs are normally pretty well protected from the disease. It “is,” as Finnish scientists studying canine pneumonia observed in a 2017 study, “difficult to induce experimentally in healthy dogs; the pathogenesis is therefore considered complex, involving several underlying mechanisms.”

Despite that, the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race from Fairbanks to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, has had some of the same pneumonia problems as the Iditarod.

A dog died this year of aspiration pneumonia and another the year before. After this year’s death, Quest chief vet Nina Hanson told the Yukon News that aspiration pneumonia is  “one of the more common” causes of sled dog death.

Neither of the races report how many dogs come down with aspiration pneumonia and survive thanks to the efforts of veterinarians. The survival rate for dogs stricken with the disease has been estimated at 77 to 81.6 percent.”

Experienced Iditarod vets who asked not to be named said a couple of things could be going on to contribute to deaths in long-distance races. One is the simple stress of racing 1,000 miles with minimum rest in an environment that requires dogs to process 10,000 to 12,000 calories of food per day to fuel their bodies and keep them warm.

It is difficult for some dogs to handle the volume of calories they need. Gastric distress follows and they can sometimes cough up food because of that.

If they inhale some of the vomit in the process, aspiration pneumonia can develop, and dogs near the end of the Iditarod or quest might be especially vulnerable.

High intensity exercise over long distances has been shown to temporarily depress the immune systems of human runners. Given the high-pace of the modern Iditarod, it is possible the immune systems of dogs are similarly compromised.

But it is one of those things you are unlikely to find a topic on social media, which generates a lot of smoke often with a serious lack of fire beneath.

In this case, serious Iditafans don’t care much about dogs falling victim to pneumonia because to them the race is flawless, and animal’s right protesters don’t care because the deaths were inevitable in a race that they view aspure evil.

And for those of either view, social media is a gold mine; pick a side, find a rich vein, and start mining. Then share your gold with the like-minded.

Victory goes to whomever accumulates the most loot.











36 replies »

  1. I handled for Rick for 3 winters and new him WELL… Never have I seen him do anything stated by the Stine’s… 80 thru 83 when he was in his prime…. And probably met you Craig if you came to his kennel in Eureka

    • Del those were not my statements, they were statements made by Swenson himself and by one of his former handlers. In his book Swenson uses the word “culling” to describe his process of selecting puppies for a champion race team, and culling according to dictionary means: “the action of sending an inferior or surplus farm animal to be slaughtered.” I find it impossible to believe he used the word erroneously to mean he found homes for the hundreds, and thousands, of surplus dogs he bred. I also find it hard to believe River Mike, who worked for Swenson in the late 80’s, fabricated the events he reportedly witnessed. He had nothing to gain by doing so. Regardless it seems evident that the good old days of the Iditarod were not so good for dogs, and these same problems, as well as some new ones, persist to this day.

      • Laura you need to look up Wikipedia definition/ description of culling for pedigreed animals. It specifically says it in no way means killing. It means separating or segregation as to disirable traits . Understanding a small item requires understanding it through factual knowledge. So it also may help you to realize mushers were rarely rich and needed to off set their kennel costs . They sell when possible the dogs who don’t fit the team . It’s a mathematical concept. If an animal is put down it is a waste of everything that went into raising it . Time and money. A bad loss . 100% loss . For some also an emotional loss . Selling is often needed financially to offset costs so most kennels do not put down culled animals unless absolutely necessary due to extreme health issues. You need to understand this mathematical reality to understand what really occurs. Pushing a personal misunderstanding is not dealing in true reality. Swenson would have considered any dog he put down as a buisness and emotional loss . Why do that if he could turn it to profit and buy better gear or needed items ? Mushers and many animal people become emotionally invested when caring for dogs . Just wastefully putting them down would make zero sense . That would rarely happen in a top tier racing kennel. Especially a savy person like Swenson. This problem you speak of happens more often to kennels that are hobby breeders not performance oriented. Indiscriminate hobby breeders have less demand for their excess dogs . With your good intentions you are propagating a simple misunderstanding. I’m not naive I do understand their are exceptions. Again you are at wrong door.

      • Ramey sled dogs are not “pedegreed” animals, in fact just a few years ago Vern Halter had sled dogs in the Mat-Su Borough officially classified as “livestock.” And culling, as in killing, has been an issue within the mushing community for decades. Susan Butcher told a reporter it was more humane to cull then to place a dog in a sub-standard home. And while some mushers do it themselves, others hire out a shooter, or as Craig pointed out let the puppies die of neglect. And then there are those who put the burden of dealing with the dogs back on the taxpayers. In the last month there have been dozens of unwanted sled dogs dumped at the Fairbanks shelter, many of whom will be euthanized at the taxpayers expense. Here’s a quote from a Fairbanks animal control officer from 1991, and I bet the same crap is still going on today:

        “Cheatham said he has seen mushers bring in multitudes of dogs to be put down at the borough’s animal shelter.

