Monday, May 25, 2009

An Old Mutt Learning New Tricks

I have a strange fascination with sled dogs. Well, maybe it's not that strange, but it's a fascination nonetheless. I love to watch them in action, I watched the Iditarod on television, and I've always wanted to stand on the back of a sled and be pulled through the snow at warp speed. The whole sport seems barbaric to me, but I admit, I can't peel my eyes away from it.

So when I sat down to clean out my DVR, which I do about every week upon realizing that I have three months worth of 30 Rock, The Office, Chuck, and Rock of Love Bus with Bret Michaels that I am never going to have time to watch, I noticed that another of my favorite shows - Dirty Jobs - had an episode where Mike Rowe, beefcake host extraordinaire, takes care of sled dogs.

I didn't delete that one.

And last night, I finally had a chance to watch it. As I sat in amazement and wondered how long I would last in a dog sled race (and as a thin-blooded Southerner, I'm guessing about a nanosecond), I started figuring out what it was about those dogs that I liked. Once they got hooked up to their sled and took off, they were dead-set on their goal. They put their head down, their nose to the grindstone, and they just kept going and going and going and going and going until they were at the end. Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while knows that I appreciate that kind of work ethic.

It's not hard to see how dedicating yourself to a healthier lifestyle can make you feel like a sled dog sometimes. You're not always at the front of the pack, sometimes you've got someone else calling the shots, and once in a while you just have to put your head down and barrel through the tough spots.

This morning as I powered through my hurdle drills and plyometriced my way across the gym parking lot, I thought about another aspect of sled dogs - they're not a specific breed. In other words, they're mutts. They aren't born to power through and win, but rather are trained to. I had caught glimpses over the weekend of television coverage of the Ms. Fitness USA pageant and some SEC NCAA Track and Field competitions, both of which reminded me that I am not 18 anymore. And even when I was 18, I wasn't able to do that stuff. I did my squat jumps and compared myself to an old mutt learning new tricks.

And then later in the gym I channeled the mentality of a sled dog when Captain Awesome tasked me with our usual Friday circuit with a twist - my goal was to lap my training partner, and her goal was to keep me from lapping her. I thought about those sled dogs and mimicked their work - head down and barreling through to the end. I did lap her (sorry, Tracy!) and thanked my virtual sled dogs for the tip.

There are parts of any fitness journey that are tougher than others, and we all have to just deal with that and let it go. The next time you're in that spot, channel the sled dog mentality and see if you don't end up at the front of the pack.


Michael said...


Sled Dog Action Coalition said...

Six dogs died in the 2009 Iditarod. Two dogs on Dr. Lou Packer's team froze to death in the brutally cold winds. For the dogs, the Iditarod is a bottomless pit of suffering. What happens to the dogs during the race includes death, paralysis, frostbite (where it hurts the most!), bleeding ulcers, bloody diarrhea, lung damage, pneumonia, ruptured discs, viral diseases, broken bones, torn muscles and tendons and sprains. At least 142 dogs have died in the race. No one knows how many dogs die after this tortuous ordeal or during training. For more facts about the Iditarod, visit the Sled Dog Action Coalition website, .

On average, 52 percent of the dogs who start the race do not make it across the finish line. According to a report published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, of those who do finish, 81 percent have lung damage. A report published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine said that 61 percent of the dogs who complete the Iditarod have ulcers versus zero percent pre-race.

Iditarod dog kennels are puppy mills. Mushers breed large numbers of dogs and routinely kill unwanted ones, including puppies. Many dogs who are permanently disabled in the Iditarod, or who are unwanted for any reason, including those who have outlived their usefulness, are killed with a shot to the head, dragged, drowned or clubbed to death. "Dogs are clubbed with baseball bats and if they don't pull are dragged to death in harnesses......" wrote former Iditarod dog handler Mike Cranford in an article for Alaska's Bush Blade Newspaper.

Dog beatings and whippings are common. During the 2007 Iditarod, eyewitnesses reported that musher Ramy Brooks kicked, punched and beat his dogs with a ski pole and a chain. Jim Welch says in his book Speed Mushing Manual, "Nagging a dog team is cruel and ineffective...A training device such as a whip is not cruel at all but is effective." "It is a common training device in use among dog mushers..."

Jon Saraceno wrote in his March 3, 2000 column in USA Today, "He [Colonel Tom Classen] confirmed dog beatings and far worse. Like starving dogs to maintain their most advantageous racing weight. Skinning them to make mittens.. Or dragging them to their death."

During the race, veterinarians do not give the dogs physical exams at every checkpoint. Mushers speed through many checkpoints, so the dogs get the briefest visual checks, if that. Instead of pulling sick dogs from the race, veterinarians frequently give them massive doses of antibiotics to keep them running.

Most Iditarod dogs are forced to live at the end of a chain when they aren't hauling people around. It has been reported that dogs who don't make the main team are never taken off-chain. Chained dogs have been attacked by wolves, bears and other animals. Old and arthritic dogs suffer terrible pain in the blistering cold.

Margery Glickman
Sled Dog Action Coalition,