Cruelty to Alaska’s Sled Dogs in the Iditarod

Posted by Jennifer Molidor, ALDF's Staff Writer on February 25, 2013

For "sled dogs," animal cruelty has become a corporate-sponsored industry. Beginning on March 2, 2013 Alaska will hold the annual "Iditarod"–in which teams of dogs are forced to pull a sled over 1,100 miles across the Alaska wilderness, often running at a grueling pace of over 100 miles per day for ten straight days. The race has become a huge money maker for corporate sponsors.

According to the Sled Dog Action Coalition, since the race began in 1973, over 140 dogs have died during the event. Dogs suffer heart attacks, pneumonia, muscle deterioration, dehydration, diarrhea, and spine injuries. They are impaled on sleds, drowned, or accidentally strangled. During the off-season the dogs are crowded into small kennels with no state management or oversight. Many are tethered on short chains at all times, unable to play, forced to sit, stand, and lie in the same small area in which they eat and defecate–conditions that cause untold emotional and physical stress. When these "money-makers" are no longer profitable, they are destroyed, as are the puppies who aren’t qualified to race. The Sled Dog Action Coalition notes that the dogs often aren’t even humanely euthanized, but merely shot in the head.


What does the law have to say? In some states, dog sledding conditions might be considered criminally cruel. California’s cruelty law, for example, makes it a crime to deprive any animal of proper food, water, or shelter, or to inflict "needless suffering" or "unnecessary cruelty" upon an animal, particularly for overloading or overworking any animal. Violations can result in up to three years in prison and fines of up to $20,000 under California Penal Code section 597(b). However, Alaska’s cruelty law conveniently does not protect animals from such overwork. Alaska Stat. § 11.61.140(e) states that the crime of animal cruelty "does not apply to generally accepted dog mushing or pulling contests or practices." So the event continues, with the industry defining "generally accepted" practices, shielding themselves from meaningful scrutiny.

Take Action

Cloaked in claims that dogs have "fun" in this traditional event, the truth is that this event is nothing more than corporate-sponsored cruelty. Please take action to help ALDF speak out for sled dogs by asking the corporate sponsors of events like the Iditarod to withdraw their support.

Do More for Dogs

Thank you for taking action to help these sled dogs! By emailing the major corporate sponsors of the event you send a clear message that using dogs in this way is not acceptable. Want to do more?

Unfortunately for the dogs, this race has many more sponsors. By sending an additional personalized email, or making a phone call, you make a larger impact and send a clear signal to all sponsors of the race that you do not support this type of corporate-sponsored cruelty. You can find a full list of contacts for all of the sponsors of the Iditarod on the Sled Dog Action Coalition’s website.

If you are in Canada please take a moment to contact your Legislative Assembly and demand they put a stop to the savage cruelty of the dog sledding industry. Find your MLA here. For more background on the issue please visit the Sled Dog Action Coalition website.

Share This Action

Help us get the word out about this action to help dogs used for the Iditarod. Share this action with a friend over email or your social networks.

55 thoughts on “Cruelty to Alaska’s Sled Dogs in the Iditarod

  1. Mary says:

    Action taken, thanks for all that you do for animals!

  2. Chester says:

    Done and done!

  3. Joan How says:

    My heartfelt thanks for all that you do for animals. I pray that long may you campaign and be successful.

  4. I think they should just let the dogs run for their need to run not for as long as the races take. Some dogs are not able to do this without some complications. It is all about the money and GREED! If there is no longer money involved this would change I guarantee.

  5. Thomas Cole says:

    Shelter Revolution is glad to be part of the effort to abolish cruel “traditions” of the past. It’s time to move forward and let go of these barbaric practices.

  6. HELENA says:


  7. Nicole says:

    Speak for those who have no voice!

  8. Rachel T. says:

    This action of having the animals pull sleds in a race is all about MONEY! Stop this insanity now!

  9. Amy says:

    Emails sent!

  10. Amy says:

    Just received this comment from Jerry Wigutow at Wiggy’s after receiving my email. Very mature.


    Jerry Wigutow


    Wiggy’s Inc.

    Phone: 866-411-6465


  11. Barbara Pearl says:

    Stop the cruelty and violence that you perpetuate. Put compassion into action!