        “‘If you bring a dozen animals into the shelter,’ Cheatham said, ‘I don’t have a problem with that. But when it becomes two dozen, and three dozen, and five dozen, I think a change needs to be made.'”

      • Laura: if you’re in the sled-dog business and you can get good money out of a dog or put it down, which makes more sense?

        i am with Mr. Smyth in the simple observation it’s bad business to cull if you can earn cash, and i’m wholly in agreement with his observation that there was a time when Swenson dogs were thought of as something super special and the demand was high.

        that said, if you go to Iditarod headquarters and you look at Rick’s old lead dog Andy and compare him to the dogs in the top teams today, you will see pretty different looking animals. it’s hard to avoid the conclusion Alaska churned through a lot of dogs to go from where the breed was then to where it is today,

        and there were people culling. Joe Runyan was brutally honest about it in his book, but he spent time living in a village on the Yukon where that was normal. the same might be said for Charlie Boulding.

        shit, i remember John Cooper – the Rambler from Ambler – writing a story for the ADN’s We Alaskans Sunday magazine in the ’80s in which he mentioned throwing a bag of puppies in the river because he thought that was the most humane way to kill them.

        it caused a bit of a stir at the time, but the practice was considered normal enough that the editor ran the story without thinking to cut that reference.

        none of this is black and white.

        there’s something to be said for Mr. Smyth’s observation that Iditarod helps provide for care and support of a goodly number of dogs. that’s the upside. there are some professional Iditarod kennels that take superb care of their dogs.

        on the down side, the Iditarod also encourages some of these whacked out wannabes who get some dogs and start talking about the Iditarod (even make it into the race in a few cases) and run awful operations.

      • Actually Laura some sled dogs are pedigreed but that’s neither here nor there . Now Susan butcher I don’t know so well . So I’m not going to discuss her much . So let’s not broaden the discussion to far . My dad gave her a special leader to use just prior to her fame and he wasn’t happy with how that came out . The mathematics apply to her though as well. Her dogs were in heavy demand during her peak when she was raising numbers . Why you persist in denying or trying to understand what culling means to a top driver is Delving into fantasy. It’s all about terminology for people in certain circles. Let me explain. A mechanic says this car runs like hell – he means it runs rough and needs a tune up and maintenance. A top musher says this dog runs like hell and it means the dog is spectacular and can’t be running any better – very hard working self motivated. Similar to working men . That man works like hell = hard worker . That car runs like hell = poor . Your lack of knowledge misleads you . Now I’m not going to broaden scope to discussion of Bourough or livestock. That’s not my forte . You don’t understand terminology of culling in distance top musher circles. Sprinters I believe use a bit different terminology. Now Fairbanks animal control is interesting issue most of those dogs coming in are from bottom tier kennels. Our family has never to my knowledge taken a dog to Fairbanks animal shelter but we considered the shelter a gold mine for getting dogs when needed. Bottom tier kennels didn’t realize the talent they were leaving there I suspect or perhaps they ran out of money and had no choice. Interesting side note is Brent sass main leader was picked up from a shelter and helped pull him to several race wins and he tattooed that dogs name on his arm when it died in a fight . I’m not going to brag up Brent sass as I don’t agree with his personal race style but that’s not for me to judge. I can’t remember the dogs name but it came from a Fairbanks shelter if I remember correctly and was bonded to that mans soul.

      • Here is a “modern day “Iditarod musher’s take on culling…so Ramey is it your opinion that Zoya and John are misrepresenting the terminology as far as culling is concerned?

        Living within the center of the Alaskan dog sledding community, DeNure soon realized not everyone had high standards of care for their dogs. Sometimes she heard mushers on the sidelines joke about what they’d do to their dogs who didn’t perform well in races.

        “The dogs have no legal protection here,” DeNure said. “People can go out into the woods and shoot their dog for whatever reason. Sometimes that might be injury, sometimes it’s because they’re too old to race. They’ll make remarks like, ‘This guy isn’t running so well, we’re gonna get rid of him,’ as if he’s a piece of furniture or a machine. And these people are lauded in the public eye.”

        Although some rescue groups exist for retired sled dogs, such as The August Foundation for Alaska’s Racing Dogs, some mushers choose not to adopt out their dogs. While it’s unclear where the dogs end up, DeNure said it’s likely they’re killed — or “culled” as some describe it.

        This is something that has been happening for decades within the industry, DeNure explained.

        “At any given time, some kennels will have 100 dogs and they’re all between the ages of 2 and 7,” she said. “So what happens to the old dogs?”

        At some kennels, the pressure to produce a successful team comes at the cost of overbreeding. Kennels will breed multiple female dogs throughout the year, which gives them a larger pool to choose from once the dogs are old enough to start training — but also lots of extra puppies.

