Current Issues in Sled Dog Sports​

Exclusion from Animal Welfare Laws

One of the largest issues facing sled dog sports today is that loopholes exist in current federal, state, and municipal regulations which exclude sled dogs from coverage under animal welfare laws. Nowhere is this more evident than in Alaska, where sled dogs are factory farmed for competition and touring, and endure mass chain warehousing and seasonal culling in the name of competitiveness. 

The 30th Alaska State Legislature (2017-2018) states that: “pet” means a vertebrate living creature maintained for companionship or pleasure, but does not include dogs primarily owned for participation in a generally accepted mushing or pulling contest or practice or animals primarily owned for participation in rodeos or stock contests. (http://bit.ly/2zcCHMT)

In fact, per Sec. 11.61.140 Cruelty to Animals, Subsection (e) states: “This section does not apply to generally accepted dog mushing or pulling contests or practices or rodeos or stock contests.” (http://bit.ly/2zqZVj9)

In the Mat-Su Borough, they go one step further to degrade sled dog welfare by classifying the dogs as livestock: “Livestock” includes, but is not limited to, domestic animals such as horses, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, ducks, and other animals normally considered farm animals, whether kept for profit or not, as well as sled dogs housed at a licensed mushing facility, or sled dogs owned by the owner or licensee of a licensed mushing facility, whether kept for profit or not.”  (http://bit.ly/2inwCD0)

The Borough also exempts sled dogs from nuisance animal noise ordinances: “A) It is unlawful for any animal owner to allow an animal to annoy any person. Violation of this provision is an infraction. (B) A person who holds a current mushing facility license as per MSB 24.07, as well as persons who are handlers for, employees of, or agents of a specific licensed mushing facility, are exempt from subsection (A) of this section in regard to sled dogs housed at or originating from that mushing facility.“ (http://bit.ly/2inwCD0)
 
Noise ordinances are put in place not only to keep peace with the neighbors, but because a chronically loud animal is usually an animal in distress, and this law gives Peace Officers, Animal Control Officers, and Police the right to investigate when they can hear the problem, but the animal is hidden from view.

Luckily for sled dogs - and all dogs in the United States - In Defense of Animals (IDA) is working on a federal anti-tether bill. This bill will be a landmark law in that it will be one of the first that specifically includes working dogs, instead of excluding them. IDA has also launched a new reporting form that they intend to utilize to lead the way toward a unifying federal bill to be passed and then enforced across the country.
Federal Break The Chains Campaign Survey

Doping & Performance-Enhancing Drugs

In October 2017, officials for the Iditarod Sled Dog Race confirmed that, during the 2017 race, several dogs tested positive for a “prohibited substance,” presumably used to enhance their performance.  News outlets later reported that the team of dogs tested positive - specifically - for tramadol: a Class IV opioid used to manage severe pain. Dogs in the Iditarod are forced to pull sleds nearly 1,000 miles through the frozen Alaskan wilderness, and often sustain paw injuries, strained muscles, stress fractures, stomach ulcers, damaged lungs, and other injuries - and some die. It’s no surprise that someone used the prohibited drug to mask their pain and force them to keep running.

Iditarod officials later revealed that the musher whose dogs tested positive for opioids was four-time champion, Dallas Seavey. Dallas has won a total of $455,852.88 while running the Iditarod.

In response to the revelations of drugging, the Iditarod Trail Committee’s Board of Directors revised its regulations to stipulate that mushers will be “strictly liable” for positive drug tests. However, the regulations apply only from the point of the pre-race veterinary exam until six hours after the dogs cross the finish line. Mushers can still use topical corticosteroid creams throughout the race on dogs’ paws.

According to Craig Medred News (http://bit.ly/2FH9Alz):

  • Five reliable sources with connections to either the community of Iditarod veterinarians or the Iditarod board of directors have told craigmedred.news that his dogs were not the first Iditarod dogs to be found with prohibited drugs in their urine.

  • Two of those sources said past incidents were handled quietly, behind closed doors by the Iditarod’s executive committee, and that in a couple of cases mushers were told to take some time off from The Last Great Race. The Iditarod has officially refused to comment on past doping incidents or actions that might have been taken related to doping.

  • The latest case remained secret for months after Dallas’s dogs tested positive in March 2017. It only came to light in October when the Iditarod announced it was adding a “strict liability standard” to its doping rule as the norm in other sports. 

The International Federation of Sleddog Sports (IFSS) made the following statement (http://bit.ly/2DaLhe8):

  • The International Federation of Sleddog Sports, the official international organization for sleddog sport; member of the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF), hereby states that Iditarod Trail Committee (ITC) is not affiliated with IFSS.

  • IFSS works close with the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) and International Olympic Committee (IOC), and any IFSS accredited race has to follow the international rules concerning doping, including the publication of any positive testing results as it is the case for all other sports in the world.

  • It is unfortunate for the world of mushing that the ITC chose to follow an anti-doping protocol that it cannot enforce.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has contacted the Iditarod Trail Committee and urged it to strip all mushers found to have drugged dogs of their titles and awards. (http://bit.ly/2rh4Ek6)