The 2009 Iditarod race has come to an end with three time winner, Lance Mackey, racing through the finish line in Nome, Alaska, at 11.38am on Wednesday, 18 March.
This dog sled race has also been called ‘The Last Great Race On Earth’ and pits man and dog against Mother Nature during a 1150 mile race over diverse Alaskan terrain from Anchorage to Nome.
The Iditarod Trail is now a National Historic Trail, receiving such status after being used by sled dogs to carry life saving Diphtheria serum to Nome in 1925. This dog sled run actually received worldwide media coverage and gold medals were awarded to the mushers. There is even a statue of Balto, the heroic lead dog, in New York City’s Central Park.
The race is run each year starting the first Saturday in March and continues for about 10 to 17 days, or until a Musher and his team of 12 to 16 dogs’ crosses the finish line. However, the race route is alternated each year, with one year seeing the race run north to south and the next year seeing the race run from south to north. There are a few simple rules for this race: each musher has to carry an arctic parka, a heavy sleeping bag, an ax, snowshoes, musher food, dog food, GPS unit and at least 8 booties for every dog’s paws in order to protect them from cutting ice and hard packed snow injuries.
The mushers usually spend the entire previous 12 months getting themselves and their dogs ready for this race. During the summer months, some sled dogs endure different training sessions and activity that is dependent upon the summer heat, training strategy, and the amount of time that the kennel owners can spend running the dogs. There a few mushers who actually fly their dogs to South America during the summertime so that they can run on snow during the South America’s winter season.
A typical year long training program for these dogs will usually involve building strength in the early Fall, building up speed in the late Fall season, building on endurance during the early Winter, reaching peak training during Mid Winter, and maintaining fitness during late Winter before the Iditarod race starts in March.
Alaskan Huskies that are destined to become contenders in the Iditarod are bred, born and reared either in Alaska or in other places that have an extremely cold climate. They usually have very thick double coats to help them brace the wind and the cold, and their lungs are a bit bigger than your average stay at home dog, they seem to have a desire to run.
During a race, an injured or sick dog will have to be dropped from the race at a designated dog drop area and will then be flown to Nome so that the Musher can pick his or her dog up after the race is over.
The harnesses that are used must be non-chafing and all mushers need to carry a strong tie-out cable to secure the dogs at the checkpoints. Animal cruelty or inhumane treatment is forbidden and will cause the musher to be banned from the Iditarod race.
If there is a dog that dies during the race, he will need to be taken to a checkpoint where the musher must file a report. A necropsy is then conducted in order to determine the cause of death and the race marshal or an appointed judge will then determine if the musher is allowed to continue the race or is immediately disqualified.
The musher will be disqualified if the dog’s death was caused by inhumane treatment or heat stress, or if the musher refused to drop a dog from his sled team even after a race veterinarian has recommended that he do so. However, the musher is not penalized if the cause of death cannot be determined.
Sadly, there have been at least 142 sled dog deaths since the Iditarod started. Pneumonia, heart and lung failure, liver injury, strangulation in towlines and internal bleeding and injury after being hit by a sled or snowmobile are the leading causes of sled dog deaths during each year’s Iditarod race. Other causes such as ‘Sudden Death’ and ‘external myopathy’ (a condition in which a dog’s muscles and organs deteriorate during extreme or prolonged exercise), have also been cited by Iditarod officials.
For this year’s 2009 race three dogs unfortunately died: A 7 year old male Husky who had shown signs of pneumonia; a 3 year old female who was struck by a snowmobile; and a 4 year old male whose necropsy could not determine the cause of his death.
Each year animal rights organizations rally together in an attempt to end the Iditarod race, accusing mushers and Iditarod promoters and advertisers of tolerating animal cruelty.
However, before running in the Iditarod, each Husky has to receive a pre-race evaluation which includes a blood test and ECG recordings. During this time, the dogs are also microchipped, which is then scanned before starting the race, to verify their eligibility.
Also, every dog has to have a mandatory physical examination by a qualified veterinarian within 14 days of the start of the Iditarod, all their vaccinations must be current and they must all be dewormed at least 10 days before the start of the race.
The first thing that Lance Mackey did after crossing the finishing line was to give treats and hugs to all 15 of his sled dogs; they all gave him lots of licks! Mackey stated that he could not have won the race if it weren’t for Larry, a 9 year old Husky, one of his traditional lead dogs, and Maple, a 3 year old Husky, calling her his ‘little superstar’ for being the lead dog for most of the last part of the Iditarod race.
Mackey wins a brand new pick up truck and $69,000.