        Many dogs who aren’t cut out for racing are killed.

        “Performance culling is undoubtedly taking place,” DeNure said. “We’ve had handlers from other kennels interview with us for a job here and have heard a lot of horror stories. People are traumatized by what they see.”

      • You keep broadening scope . Laura first let’s lay ground work of knowing denure . I know her very well , meeting soon after her arrival in Alaska . A very kind person. A freind . Her first real mushing mentor bill cotter is top notch man and musher . Treated his sled dogs like gold when I new him his kennel care surpassed most pets . He sold his less desired dogs for a lot of money. People were in line for cotter dogs before pups were born yet he never ran a puppy mill . To my knowledge almost every dog his kennel produced either made his team or was sold for top dollar . A truly envied place for dogs to live . He was a top Iditarod musher in his day . He would be a better source of facts than denure as he has actually lived here for decades. So here’s how I see it . Cotter and Schandlemeir the kennels denure associated with the most rarely put dogs down except for extreme health reasons. Why didn’t your dodo article reference them ? I would have to speak to denure myself to understand what she meant to say . Once a biased uneducated reporter hears it they put their own twist . Usually whatever they want to say or promote. Did they miss qoate her ? Or not give full information? Probably. The dodo distinctly twisted it’s information and was basically lying. Trying to draw correlation between Seaveys and no access to vet care . Nonsense. Did you know Dallas aunt is a vet ? Did you know Dallas dog food sponsor is doctor Tim ? A vet who does free work in Alaska ? He offers to help his sponsored mushers any time . So the do do article is trash . Not worth the paper it’s written on . Now was there a problem at the Seavey kennel ? I don’t know . I wasn’t there . I do know Dallas had relationship issues and many things may have started to slip a bit . That is a fact of life . Only idiots would judge a person or operation during that moment. Any one is susceptible to life struggles. Not a good excuse but a fact of life . I’m not one to judge nor do I agree with what appeared to occur there also I’m not intrested in broadening scope and pretending I know occurred . I wasn’t there . The important thing is two top kennels denure associated with are stellar . Why not mention that ? Why not ask Schandlemeir or cotter their definition? They are expierenced. Why did trash magazine do do use inexperienced recent Alaskan to further its agenda ? Took advantage of her I say . How about ask someone with actual experience? Don’t get me wrong zoya is nice person hard working dog lover . She cared for some of my dogs with extreme care . But you can’t use an truly inexperienced person to define a term or sled dog history. Only a fantasy person does that .

      • Ramey I am not a fantasy person, and I really don’t appreciate the subtle digs in place of honest dialogue. But I certainly expected you would resort to discrediting Zoya as well…but I would hardly say she was taken advantage of. She obviously violated the Iditarod’s gag order which takes a lot of courage in my book, too bad she was ignored.

        And John Schandlemier left this comment on a story about the handler who reported Dallas to animal control…he may have narrowed the scope a little but he certainly doesn’t backpedal on any of Zoya’s observations.

        “I said I believe performance culling is confined to a minority. I do truly know what some other mushers do. They have told me that personally. I have no reason to believe that a musher would lie to me when he tells me he culls dogs because they won’t fit into his team. We have received dogs from competitive kennels that came with the tag; “too good to shoot”. There are dog owners that believe that wholesale culling is okay and not afraid to voice their thoughts and beliefs. Quit hiding your head in the sand and be proactive with the changes we need in this sport!”

      • Laura I extremely apologize for making you feel I was painting you as a fantasy person. It was meant to be a description of what it takes to fully believe or qoate someone who doesn’t have adequate experience to be speaking as a sage on the subject. It wasn’t meant specifically for you .Forgive my failure in writing , I fumble along best I can but it’s not my strong point . Now Shandlemeir supposed qoate summed up real life of mushing fairly well. He was guessing a bit . He definitely has experience to truly represent the situation. He is human like rest of us and not always correct. I sure do respect what he says as should most people. He has experience / knowledge to back his opinion / statements . His statement was valid . I’m not hiding my head in sand . The original discussion was about Swenson and definition of word culling,you took it way beyond that .

  2. I don’t agree that the mushers are winning in Alaska, the tide is definitely turning. The public, including the general public in Alaska are questioning the validity of the Iditarod especially when another dog has died once again while racing this year. When I was in Anchorage, to protest the 2019 race, was the first time that I heard the public state that the race must end.
    Peta continues to grab headlines as they announce all the sponsors that have dropped since my film was released, including Coca Cola this year. And Peta will not give up until all the sponsors have dropped their sponsorship. I have no doubt that other major sponsors will continue to drop as the race is now associated with animal abuse and corruption. The public is growing more intolerant of abusing animals for entertainment, money and ego.

