What happens to Iditarod dogs off the trail?
Unfortunately, the remainder of the year may be bleak for many sled dogs. The majority of these dogs do not experience lives most Americans would consider appropriate for companion animals. Instead, these dogs are often raised completely outdoors in harsh northern climates in large "dog yards," where they are confined by tethers with up to 200 other dogs. While the tethers may allow them access to doghouses, they also purposely prevent them from interacting with other dogs.
For humane reasons, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits its licensed dog breeders from using tethering as a primary means of confinement. The HSUS also opposes tethering as a primary means of confinement for dogs.
Nevertheless, the ISDVMA "specifically recommends tethering as the preferred method of sled dog constraints and confinement." Likewise, former U.S. Senator and current Alaska Governor Frank H. Murkowski chastised the USDA for its position, saying that it is similar to those of "radical groups that oppose dog mushing," and that the USDA's "implication that [tethering] is inhumane is disturbing to those involved in mushing."
Those dogs or puppies who prove unable or unwilling to perform may be killed, a practice known as "culling." At least two of the 63 mushers who competed in the 1999 Iditarod have admitted to culling, according to articles published in the Anchorage Daily News.
During the last several years, some competitive mushers, including Iditarod participants, have been indicted and/or convicted on animal cruelty charges. These situations typically occurred after mushers became financially unable to care properly for the dogs they had amassed.
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