Legally Brief: Cruelty to Sled Dogs

Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF Executive Director on February 26, 2014

Legally Brief

When I lived in Alaska, the annual “Iditarod” sled dog race ran right past my office window in downtown Anchorage. It is a major commercial event for the state: the winning mushers earn cash prizes and become Alaskan celebrities. For the dogs, however, the 1000 mile race means days of suffering and, for some, even death. On March 1, 2014, the Iditarod begins and teams of dogs will be forced to pull a sled over 1000 miles across the Alaskan wilderness, often running at a grueling pace of up to 100 miles per day for seven to ten straight days.

Dogs love to run. Anyone who shares life with a canine companion knows this, and some breeds are especially athletic. My own dog Eve is my hiking companion and can easily wear out other dogs while racing for a stick or a ball, over and over again, even at twelve years of age. But nobody throws a dog’s ball 1000 miles before yelling fetch! From the Iditarod website:

A race covering 1000 miles of the roughest, most beautiful terrain Mother Nature has to offer. She throws jagged mountain ranges, frozen river, dense forest, desolate tundra and miles of windswept coast at the mushers and their dog teams. Add to that temperatures far below zero, winds that can cause a complete loss of visibility, the hazards of overflow, long hours of darkness and treacherous climbs and side hills, and you have the Iditarod.

The race is supposed to be a recreation of an historic event: the rushing of a diphtheria vaccine by sled to Nome in 1925 during an epidemic. During that actual, life-saving mission, the vaccine was carried not by a single dog team but by relay. It was understood that it made no sense to run dogs so far. Today, the event has become a corporate-sponsored money-maker – each participant pays an entry fee of more than $3,000, and winnings of up to $650,000 are shared among the top thirty.

The Iditarod puts animals’ lives at risk. Big game animals like elk and moose, who get in the way of the race, may be killed. Injured or “dropped” dogs are left alone at checkpoints with their paperwork, four pounds of dog food, and a chain. All dogs remain tethered at all times. “Rule 42” regarding an “expired dog” states that “all dog deaths are regrettable, but there are some that may be considered unpreventable.”


In some states, dog sledding conditions might be considered criminally cruel. California’s cruelty law makes it a crime to inflict “needless suffering” or “unnecessary cruelty” upon an animal, particularly by overworking an animal. Violations can result in up to three years in prison and fines of up to $20,000. However, Alaska’s cruelty law conveniently “does not apply to generally accepted dog mushing or pulling contests or practices.” The industry itself defines “generally accepted” practices, and protects itself from meaningful scrutiny.

Since the race began decades ago, more than 140 dogs have died during the event—from heart attacks, pneumonia, muscle deterioration, dehydration, diarrhea, and spine injuries. They are impaled on sleds, drowned, or accidentally strangled. According to the Sled Dog Action Coalition, 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. When the dogs are no longer profitable, they are destroyed.

And it’s not just the Iditarod. “Sled dogs” are treated cruelly in other states as well – on the trail, and off. Last month, CNN reported a story of a Colorado sled dog operator charged with animal cruelty when investigations revealed starving, sick, and constantly tethered dogs left out in the cold. The owner has been charged with eight counts of animal cruelty.

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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.

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50 thoughts on “Legally Brief: Cruelty to Sled Dogs

  1. Christopher Evans says:

    Stop this cruelty !!!

  2. polly pagan says:

    animals are beings with feelings..

  3. Nancy Goolsby says:

    I do not see why sled dogs cannot be interchanged daily, as this is truly inhumane treatment of animals.

  4. Celeste A. Nieves says:

    The life of a sled dog is horrendous and inhumane – they are disposable and are treated as such. Stories like the ones above have bought attention to the lack of care and compassion these dogs endure and then are asked to run a race. Dogs left out in the cold are routinely frozen with no ramifications for their owners. This needs to be addressed and stopped.

  5. diana graham says:

    I will not buy your products if you sponsor cruelty to animals or sled dog shows

  6. Sandra McKey says:

    Please do not support any event that allows animals to be treated inhumanely. Or you may find that fewer and fewer people buy your products.

  7. Tiziana Dordoni says:

    Basta con questa crudeltà

  8. Tiziana Dordoni says:

    Stop crudeltà

  9. Jennifer Moore says:

    The cruelty is unnecessary.

  10. Murray Creighton says:

    I never buy any product that is sponsoring an event that abuses animals…

  11. vicki reznikoff says:

    I will not buy your products if you sponsor cruelty to animals or sled dog shows. If humanity doesn’t work, then maybe economics will.

  12. annemie vervoort says:

    Stop this horror

  13. Kim says:

    I use to have sled dogs in NWT. They were NEVER used for this and I have seen first hand how cruel it is. This needs to stop, these animals might make money but they DO NOT deserve this treatment. They deserve love and caring and to be part of a team who truly care about them and their well being.