    • Seeing as how mushers don’t do this for the money, all that will happen after the sponsorship dries up is that people will still race and mush dogs, there will just be less regulation and oversight than there is now, and less money overall to feed, vet and house teams. Seeing as how the average musher is already putting every dime they make or scrounge back into their dogs, all your really accomplishing is degrading the lifestyle of sled dogs across the state.

      • No. What I’m doing is ending a race that has been proven to be no more than animal abuse of our 4 legged best friends

      • Don’t delude yourself, Fern. You won’t “end” the race, or the sport. You can harness all the fruits and nuts, 70 year old cat ladies and easily lied to masses in between to your PETA fund raising efforts, but you aren’t going to end anything. You may have a social network and a megaphone big enough to lie to the easily fooled, but that’s a far cry from having the personal metal to “end” something like the sport of dog mushing. It won’t end, there’ll just be less funding to take care of the dogs, and mushers will just get by with less. As far as I’m concerned, money grubbing efforts like yours (and your movie was a dreadful, jumbled mess btw) are doing far more to hurt dogs than to help them.

        I get the fruits and nuts, senior citizens and lied to masses, they’re just easily led and genuinely believe your tripe, but the PETA intelligentsia like you at the upper end of the spectrum who have attached themselves to the neck of dog mushing like a blood sucking hag-fish are really something to behold. Anything to drum up the funding, eh?

      • Very well summarized Jason . Mushers will mush . As has occurred for thousands of years. Why the protractors have missed the fact money upgrades a dogs lifestyle is beyond me . It’s same with humans if you have extra money it can go towards a more comfortable lifestyle, quality good health care ect . Direct link. Fern and peta don’t really care about animals or they would put all their money towards donations of people and animals in need . Their efforts endanger the future happiness of sled dogs.

  3. If I had to eat my dog to survive I would. But the dog knows this and he might try to eat me instead.
    Yes I know its the story of To Build A Fire.

  4. Rick Swenson was far from kind to dogs. From his book, The Secrets of Long Distance Training and Racing:

    “But on the average, a fellow like myself, who raises a minimum of 50 pups every year, using almost all proven breeding stock, still doesn’t get more than two pups out of a litter that wind up making the race team when they are three years old.”

    “If a pup is slow, I am not going to mess with them. It is not worth messing with a pup if it hasn’t got any speed and doesn’t want to go- yes, I am talking about draggers. That is the first culling – they just plain don’t want to go. Then I look at their gaits or if they throw their legs out funny or obviously are too slow, if their lines are slack all the time. There is no sense wasting good dog food and your time on a dog that isn’t fast enough to keep up.”

    “If you want to have trotters, you can save yourself a lot of dog food, keeping the faster ones and eliminating the others.”

    Swenson’s last win in 1991 logged a time of 12 days 16 hours 34 minutes. It would have put him in 32nd place in this year’s Iditarod. Richie Beattie finished in 11 days, 7 hours, 1 minute and claimed before the race that winning rookie of the year was one of his goals. I was sickened watching the video of him hooking his ailing dog to the gang line, more concerned about his photo op then the health of his team.

    And yet the dogs just keep getting faster and faster…so has the training and breeding that Swenson describes gotten even more brutal, or are these dogs being systemically doped, as the reference to “Icarus” would seem to indicate?