  12. shannon says:

    done! this is so sad, thanks for bringing attention to this issue

  13. Ramey says:

    Let’s help the world become more aware of the pointless, profoundly selfish use of dogs in competitive sledding! There’s a wrong way to do most everything – exploiting living beings for profit and “glory” is a wrong way.

  14. Bonnie says:

    Exxon Mobile, Wells Fargo hmmm! No surprise. Polluters and home stealers. Alaska is a whole different universe…be hard to get them to change. Exxon mobile also holds some of the environmental groups hostage with their money.Good Luck.

  15. Carol says:

    Aren’t these dogs bred for this but it is cruel because the things they have to use to make them run is cruel and it has to be stopped.

  16. katie long says:

    Please stop the Iditarod in Alaska so these poor dogs do not die from this strenuous activity that should not be allowed.

  17. Ann says:

    Sled dogs have a horrible life and then they shoot them when they are done with them. We had a greyhound and I signed many petitions and worked hard to put a close to dog race tracks also. Dogs should be just loving companions.

  18. Jerry Davis says:

    It’s time to take a stand against risking the lives of innocent animals for anything that involves money and/or entertainment. The people that do these things have little or no consideration for the lives of anything. Whether you use animals for use in a circus, a zoo,a races or some bull fight ring, dog fights and testing laboratory is no different then what they did back in the Roman times, with little regard for the lives of anything except as stated money and entertainment. Its time to stop these barbaric acts of cruelty and insanity. Do not do anything that you would not personally do yourself.

  19. anita kishna says:

    I am surprised it has taken this long to protest this dangerous event. Petition signed. Thank you for all you do! God bless you all.

  20. Trudy Who says:

    let’s have the barefooted men & or women sponsors do one of these marathon pulls …. ok sure they can wear fur coats. Let’s see how they like it . Then shoot them in the head when injured severely and unable to pull sled anymore ? nooo I don’t think so :(

  21. Eleanor says:

    Tried the Groups of email addresses with commas, several “out of office” replies, and some bounced back. So far individually sent to all sponsors – now have to laboriously do the same for the Mush sponsors! But it is worth it – thanks for putting this together for us to help.

  22. Christine says:

    I strongly agree with everyone else that dogs should not be used to pull sleds for hundreds of miles across the frozen tundra of Alaska. If the dogs actually enjoyed doing this, I could see them maybe having short races across a field (maybe the size of a football field). Yes, the dogs should be allowed to just run free for exercise and fun. True animal lovers would take their pets to a veterinarian if they became injured — not shoot them — that is sick and inexcuseable!

  23. Jacqueline Gaal says:

    I have first hand knowledge of the cruel and harsh life the dogs endure.I had a very good friend who we battled for years over this issue and finally one of his dogs died during “training”. His dog loved his dad sooo much that he ran himself to death trying to please him. I no longer associate with this “monster”.

  24. Sheldon says:

    Are they bored with football or something?

  25. Shannon says:

    Every time we write a letter in defense of animals, we make a difference! Take heart everyone, many lives are continually saved by our compassion! Keep fighting the good fight!

  26. Robin Kerns says:

    Action taken and shared with everyone I know. I pray this cruel tradition is stopped before any more innocent dogs have to die.

  27. R. Hodgman says:

    It’s always about the money … always. What ever happened to playing poker on Sat. nights?

  28. Susan Davis says:

    Action taken, thank you for doing this!

  29. Wendy says:

    Thank you ALDF for standing up to such a cruel sport. Petition signed. I love how you make it so easy for us to help out….click click and done.

  30. William says:

    It would be nice if those who come up with these petitions would educate themselves first. Such as “they aren’t even humanely euthanized”. Many of these sled dogs live in remote areas. The nearest vet could be 100’s of miles away. Should they let the animal suffer or (as the laws of Alaska support) be quickly put out of their misery by a shot to the head? As far as the money component goes educate yourselves. It costs a small kennel of dogs upwards of $10,000 to $50,000 a year for the animal care. Fielding an Iditarod team can require expending a minimum of $10,000 and often $20,000+. Most Iditarod champions MAY break even if they win – the others never do. As far as the dogs being forced to run “100 miles a day for 10 straight days” is a bold faced lie! Read the race rules! These dogs get more vet checkups in ONE race than the average house dog gets in it’s entire life! As far as being forced to run = ha ha. Anyone who has ever driven dogs knows they run ONLY when they want to. 3 MILLION dogs are slaughtered every year in shelters and puppy mills. How about focusing on them?
    Are their bad sled dog owners? Yes just as there are bad regular dog owners. Stop painting all sled dog owners with the same misinformed brush!

