Sleddog race is a competitive icy sport where strong “thick-skinned” dogs run in a formulation to compete through storms and rain in cold winter land. The dogs drag a sled behind them; which is occupied by a musher for direction.
Imagine a pack of dogs running around a thickly-packed snowfield. All you can witness is the albescent-white expanse that almost blinds you with its intensity. The cold is sending shivers down your spine. You hear the angry yapping, barking, and snarling coming closer and closer. Following the sound, the Siberian Huskies arrive in a regiment, in a congregation. They are bound to each other. Behind them, the drag of a sled makes a scraping sound that sets off an involuntary twitch inside your body. As it rushes past you, it sprays snow all over you. Chances are, you are enjoying an icy sport of a sleddog race.
Sled dog race is an icy sport enjoyed in the arctic regions of the United States, Canada, Greenland, New Zealand, Russia, and other European countries. The dogs used mostly are Siberian huskies, Samoyeds, and Alaskan malamutes.
A sled is pulled by a pack that is arranged in pairs one after the other. Within a set-time, the sled that covers most distance wins. There are special knots, strong harnesses used to tie the dogs to the sled and convoluted to make it functional for the musher to control a 12-dog team or even more.
TYPES OF RACES:
Sprint races can be short distanced (4 to 100 miles), mid-distanced (100 to 300 miles), and long-distance (300 to 1000) races. These races could be designed in stages with an allowance of substituting the huskies, or a one-way race with the same dogs. The dog races could stretch from a one-day event to a 3-day event.
Besides distance, races can be categorized in terms of the route as well as a number of dogs per team. Some races are “timed starts” where competitors are released in the race periodically; after the gun goes off. This race is a race against time; not against the other competitors. Others are “mass starts” where all teams are released at once.
Despite private sporting events conducted and funded by clubs, official sporting events of sled dog races fall under one of the three governing bodies. In the United States and Canada, ISDRA (International Sled Dog Racing Association) sanctions many races. In Europe ESDRA (European Sled Dog Racing Association) provides sanctioning, and the IFSS (International Federation of Sleddog Sports) sanctions World Cup races all over the world, as well as a world championship race every two years.
Certain rules as put forward by the association like IFSS are:
- The length of the trail must be accurately measured and conveyed.
- The trail must be clearly explained to the competitors.
- The animals should have been properly cared for and trained.
- Any possible weather news, predictions, and forecasts must be considered before the planning of the event.
- In long-distance races, a minimum of 8-hour stay is mandatory for racers t rest the dogs and any inhumane treatment to the beautiful canines is strictly prohibited.
Dryland Sled-Dog Race:
There is, yet another form of sled dog racing which is called the Dryland Sled dog race. It takes place on caked muddy trails with a four-wheeled cart, scooter or a person’s own body in place of a sled.
SOME FAMOUS RACES:
- The American Derby:
It is the oldest sled dog race in the world. It is an annual event that occurs on the 3rd of February in Ashton Idaho, United States. It began in 1917. Back then, due to Union Pacific Railroad ventures in Idaho, letters and mails were dropped using sled dogs. Within a decade, people turned it into a competition, and thousands would visit Idaho to enjoy the sled dog race. It has produced some of the best mushers in the world and is the training ground for many aspiring Iditarod competitors.
It is the world-famous longest sled dog race in the world and is known for its beautiful diverse trails. The racers skate across vast expanses of frozen rivers, mountains, thick forests, and muddy plains. There are certain criteria needed to be met to participate; like arctic parka, an ax, snowshoes, and boots for each dog’s feet to protect against cutting ice and hard-packed snow injuries.
The race first began in 1973 to test the best dogs and mushers; which later on, developed into a competitive thrilling sport.
The route starts from Fourth Avenue, D Street and runs all the way to Campbell Creek. On the next day, the real struggle begins for participants to gallop through the cloudy whiteness of the snow, hail, storms, and rain to arrive at Nome; which is a 1000 miles away. A musher must have at least twelve dogs at the start of the race and must end up with at least six dogs at the finish line.
Sled dogs for Iditarod eat about 10,000 calories a day which is equivalent to 2000 pounds of meat, other oils, fats, dog food, and vitamins.
It is such a huge flagship event that it has been magnified to welcome people from all over the world. Not only there is a ten-day-long Fur Rendezvous; which is proclaimed as one of the largest winter festivals in the world, there are banquets, balls, sculptor-making competitions and a community cross-country ski race.
Dogs also die in these races. Most common cause is Gastro ulceration.
ETHICAL CONCERNS REGARDING THE 1000-MILER SLED DOG RACE:
It has been pointed out that the Iditarod race which stretches for up to 7 or 9 days is inhuman to the furry canines. The consistency of the physical exertion in shattering biting Alaskan winds, demanding and exhausting terrain, and limited food is treacherous towards the humanity of the animals. Many people also find it ironic that the rider wins more than $150,000 when he is resting on the sled, eating his meals and enjoying the view. The dogs do not get anything when they actually put in all the effort.
Since 2004, more than 27 dogs used in Iditarod have died because of the exercise-induced gastric ulcers. Famous sportswriter, Jon Saraceno; who pioneered the term “Ihurtadog”, calls the race a “Frenzied Lunacy”.
Therefore, a traditional icy sport of Alaska, the Sleddog race has its fair share of animal rights violation to its name.