    • Laura , if I may use your first name , I would like to address some of your statements and questions. First the book was written a very long time ago . Over a quarter century. At one time gunfights were normal. You may have some slight incomplete understanding. All Swensons wins could be considered slow . He was not a record speed breaker though he holds most titles . Arguably 6 . His 91 win time was during one of worst storms in last several decades . Susan and deedee broke deep heavytrail to Iditarod as other mushers including Swenson conservatively held back invoking Susan’s ire . (If memory serves )Two women did all the work perhaps even snow shoe work to Iditarod but perhaps my memory fails me . Anyway Susan was out running Rick aprx 45 second a mile across the coast . The press asked him what it would take to beat Susan he replied a lightning bolt . Which basically occurred. Thus Swensons kennel name lightning bolt express. By white mountain a massive coastal storm had arrived turning back all the leaders Susan turned back as did Osmar , joe Runyon and other top notch drivers who were unable to handle the weather. Further back garnie and barve got separated from their teams and had to walk or hunker down in the storm Susan turned back and gave rick a bulb for his burned out headlight a truce of a feud under fire , rick and buser soldiered on . The storm was so bad rick became the leader probably in front of goose walking for hours and hours with a line attached . The dogs followed at heel a true team effort. No tracker . Part of ricks success was due to a recent trip over the trail by snowmobile marking the trail by gps . The main reason he won was because he was gritty and had a good emotional connection with the dogs as in those conditions they can not hear you and often cannot see you either . Good leaders are borderline super natural with their instincts, few mushers have them . Rick was feared dead as no one had seen him for hours. He finally came out of the storm walking in front of the team in soft blowing snow. Many mushers were never competitive again . Only buser seemed to get stronger placing second and developing a champions attitude. It was a slow tough race . Now as to part of other reasons why current to nome times are fast . The clock used to start in anchorage and run eagle river with layover in settlers bay or Wasilla arguably a very hard first day . We now have an easy start in willow. Cutting a day aprx plus much effort. Thus you can’t compare times at all . Also trails are completely different due to heavy machine and human traffic thus incomparable. Much easier race . As to his statement eliminating you take that wrong . Their is almost no one in memory who did that . Even then mushers sold or put incompatible dogs into other teams or homes . Yes perhaps a few were put down but not nesasarily in his or top kennels . Ask him himself. His dogs were in very high demand . As were Susan’s who had even more pups per year . Other mushers considered themselves lucky to get Susan’s 50 th ranked pup . I remember rick mackey ecstatic to purchase Susan’s 50 th pup back in 80s . Even kids and amettuer kennels filled out with butcher or Swenson dogs . It was a crazy time . Dog food was cheaper . Help was abundant. No real excuse for so many dogs so I won’t go there . Different era different choices. Genetics are a bit better as to percentages perhaps. Mostly it’s methods that improved . Even back then my dad had created pup education methods starting with correct socialization as sucklings that gave all the pups a chance to develop their desire to pull. Speeds are faster now due to nutrition, conditioning, mental training, genetics and racing knowledge. Yes perhaps there are certain teams that have an element of Icarus issues. Iditarod and others are trying to resolve that . I won’t go into it . Perhaps others can. I am to unknowledgeable as to facts . If that’s the case though it has been going on for longer than my memory so that’s not why racing is faster . You truly have no idea how hard many of us as mushers have pushed to get these issues resolved It’s a tough time. We are all trying to raise the bar and work towards betterment of our canine partners. No one is perfect but It’s something all of us work on as best we can under circumstances. There has been shocking improvements in the last 50 years . I respect that you care . As do most people. As to Beatty there were mistakes made but not for reasons you say . Mark Nordman would need asked why Beatty was requested to put the dog on tow line . A tragedy ensued but there must be unknown information if the best vets in Alaska couldn’t save the dog over two days . Perhaps undiagnosed heath issues as usually causes death in humans . I know stu and others are truly trying to figure it all out . Have a great day .

    • Didn’t mean to down play the Icarus or doping issues.they need fully resolved and programs funded ,progress made . Upgraded to top class levels . Best if all results open to public or at least a very large committee. I suggest testing starting in December-race . Seaveys actually support that now also . Progress needs made .

  5. My kids followed the Iditarod as a class project last year. Oh a whim, I decided to follow the race this year and got sucked in. You are spot on with the small town politics analogy. As I read different things on social media it’s a lot like overhearing the waitress gossiping with a regular at truck stop diner. You don’t know the backstory or who has what axe to grind with who. I appreciate the balanced perspective you provide and look forward to reading more.

  6. Off the general subject of the article, more a side commentary on Raymy’s Swenson appreciation. A few years ago when my friends Steve and Denise Perrins, had me at their Rainy Pass Lodge informing and entertaining race guests, I was talking to Dee Dee as she prepared to pull out. Beside her, Rick was harnessed and set to yank the hook before Dee Dee was quite ready. With the kindest regard, knowing that his departure would cause her dogs to surge, he called over asking if she’d like him to wait. The warmth of the mutual appreciation that had matured over the years was evident and touching.

    Dee Dee called back, “Thanks Rick, no, you go ahead.” As we walked from near the front of her team back to her sled, we spoke of the days when Rick controlled the race and “Where’s Rick?” “What is Rick up to?” was uppermost on every top competitor’s mind, but as he aged and new young guns felt he was no longer a dominant force, they began to almost disrespect him. “Rod,” said Dee Dee, “Those younger guys will never understand how much they owe to that man.”

    So true, so true.

  7. “An Alaska judge ruled the Iditarod had no legal obligation to follow its own  rules.”
    This is why sled dogs must be included under state animal welfare laws…
    The ITC has proven time and time again (like when Dallas was caught with Tramadol in his dogs urine) that they have no interest in following any rules or regulations even if “approved” by their board.