  31. R. Bronk says:

    It’s really heartless. I love dogs! :(

  32. Jamee F McGaughan says:

    Personalized the letter a bit and sent to everyone in the four groups, but sent so that the receiving individual sees only his/her name. It’s a little thing, but it’s nice to be able to do something to help in these days when it’s become so difficult to give money as we would all like to do.

  33. damiria machado says:

    quando penso que já vi todo tipo de crueldade aparece outra, os humanos estão muito a quem de ser evoluído como raça!

  34. jeanette Dukulis says:

    It is sad to see people mistreat animals. My pets are my best friends. This Iditerod race is very long and grueling. Shame on them.

  35. Lisa Marie says:

    Did you not know that humans are the most self serving species on the planet?

  36. Julie McCoy says:

    Please don’t do this to the dogs this is just as bad as dog fighting. They are our pets not to be used in this manner. I rate this very mean I beg you not to do this.

  37. Paula says:

    Stop claiming this is “fun” for the dogs. How about harnessing the Iditarod racers themselves, and see how much “fun” they are having before they drop dead!! Stop the inhumane treatment of these beautiful animals.

  38. Barb Baker says:

    I have had siberians all my life since age 7 I am originally from Fairbanks, I am a animal advocate, do rescues of all kinds and have seen many horrid things human have done to our beloved soul mates,,,This grueling race has turned into MONEY MAKER AND IS NOT AS IT USE TO BE years ago, These loving , fun, wizard like, soul mates are a breed all of their own they do not need to be dying from anyones selfish abuse….Its got to come to a halt, and fast before more die of unecessary deaths…….Barb Baker Northern MN

  39. Susan Bonta says:

    This should go in the category along with illegal dog-fighting. They should shorten the time the same dogs are pulling the sled – and have replacement runners to relieve them at certain stopping points. If some of the dogs are deemed not physically up to “running or pulling”, why do you have euthanize them? Why can’t they go home to their/a family, or be a companion dog or dog who assists the blind, etc.? Especially puppies – obviously they are not going to be mature enough! I think if the “race” was televised, we would be able to monitor how the dogs are doing better – the way it is set up now should be illegal. Revise how it is set up, and you can still have the race – just tone it down, and provide rest breaks & reliefs for the dogs.

  40. Brande Bonfanti says:

    I sent emails from my home and work, i hope this helps… prayers are also in the works
    thanks ALDF for all you do…..

  41. Ann Heatherton says:

    I received a couple of emails from Wiggy’s today because Jerry is on the list of musher supporters. (I sent emails to all of the listed supporters.) Jerry says it’s a lie, and that he has never supported this race. Could it be that he’s on the list because his company sells winter gear like clothing, gloves, sleeping bags, etc. for any and all sports or events in our colder states? Here’s a thought: Exxon Mobil is a sponsor. Last night, I stopped at Mobil and filled up my truck with gas. Am I now a supporter of this race? Just saying. The race is appalling. The sled dog abuse revealed on the SDAC site is horrific. And while researching Jerry Wigutow, I found photos of beautiful polar bears, killed by hunters who sat proudly on their backs, some of them pointing to the bullet holes.



  43. Shefali says:

    Thank you to everyone who has taken a stand. Shame on humanity for allowing such cruelty and brutality to endure for so long.

  44. Florence Eaise says:

    emails gladly sent and i shared this action on twitter and Fb thanks to all who are speaking out against this

  45. Carole F. Brtown says:

    I was involved with the 1980 Iditarod in Anchorage, Ak. Although I didn’t know of the abuse back then but I cried when they took off, as something didn’t feel right then & it doesn’t now. Dogs are pack & companion animals. To see them tied on chains for hours on end, sometimes near shelter is just the first on the list of abuses they endure. I don’t believe the care for these dogs has improved by any means since then. There are very few “mushers” that take care of their dogs. Thank you for taking a stand against this inhumane act.