  14. Ian Kirby says:

    No to animal abuse of any kind

  15. Heather says:

    Is there a list of sponsoring companies, I would like to avoid purchasing their products and contact them about their abhorrent polices.

  16. Lisa says:

    I just signed, but who are the corporate sponsors? I’ll be looking that up, but I think it would be helpful for ALDF to include that information here. Thank you for all you do!

  17. Chris Chavlick says:

    You should reconsider your choice to support such inexcusable cruelty! Every life deserves the SAME respect, and we should treat every living being the way we would want to be treated.

  18. Barbara says:

    I will not buy any products either from any sponsor that has been sponsoring these sled dog shows. I am going to share this with all of my friends and then it will be passed through every relatives friends also
    I want nothing to do with people who have anything to do with animal cruelty.

  19. Wilma Van Brandwijk says:

    Stop deze mishandeling !

  20. Helen Black says:

    Shocking pictures of cruelty no animal should be subjected to this

  21. says:

    I will not purchase products that sponsor cruelty

  22. Marcy OBrien says:

    I will never buy any products associated to animal cruelty. It is beyond my comprehension how we can treat animals so horribly.

  23. Tinanarie says:

    Stop abuse dogs take dogs to vet n find them new home

  24. Cathi Phillips says:

    This is not sport this is torture

  25. Why do we have to ruin every animals life in our search for adventure or satisfaction? When will we show compassion for others but ourselves? We don’t deserve to be here the world would be better off without humans we only kill all things.

  26. Meghan Cannarella says:

    The Iditarod puts animals’ lives at risk, and as such I will not purchase products from any organisation that supports or sponsors it in anyway.

  27. Tricia Rizzi says:

    Please withdraw your corporate sponsorship support of this cruel race.

  28. Bonnie Flether says:

    I will never buy any product from organization sponsoring abuse to animals

  29. As a consumer, where I spend my money speaks volumes! I will not reward any company with my business if they sponsor, advertise or provide legal defense for Animal Abusers and Animal Cruelty!!

  30. Klara Larsen says:

    We have no right to treat animals as a throw away and USE THEM UP, for our benefit. Lets try to show civilized behavior. We are not in the stone age.

  31. Tony says:

    I love to help animals

  32. Shyloah says:

    For what? For a couple of dollars? Shame, shame on anyone who celebrates this race.

  33. Louise Jonaitisl says:

    Human vanity and ignorant traditions combine to create abuse of animals in Alaska.
    This must be stopped.
    Where is Sarah Palin on this topic?

  34. Kaitlin Fitzgibbon says:

    Take care of these dogs like they should be taken care of. I do not buy any products that do this or animal testing. Disgusting.

  35. Andrew Buzzeo says:

    ignorance at its finest. as in any industry/hobby/sport/lifestyle, few people are pathetic and made public fools, like that one guy out of thousands that was found guilty in colorado last month or w.e your talking about. lets all donate money to rescues so they can use the money to kill the dogs anyways. ignorant fools.

  36. Andrew Buzzeo says:

    140 dogs in “decades”. a certain rescue put down 1792 in 2013. 31000+ since 1998.

  37. Bette Libin says:

    Morally unconscionable behavior

  38. Katie Desmond says:

    How horrible to overuse an animal and not treat the sled dog for his injuries.

    1. charlie martin says:

      What is the outcome you would like to see as i own dogs and know a lot of people that do?

  39. francesca says:

    Stop Stop Stop Stop Cruelty Animals!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  40. mary berney says:

    that is terrible and the men who are treating animals this way should be made to drag a sled full of dogs and see how quick they change and to not treat the animals is cruel and disgusting

  41. Chantal Ward says:

    Here is a list of Iditarod sponsors…

    In support of this action, I will not knowingly purchase anything from them.

  42. Julie Gunn says:

    What an eye opener!!..I always thought sled dogs were treated like members of the family..Shame on those who are now aware of this and still support the Iditarod and other races!!

  43. cathala corine says:

    Stop this

  44. debbie says:

    ban these races once and for all

  45. Bibi Bergkotte says:

    I am against animal cruelty

  46. Drew Mac says:

    Cruelty to Sled Dogs or any cruelty at all!!!

  47. Emily Partain says:

    Thank you for publishing this. Some people do not know the dangers about Sled Dog racing of any kind. It is horrible how the dogs are treated, this is an eye opener for me, I did not realize it was this horrendous though. Ban these races! It is cruel to expect dogs to pull you thousands of miles, it is unfair to them. When they are not racing, they are chained up and have basic dog houses.

  48. EYG says:

    I emailed, individually, each sponsor, asking them to stop supporting cruelty. This “sport” is appalling.

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