  8. My hats off to all the back of packers !!! They embody what I consider the spirit of Iditarod. Hopefully Iditarod will change its policy to make it easier for them to get into the race . Reduce entry fees , reduce competition requirements, reduce restrictions of entrants and support the back of packers . Back of packers are more important to mushing overall health than front runners. They are real mushing base and have so many supporters! From my veiw it’s amazing and incredible when a back of packer over comes their lack of knowledge and ability to Finnish the Iditarod . When they accomplish an Iditarod run (in my late mothers words )they become champions in their own right . Separately For sake of mushing I would give my experienced take on the issues in Craig’s article if someone wanted an experienced opinion. Feel free to ask . Personally I disagree with his analysis of aspiration pheunomia . I didn’t contribute to his article in any way so I have other view points . Aspiration pheunomia May be a bit of catch all term for what’s actually occurring. Those deceased dog incidents need studied thouroughly . Any one any where can catch that disease under right circumstances. So what is actually causing it in these cases . In recent era the front runners haven’t had this problem. So it can in no way be considered a disease of hard competition. Beatty was front mid pack . As Seems fairly normal for this condition. What’s really going on ? Genetic ? Musher inexperience? Feeding methods ? Random illness ? Longer trail exposure? Weather ? A real study needs done and not nonsense assumptions of assuming it’s from hard efforts. No one puts in a harder effort or runs with less rest than top 10 racers and rarely do we see this condition there . So what’s really occurring? It’s not calorie requirements as supposed expierenced vet suggested. Top 10 has equal or higher calorie requirements per day . What is it that’s causing this condition? I do know that if a close eye is kept for pheunomia symptoms usually it can be caught early but not always. Jeff king and Rick Swenson never had a dog die of this condition. Their success needs studied . Swenson was a truly good example of dog care . He balanced competition and dog care in a truly shining light way . His example brought racing dogs heath up to a higher degree. It was very tough for sled dogs before Iditarod. In the 60s dogs were not cared for like they are in this era . That’s in part thanks to dog lovers and mushers like Swenson who proved healthy dogs perform at a higher level . He paved the way to see results of better care . IMO . So I think it needs studied . Why did Swenson have no dogs succumbed to this illness? What did he do differently than Beatty ? Was it genetic or environmental? Before assumptions are made a real study needs done .

    • In humans prexisting health conditions supposedly is the contributing factor to mortality. Bacteria and viruses are involved. After it’s contracted Sled dogs and humans die of it in similar percentages. A few questions: are sled dogs racing Iditarod succumbing at a higher rate than they do when at home ? If so why. And why in specific teams ? What are leading factors. Are they modifyable or avoidable ? How ? Needs analysis. Prexisting? Genetic ? Environmental?

    • “I spent two years driving dogs for Rick Swenson, five time winner of the Iditarod. In that time I saw terrible things done to the dogs. The dogs were starved to maintain their racing weight, beatings were the norm and after they had served their usefulness and made a name for Swenson by winning races, they were shot and thrown in an open pit. His property is dotted with pits full of dead dogs ranging from puppies to old dogs…I saw Swenson take a club the size of a baseball bat and hit a dog a staggering blow between the eyes. He told me that the reason he takes ‘such good care’ of his dogs is so he can ‘kill them on the trail’ and he bragged to me about dragging dogs to death…A big musher joke is ‘The only difference between a dog and a dog handler is that you can shoot the dogs.’ Swenson told me he doesn’t understand why anyone would have a dog for a pet. A dog is but a tool for him and if it doesnt meet his standards it’s killed…” — Mike Cranford, Letter to Iams

      Sadly “River Mike” is no longer around to share his story, but at least Iams heard it, and listened.

      • Hopefully River was not fully truthful. Swenson was known for being very harsh on handlers . Understatement. His standards were higher than most people could meet . He was known for having harsh verbal people communication. He probably developed many enimies. I’m not privy to facts as I wasn’t there first hand so it’s inappropriate to use supposition.

      • i don’t believe it. Rick could be as asshole with people. we had more than our share of confrontations. some of them weren’t very pretty. but i never saw him abuse a dog, and i never saw anything in his personality to indicate that he would.

        in fact, i remember too many times when he lectured idiot reporters (and i’m pretty sure he thought i was one) about how he wasn’t going to run a dog team into the ground to finish any higher than he deserved to finish given where he was when the race hit the coast.

        and i’ve been to his kennel. the dogs are in pens, not chained out. the last time i was there were no dogs were around to which my reaction was WTF. no dogs?

        i went looking around because nobody was home and eventually found them all out free-running with his wife and grand kids. i walked them all home. the dogs all went to their kennels. they were pretty damn happy dogs.

        “pets” would be a good word.

        was it always this way? i doubt it. there was a very ruthless period in early Iditarod history when everyone was breeding a ton and culling like crazy to create the “perfect” breed. there was some Jack Londonesque thinking: drive them till they drop, cut them out of the harness, dump them and keep going.

        Rick helped lead the sport away from that.

        i was in in Minnesota at the John Beargrease when it started. Robin Jacobson kicked the asses of big shot Alaskans with a small group of dogs he knew well. i well remember Rick expressing his belief that maybe a lot of people had gotten off on the wrong track with dog farming instead of dog training.

        things changed after that. there was rather famous meeting of the Iditarod big shots at one time where Susan Butcher was said to have complained that she needed a plane to follow her team along the trail to pick up her dropped dogs because too many were dying after being dropped.