  46. Ellie says:

    When will we stop using animals for our entertainment and gratification? Humans superior beings – I don’t think so.

  47. Lynne Koenigsberg says:

    Target has sponsored the Iditarod races as well…

  48. Shelley Peck says:

    Worked with one of the IDATAROD vets for a short time, he was sooo proud that the vets can do a “Complete Physical Exam” in under 1 minute.
    Disgusting!!! This comes from a person who took an oath to not cause harm to animals.

  49. Danielle says:

    I love the animal legal defense fund and all of you that are speaking on behalf of animals. We must never quit fighting for their rights!

  50. Abbie says:

    This must be stopped. Every being deserves a life of freedom and happiness which is not happening for these beautiful dogs. Such a sad life for them. How do these money hungry people live with themselves?

  51. Amelia says:

    I was a para educator for 11 years at a residential facility school for children ages 4 to 16 with severe behavior, psychological and physical disorders. The school would participate in the Iditarod by letting the kids pick who they thought would win and doing a bit of history into the Iditarod and work in a unit on Balto. Then, one of the teachers who has a husky would bring the dog in. Then, the grand finale would be a retired teacher, who had lived for 20 years in Alaska, coming in with all her trinkets and “knowledge” about the dogs and how they loved to do this and you really couldn’t keep them from it they loved it so much. When I first started working at this school, I mentioned how cruel this all was and was sent for a long talk with the principle! I was told that I wasn’t a team player and that I needed to keep my opinions to myself. I am not that type of person! And, the principle and I got used to our talks!

    The kids that were at the facility all had animal abuse, torture, killing in their backgrounds. And, one of the worst was the 4 year old. I was always keeping the kids from throwing toads, picking wings off butterflies, throwing rocks at possum and feral cats. And always being sent to the principle for this. And, two of the children at this facility are the reason I am disabled and no longer able to work. Yes, indeed, they do move on to humans.

  52. Marie Clark says:

    Man’s best and devoted friend should not have to be subjected to such cruel and abusive treatment. It’s a heartbreaking disgrace. The people doing this and sponsoring this event should take the place of the dogs and run the race. Let’s see how they endure under such cruel treatment. Would you do this to your pet dog? If the answer is yes, you should never be allowed to have a pet.

  53. I have always questioned why there are not specific laws in place that protect dogs from being forced into these sledding races. To me it is purely cruel, and it is a shame people are convinced the dogs are having fun, because this results in less people taking action. I have been on ski trips in Colorado and Canada and see places that have dog sledding as a tourism factor. I remember driving past a place in Colorado and seeing the dogs tied to trees outside, they were not even given the warmth of a home in the middle of the winter. I think there should be a lot more done, not just in regards to this race in Alaska, but in all other parts of the country that allow dogs to be forced into racing activities. Thanks for posting about this issue, I like the call to action part of this. It is important to speak up for animals and tell others it is unacceptable for this to still being going on. Some people know it is inhumane, but are unsure of the steps they should take. What action would you recommend for people who see local dog sledding tourist places?

  54. Harriet says:

    I am concerned about the fate of Mae, the dog who was lost when Newton Marshall left the race. I am a novice at tracking the Iditarod, and am increasingly astonished at the lack of stories about the dogs and their well being…everything seems to be about mushers. Is there any follow up on Mae?

  55. Laney T says:

    The information you have read may be true, but it seems like everyone who complains are the people that are not trying to find any articles that may be positive. Yes,everyone has their opinions, but have you noticed that the death rate has gone down by almost 100%? If you judge beore you know your facts, you aren’t giving the race a fair chance. Although some dogs get hurt, most don’t. And they have doctors for that. Also, the truth of the matter is, most of the Iditarod dogs are probably alot more healthy than your dogs are because while your dogs are sitting around all day, eating fatening dog food, getting no excersize what so ever, while the Iditarod dogs are having the time of their lives running with their fellow dogs and mushers, and staying healthy. So yes, some dogs may get hurt, but doesn’t everyone break a bone or pull a muscle at some time or another? If you are trying to say that the dogs should be treated just like us humans, than were in big trouble because they will then end up as fat and grumpy like you! So please realize taht their is really not a lot wrong with the Iditarod, and you need to really understand what it’s like before you judge.

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