Nearly 20 years ago, I decided to seek a career in animal welfare after adopting two dogs from a Washington, DC animal shelter and volunteering there.
My first paid position in this field was working as a companion animal exploitation specialist for the Humane Society of the United States.
I focused on puppy mills and greyhound racing. Following and researching the annual Iditarod dog race was also part of the job.
One person I met during the course of this work, who since has become a friend, is an anti-Iditarod activist still plugging away on her cause 20 years hence. Operating from Miami—about as far as in the United States as you can get from the Alaska home of the Iditarod—Margery Glickman founded the Sled Dog Action Coalition (helpsleddogs.org) in 1998.
The strong-willed, tireless activist was once referred to as a “guttersnipe” by an Anchorage Daily News columnist. From what I have seen over the last two decades, Glickman’s fortitude is impressive.
Her goal: to have the Iditarod and dog tethering banned in Alaska.
What happens before and after the annual weeks-long event concerns her just as much as what dogs experience in the race. According to her, the dogs are not pets as most of us think of them; they are forced to live outside in the long, bitter northern winters with doghouses. The doghouses, she told me, are often “nothing more than old plastic oil barrels that are cut off at one end.”
The Iditarod, which is an approximately 1,000-mile mushing race run annually since 1973, takes place each March. Mushers and the Iditarod itself are exempted from some of the state’s animal cruelty statutes.
How did a resident of the Sunshine State develop a passion for helping sled dogs living in the Last Frontier?
“When I was in Alaska on a vacation, I saw Iditarod dogs tethered on four-foot chains living in their own filth. They were forced to run miles of laps while attached to exercise wheels. Tired and injured dogs were pulled along the ground,” Glickman reminisced recently about what she saw during her visit to the interior.
After returning to Florida, she launched her organization, for which she neither accepts donations nor receives any compensation.
“The Sled Dog Action Coalition asks animal lovers to send protest emails to Iditarod promoters, sign petitions, and, most importantly, educate other people about the cruelties Iditarod dogs are forced to endure,” she said.
According to Glickman, more than 152 dog deaths are associated with the annual sled dog spectacle. She reported to me that a musher once killed a dog with a snow hook and another kicked a dog to death. Another tragedy she pointed out was 20 dogs dying in freezing water while training for the Iditarod.
“Many more dogs have become sick or injured in the race. We’re never told exactly how many dogs die in training or after the race,” said the activist.
Whereas press coverage usually focuses on dogs who succumb during the race itself, Glickman claimed, “We know that mushers breed large numbers of dogs to get a handful of good racers. Unwanted dogs are killed.”
“When they’re not racing, dogs are tethered on four-foot chains. It’s been reported that dogs who don’t make the main teams are never taken off chain,” Glickman told me. “Tethered outside, dogs suffer from painful frostbite in the winter and attacks by huge mosquitoes and other insects during the summer.”
Over the years, the Iditarod has engendered support by marketing to children in many states outside Alaska via educators. The Coalition believes students are being misled about the yearly event that almost always results in at least one dog death.
“Teachers who promote the Iditarod are indoctrinating students with race propaganda,” argued Glickman.
The Coalition is also bothered by veterinarians’ participation, noting that she has documented that veterinarians allow sick and injured dogs to race in the Iditarod. Glickman believes that their involvement serves as a seal of approval that violates what she sees as veterinarians’ duty to look out for the best interest of animals and stand up for humane treatment.
I asked Glickman about the results of her two decades of activism.
“After learning about Iditarod dog abuses, many corporations have ended their involvement with the race,” she told me. She also asserted that her website, Facebook page and e-blasts have educated many people about what the Coalition refers to as the animal-welfare truth behind the Iditarod and Alaskan mushing culture.