Some days if you are a journalist, you are forced to write a story you don’t want to write but know you must. This is one such story.
I had hoped other Alaska media, which are well aware, would have picked it up by now, but they appear reluctant to do so. It is easy to understand why.
Report a story containing anything negative being said about the Iditarod Sled Dog Race in any way and you risk being labeled an enemy of the state. If there are bad things being said about the state’s iconic sporting event, many Alaskans would simply prefer not to know.
Then, too, in normal circumstances, nobody really cares about what the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has to say because, well, it’s PETA.
But in this case, like it or not, PETA appears to have found something about which people do care – the treatment of Iditarod dogs. A PETA video shot surreptitiously in the dog lots of Iditarod champs John Baker from Kotzebue and Mitch Seavey from Sterling was starting to traffic in the tubes today in a way PETA’s pitches seldom do.
PETA’s video of Grammy Award-winning actor Joaquin Phoenix underwater in a pool making faces and blowing bubbles to demonstrate “just how much fish suffer for your food” had been on PETA’s Facebook page for a week, attracting 554 views, 109 comments and 154 shares.
That looks to be a PETA norm. The organization generally appeals to a small group of the faithful, and no one else cares. The Iditarod “exposé,” as PETA labeled its secretly taped Alaska video, however, appears to be breaking out into the social media mainstream.
Views on Twitter were starting to pile up at 1,000 per hour today and quickly passed 25,000. On Facebook, 134,000 people had watched the video, and the number of shared views pushed past 3,000 by midday.
Once people start sharing on Facebook and reTweeting on Twitter, all hell can break loose in the tubes.
Katherine Keith, Baker’s spouse and a named player in the 5-minute long video, was quick to get on the defensive. Media savvy after years in the limelight as a semi-professional athlete, Keith posted this on Facebook:
“I love it when PETA decides to crash people’s Facebook pages with false and misleading information. They don’t even have the courage to use their real Facebook identity. A handler from earlier this year decided to make a very misleading video and put it on you-tube as if represents reality. To be clear: Our dogs are happy, well loved, well fed, and we to go extreme lengths to care for them. The handler that created the video was fired after one month because he didn’t meet our standards for dog care yet he makes a video about us? Ironic. This is a can of worms that I don’t want to open. However, we have not been the first and won’t be the last musher under their scrutiny and will want to set the record straight.”
Friends and neighbors jumped in with comments of support. More joined when an unusually foul-mouthed Norwegian, or some internet entity claiming to be a Norwegian woman, lashed out at Keith.
“This is ridiculous,” a neighbor wrote in response. “I’ll be honest and say, most dogs who become ‘unusable’ are dispatched but not Kat’s. Snickers is well taken care of. Accusations like this piss me off because there are legitimate shitty dog owners and most dog mushers aren’t them.”
How well all of this plays in the tubes in the face of the video and other PETA charges is anyone’s guess. America is today an urban society where the vast majority of dogs are pets, not working animals.
The Iditarod has appealed to people Outside by selling the idea the race is “all about the dogs.” If what is seen on social media is accurate, the race now has a fair number of fans whose main association with the Iditarod is that they are the owners of pampered pups.
How the PETA video and the even worse accusations leveled in a report on the PETA website will be viewed by them or by Iditarod sponsors only time will tell.
Iditarod has as yet said nothing, but a spokeswoman said the organization is aware of the latest assault.
The issue is one not just for Iditarod, but for Alaska as a whole.
Along with being a sporting icon, the Iditarod is the cornerstone of the state’s small winter tourism business which has grown from a reported 237,000 visitors at the start of the decade to 322,000 in the winter of 2017-18, according to a report prepared by the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.