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BellaOnline's Alaska Editor


Dogs of the Iditarod

Guest Author - Dawn Engler

The Iditarod Race is about the dogs! The race was created to remind us of their importance, endurance and dependability. Most of the dogs used are bred for racing! Many mushers use the Alaskan Husky but there is one musher setting records with the larger and slower Siberian Husky. The dogs are loved by the mushers. They are fed, rubbed down; beds are made of straw for them to sleep on at every point when a rest stop is warranted. They are hugged, kissed on, and patted all over. There is heavy emphasis on proper treatment of the dogs. Mandatory pre-screening and veterinarian check-ups before, at every checkpoint during and after the race are to ensure health of the dogs. Mushers and dogs must submit to random drug tests before, during, and after the race. If there is anything questionable about the condition of a dog, the musher can be held until determination is made of the dog’s health. Mis-treatment of the dogs is an automatic removal from the race.

Supplies are dropped at certain points along the race trail and the musher must have all those supplies to the gathering area for air transport to the drops. There are minimums set for how much food is carried for musher and dogs. One mandatory 24 hour rest stop and two other 8 hour mandatory rest stops are enforced. There are specified checkpoints along the way. The musher checks in, rests and feeds the dogs, and then continues on to the next checkpoint. The types of food and “treats” varied by musher, but mostly high energy, high fat content. The dogs eat a salmon stew, chicken, beef, and high energy kibble. They get fed a cut of beef, as a snack!

One thing I found most interesting, is the list of mandatory items. A musher must carry certain items with him and check in with all said items at each checkpoint. This list includes a minimum of a set of booties for the dogs, worn or carried on the sled. The musher must also leave a checkpoint with a specified amount of emergency food for the dogs. In a recent Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race, a musher was penalized 30 minutes for not having his ax when he got to a checkpoint!

The finish line of the race is in Nome, Alaska. The hotels and rooms book up over a year in advance of the expected end of the race. The best time for a win was 8 days and change. It’s quite a picture to see the winning musher hug his family waiting at the end and then run to the dogs for the hugs and kisses from them as well. Just for your information; the race doesn’t end when the winner crosses the finish line. The race ends when the last musher, who is given the red lantern (earned by last place finisher), crosses the finish line and extinguishes the widow’s lantern. This lantern is hung at the start of the race, over the finish line and is not extinguished until all mushers and dog teams are safely in and/or accounted for.

The entire race has so much depth and information; I could only skim the surface here. For more information and the ability to track the race, mushers and events as they happen, go to:
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Content copyright © 2015 by Dawn Engler. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Dawn Engler. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact BellaOnline Administration for details.


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