        Rick’s comment, as the story was told to me, was simple: “if you wouldn’t drive them so goddamn hard before you drop them, they wouldn’t die.”

        not only that, what exactly would be the training purpose in taking “a club the size of a baseball bat and hit(ting) a dog a staggering blow between the eyes?”

        a concussed dog isn’t much good. it doesn’t learn anything from that exercise. it’s a waste of time.

        lastly, handlers are not the most reliable of sources. some of them hold grudges. some of them want to ingratiate themselves. i know handlers who actually did witness abuse of the sort of you mention, and then lied through their teeth about it when asked what they’d seen.

        there have been all sorts of people involved with the Iditarod over the years. some of them, as the late Jerry Austin once described Rick, “stupid, old dog lover(s),” and some who just wanted to win the damn race and were willing to do just about anything to try to achieve that end.

      • That’s kind of the same rationale that the ITC used for exonerating Dallas…we just can’t believe him capable of drugging his own dogs so therefore he must be innocent. I have no reason to believe Mike made that stuff up about Swenson, and for many years he kept his advocacy very private. It wasn’t revenge he was after but forgiveness for his own guilt and to improve the lives of sled dogs. And do the math on Swenson’s puppy mill…50 dogs for 2 that make the team…that’s 400 puppies for a team of 16 top competitors. I don’t believe for a minute that all 384 remaining pups were sold or adopted out, and if they were, a lot of them probably made out worse than the dead ones in the pit.

      • So Laura there may be cases where you would be right . Swenson is not one . At least not to degree you imagine. When you are champ the pups are sold before they are born . People beg for your breed from all corners of the world. Especially if your name was Swenson in the 80s . It’s been similar for all champions. 384 pups could be sold in one year the demand can be that high for them if you were 4-6 time champ . So it doesn’t surprise me it took him 8-10 years to rehome or sell the dogs . It’s quite reasonable. You also don’t realize it was open class then . 20 dogs common in team . 24 -30 to field 20 . Not counting youth ,yearlings and sprint alipinrod or quest teams . He fielded a quest and Iditarod team for his wife as well as alpinrod sprint team . You greatly misunderstand the mathematics of the situation. It leads you to emotional based conclusions or fears . The situation needs your help but you are at wrong door . Thanks for considering my information Laura . Have a great day .

      • What a fantastically detailed reply, Craig. Lots of great points and insight. Hell, this reply had more useful info than most articles themselves

      • Craig,
        Your own reply is filled with the contradictions that only go to show the hypocrisy in trying defend Rick and paint the “handlers” as a less reliable voice.

        This is the same shit that goes on today….Ashley, Jane, Abbie…three very relievable individuals who all worked for Seavey kennels in the last few years and have come public with allegations of abuse.
        Abbie even had videos of puppies that did not receive medical care and mysteriously “disappeared” when Animal Control went to check on the kennel, yet media continues to dismiss their voices as “disgruntled” employees…

        Well, I can tell you first hand that I was there to help Abbie and picked her up when no one from Irod would help her (Dallas was in China at the time)…she was not even sure how to find her in the backwoods neighborhood that she was staying. She was very upset and mushers from Fairbanks drove down that night to pick her up in Willow. They thanked me for my help and the time in going to get her. These handlers are honest people. They spend more time caring for the dogs than the mushers do.

        Your statement “there was a very ruthless period in early Iditarod history when everyone was breeding a ton and culling like crazy”…
        When do you think this “ruthless period” was? Butcher, Swenson, Mackey, Seavey?
        There is no way to run a top ten kennel without breeding and breeding at dog lots results in culling….only today the culling is mostly taking place as soon as an unwanted puppy is born.

      • Steve: i don’t think handlers are any less reliable or any more reliable than mushers.

        i’ve been a reporter for a long time. the one thing i’ve learned over all the years is that everyone lies at some time (if only to make others feel good) and some people lie most of the time. it makes sorting things out difficult.

        i can’t be sure what Rick Swenson did in his earliest dog days when he was a lot more interested in winning than in much of anything and when attitudes were, frankly, very old school.

        people treated dogs the way villagers had long treated dogs. if a dog proved itself truly valuable, it gained a special status. it formed a bond. it became, in essence, a trusted companion.

        and if the dog didn’t rise to that level, it was a just a dog, another animal, an animal no different than all the other animals to be killed and used in whatever way necessary to survive.

        go back and look at the people in those early races – hunters, trappers, gold miners, wilderness folk to whom dogs were truly work animals.

        if you’d told those guys you were going to run a race that was “all about the dogs,” they would have looked you in the eye and asked, “WTF are you talking about?”

        but times change, and people change, and the world changes along with them. there are different standards now. America is no longer a rural, agrarian society where dogs serve a useful purpose or they are killed. America is a comfortable, well-off, urban society where dogs are “companion animals.”

        you’re not going to find an Iditarod winner today declaring he (or she) won the race because “I have the toughest damn dog team in the north.” no, you’re more likely to hear a story about how “all i wanted to do is get to Nome with my best friends,” even if the person on the runners didn’t know the names of half the dogs (or maybe any of them) because they were trained by others.

