Friday, January 19, 2007

Musing: Teddy Wins!

Teddywins1Great news! I just got word from Aliy Zirkle that my dog Teddy has won the Copper Basin 300 Sled Dog Race! With help from eleven of her kennel mates -- ChaCha, Venus, Butterscotch, Pingo, Hoss, Skittles, Tony, Manny, Pepper, Heeler and Oddball -- and with Aliy’s husband Allen Moore aboard, Teddy finished the 300 mile race in 58 hours and 58 minutes, more than an hour ahead of the second place team!

Okay, okay, I know I’m exaggerating. The truth is that Teddy is only a team dog. ChaCha and Venus are the leaders and Allen is an extremely accomplished musher who did an outstanding job at the helm. What makes this win so significant, is that these twelve dogs are the core of Aliy’s “Pro” team and will make up the majority of the team she will race in the Iditarod in March. Get the picture? You may recall my prediction that Aliy will win the Iditarod this year and, while it is crazy to speculate about what winning the CB300 means with respect to the Iditarod, it is fair to say that the team is in great shape and has done better than any other team so far!

Teddywins2_3Coming out of the summer “off-season”, Aliy reported that all the dogs were looking good and ready to get going. As you can see, Teddy was her usual hyper-enthusiastic self on the first day that Aliy brought out the harnesses for the team’s first training run of the season. Anybody who says the dogs don’t love to run and race -- or thinks you have to “make” the dogs do it -- doesn’t know anything about sled dogs and has probably never seen a sled dog team in action.

Which brings me to the point of this Musing: I have been getting spammed recently by “dog lovers” shaming me and urging me to withdraw my support for Aliy, the Iditarod and dog racing in general. Some “journalist” decided that there wasn’t any “hype” in writing a “Happy Dogs Have Grand Time In Alaska Wilderness” story, so he took a bunch of arbitrary facts out of context and wrote a slam piece. For example: The fact that about half the dogs do not finish the race is not because they suffer, are maimed or die due to the brutality and negligence of mushers. To the contrary, half the dogs do not finish because mushers “drop” any dog that is tired, sick or disinterested in continuing. Who can forget last year when Jeff King, with a slim 45 minute lead on Doug Swingley wasted 20 minutes returning to White Mountain to drop a dog. When one of the race veterinarians asked him why, he simply said the dog “didn’t want to go” then gave the dog a hug, a pat on the head and a loving “thank you.” What a horrible man. I personally remember spending an hour in the dead of night at McGrath, tending to Linda Pletner’s team while she thoroughly checked out a dog who she said “just seemed a little off.” The vet couldn’t find anything wrong, but Linda dropped the dog anyway. She may have gotten the official “okay” but her experience, instinct and concern for the dog said “don’t risk it.” How thoughtless.

I could go on and on, but will instead simply say that I’ve been there, I’ve seen and met dozens of mushers and hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of sled dogs. I’ve never met better people or healthier, happier dogs. To all the “dog lovers” who are so misinformed by the media, I say “use your heads.” You can’t “make” dogs run and race by beating them. Sled dogs run and race because they love it. It is in their genes. It is what they are. Musher’s invest everything they have -- and often everything they can borrow -- in their sled dogs. They don’t unduly put that investment at risk or treat it badly. Their lifestyle depends on that investment. They’re not stupid. Yes, dogs sometimes do get sick or injured. What do you expect? They are the highest performance athletes in the world and running the Iditarod is a difficult, demanding, epic journey.

Most of the things that are worth doing in life -- even in a dog’s life -- are demanding and sometimes even dangerous. Human literature expounds at length about the “bliss” of “doing what you love” and “living the life you were meant to live.” Is this true for humans but not for dogs? I believe it is true for all living beings, and especially true for sled dogs. So here’s my reply to all the “dog lovers” who mindlessly cut and paste spam emails opposing the Iditarod and sled dog racing in general: On the whole, sled dogs live longer, healthier, happier lives than your fat “pets” who lay on the couch, cooped up inside for most of every day, wishing all the while that they could be part of a large, dynamic pack, bond in mutual cooperation with a worthy human, explore vast, exciting areas of wilderness and run, run, run... Just like their ancestors have done for thousands of years.

So, here’s to you, Teddy. You’re a great dog and I’m proud of you. Good luck to you and your pack mates in the Iditarod. Run hard, be careful and, most of all, have fun!

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