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Dixon's Response to Mushing Critics

Jo-Anne Dixon wrote the follow essay in response to Margory Glickman’s accusations that dogsledding is cruel.

"I am a recreational musher here in Hailey, and I am a practicing veterinarian here in the Wood River Valley for going on 10 years. I am a member of the International Sled Dog Veterinary Medical Association (ISDVMA) and I have been a trail veterinarian on two 1000-plus-mile sled dog races. I have done the pre-race veterinary exams for the Iditarod, I have attended three International Sled Dog Veterinary Medicine symposiums and I am here to tell you that Margery Glickman is spreading misinformation about the Iditarod sled dog race and the sport of mushing. The Iditarod Trail Committee (ITC) takes great pride in its role of providing excellence in dog care, not only during the race, but through an extensive program of pre-race screening. Before starting the race, all dogs receive an ECG evaluation to check for heart abnormalities and a full panel of blood tests (CBC & chemistry profile), and are permanently identified with microchips. A complete pre-race physical exam is performed on each and every dog by a licensed veterinarian, all vaccinations must be current and all dogs are wormed within 10 days of the start by medication provided by the ITC. Before entering the Iditarod, rookie mushers are required to complete approved qualifying races. This enables them to gain experience in providing the proper care for their teams. In December, rookies also attend a mandatory two-day seminar put on by the ITC to help prepare them for the race. In addition to the high standard of care provided by the mushers themselves, 35 licensed professional veterinarians volunteer their time on the trail to perform routine evaluations and administer any necessary treatments. The dogs get a physical exam from a veterinarian at almost every one of the 27 check points, which is about 27 more than half the dogs in the U.S. ever get in a lifetime. Mushers are able to drop a dog from the race for any reason. Sometimes it is strategic—a big dog that helped them over the mountain part of the race may be too slow for the speed needed on the coastal portion. Sometimes dogs are dropped due to injuries. These dogs are incredible athletes and all athletes, including humans, are at risk of illness or injury when competing in athletic events. To put things in perspective, the risk of mortality for sled dogs per hour of physical activity is less than that for humans engaged in cross-country skiing. In hard numbers, since 1996 the mortality rate for Iditarod sled dogs is 1.3 for every million miles raced—that's pretty impressive and doesn't differ much from human marathon athletes. Dropped dogs are monitored continuously by the veterinary staff, including routine re-evaluations after their return to Anchorage. Any dog needing follow-up veterinary care is transported to an appropriate facility before being released from the ITC veterinary staff. Race policies and rules are written with the greatest emphasis on proper care and treatment of the dogs. Any musher found guilty of inhumane treatment would be disqualified and banned from future races. The ISDVMA and the lTC, with the support of sponsors, veterinarians and the mushing community, have initiated a number of exhaustive research studies investigating various conditions affecting sled dogs. Obviously we care enough to look for causes and solutions. In the final analysis, our research studies have enabled us to make significant advancement in sled dog care, and that is positive. Mushing is a sport we do with our dogs because we love our dogs. These dogs are not forced to run anymore than a Labrador is force to retrieve a tennis ball. They run because they love to run, it is as pure and as simple as that. My sled dogs are pets as much as your dogs are pets but they are also incredible athletes and I feel honored to be able to share in their joy when they are running. If you ever get a chance to go dog sledding, you will see what I mean but be careful—it is addictive and you might end up like me with a team of six Alaskan huskies in the back yard or like Trent Herbst up to Alaska the first week in March with the greatest athletes in the world in "The Last Great Race on Earth," the Iditarod."


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