        Iditarod isn’t the dogs-on-a-picnic event the delusional members of Blair Braverman’s #uglydogs believe it to be, but neither is the barbaric event PETA accuses it of being.

        the truth is somewhere between. it’s “grueling” to use an Iditarod term. we don’t know what the dogs think because they can’t tell us, but as someone who used to train to the tune of 100 to 130 miles per week and then raced marathons rather than just ran them, i’ll hazard a guess at what it’s like for the dogs:

        euphoric when not horrible and everything in between with the view shifting sometimes even by the minute.

        dogs love to run. there is no doubt about that. turn them loose and that’s what they do.

        but, as we saw in this year’s Iditarod, there are times when dogs not only don’t want to run; they don’t want to walk; they don’t even want to be towed along on a leash.

        the Iditarod is no doubt hard for some dogs, but that doesn’t make it inhumane. life is often hard. and dogs generally either get first-rate treatment during Iditarod or the musher for some reason leaves the race.

        yes, there have been mushers tossed out of Iditarod by vets who didn’t approve of the musher’s dog care, but this has almost always been covered up by the race. why? who knows. somebody decided it wouldn’t look good.

        the Iditarod spends a lot more time worrying about image than transparency. it’s probably why some people are so deeply suspicious of what happens in and around the race, and it’s probably why a few less than stellar people remain in the sport.

        but Iditarod is not an inherently evil event as you seem to believe it, and you are sadly wrong about those unwanted puppies. killing them immediately after birth in a painless way would be the humane thing to do.

        sadly, too many handlers of late have told me that in some kennels these days the attitude toward such puppies is basically one of neglect, apparently based on the idea that if any of them are able to survive despite that they might be worth a look as team dogs later on.

        letting animals die because you neglected them is, in my view, inhumane. but that’s my view. i’m not big on over-running dogs. but that’s also my view.

      • Craig,
        I just wonder when you think the Iditarod “turned the corner” from brutal culling of dog lots to the kinder gentler sport you see today?
        Was it King, Mackey, Baker, Seavey, Buser, Jonrowe?
        It definitely was not during Butcher and Swenson’s hay day…especially when they both went on record in books stating how many dogs were bred to make one winning Irod crew.
        You stated: “and there were people culling. Joe Runyan was brutally honest about it in his book, but he spent time living in a village on the Yukon where that was normal. the same might be said for Charlie Boulding.”
        We still have many breeders out in the villages who sell dogs to mushers in Alaska. Lance Mackey was on record in a video receiving dogs from Unakaleet…Do you think culling goes on today at those remote dog lots?
        I also see this tendency to put any voices of opposition to the “PETA gang”…
        Let’s not forget that media has chosen to mostly ignore or attempt to discredit any handlers who have come forward with abuse allegations.
        Jane Stevens had her letter printed in the Whitehorse Star yet no Alaskan newspapers would print it.
        I question your belief that it is OK to cull puppies if done in a “humane fashion” like you say.
        “but Iditarod is not an inherently evil event as you seem to believe it, and you are sadly wrong about those unwanted puppies. killing them immediately after birth in a painless way would be the humane thing to do.”
        Is this the new accepted “norm” that allows for increased breeding?
        You do recall that Abbie’s claim was all about unwanted litters and puppies left to die without veterinarian care?
        There was a video of apparently sick puppies sucking on sponges soaked in “pedalite”
        then when Animal Control inspected the kennel a few days later, no puppies were found?
        Even by your standards of “puppy culling” this would be IN-humane.
        I must admit, I was not a fan of PETA at first, but after watching handler after handler come forward for years with no repercussions for mushers or race…I am glad someone is supporting these folks since I know they have nothing personal to gain.

    • I was going to stay out of this conversation since some well respected mushers are commenting, but I can’t bypass this comment from Steve. If he cares so much about the welfare of dogs, why did he put wood ash on the trails since that seriously messes with a dog’s feet. Why does he shoot off guns frightening dogs when a team runs by his cabin? And why did you even build a cabin along a trail you knew was used by dog teams? You have stirred up trouble in Willow for years with your email list of a few locals and what you can do to sabotage dog teams. You accused me of some ridiculous things–I still have the email–when I’m just a recreational musher whose dogs live in the house. So don’t get all high and mighty Mr. Stine.

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