Wednesday, November 29, 2006

1/5 "Winterdance" Gary Paulsen

Let me begin by telling you how happy I am that I joined Michelle's 'Overdue Books Reading Challenge' Taking part in this makes me realize how many wonderful books I own which are calling out to be read. Why do I see new titles in bookstores which I just have to have when my own library is so full of wonderful reads? So thank you Michelle, I'm loving it.

If someone who is neither a big fan of dogs nor snow buys a book like this it is probably doomed to sit on the bookshelf for years. When the Santa Rosa PW Bookclub chose this as their book of the month I was no longer living in SR and even though I bought the book I was in no hurry to read it. What a mistake as this book truly has everything one can want in a good read - a warmhearted hero, his true blue friends (animal & human), nasty villains (also animal & human), natural beauty, hardship, heart-stopping adventure and a gigantic dose of humor.

Although it will be difficult to see in the above image 'Winterdance" has a sub-title 'The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod'. It is the combination of these two which truly describes the premise of this amazing book. You can't just love dogs, snow & adventure and then think you can run the 1,180 race across Alaska. You have to be a little mad to attempt this grueling task. Yet as with anything in life we strive for and ultimately achieve, the result leaves us filled with joy and ready to dance in celebration.

Although I considered writing an entire book review I finally decided against it as others have said it so much better than I ever could.

"A breathtaking, heart-stopping, roller coaster ride that depicts the brutal reality of the Iditarod, the magnificent beauty of Alaska, and the unique, if not surreal, relationship that develops between man and dog." - Nevada Weekly

"Fueled by a passion for running dogs, Gary Paulsen entered the Iditarod - the 1,180 mile sled-dog race through the Alaskan wilderness - in dangerous ignorance and with a fierce determination. For 17 days, he and his team of dogs endured blinding wind, snowstorms, frostbite, dogfights, moose attacks, sleeplessness, hallucinations - and the relentless push to go on. Winterdance is the enthralling account of a "stunning wilderness journey of discovery and transformation."" - Chicago Tribune

At the end of the race Gary Paulsen says: "I didn't want to go in". I can truthfully say I felt the same way. I wanted him to just make a short stop in Nome to feed & take care of the dogs and then continue on our (yes by now it had become our not only his) adventure.


Blogger SledDogAction said...

Hi Margaret,

Gary Paulsen left out a lot of information about the Iditarod in his nonfiction book "Winterdance." The race has a long, well-documented history of dog deaths, illnesses and injuries.

In the Iditarod, dogs are forced to run 1,150 miles, which is the approximate distance between Las Vegas and Des Moines, Iowa, over a grueling terrain in 8 to 15 days. Dog deaths and injuries are common in the race. USA Today sports columnist Jon Saraceno called the Iditarod "a travesty of grueling proportions" and "Ihurtadog." Fox sportscaster Jim Rome called it "I-killed-a-dog." Orlando Sentinel sports columnist George Diaz said the race is "a barbaric ritual" and "an illegal sweatshop for dogs." USA Today business columnist Bruce Horovitz said the race is a "public-relations minefield."

The Sled Dog Action Coalition (SDAC) was founded in 1999 to educate America about the exploitation of sled dogs in Alaska's annual Iditarod dog sled race. The SDAC and its efforts to educate people about the brutalities associated with the Iditarod was profiled in USA Today and in the Miami Herald.

Please visit the SDAC website to see pictures, and for more information. Be sure to read the quotes on and on all the quote pages that link to it. Links can be found in the drop box at the top and at the bottom of the page. All of the material on the site is true and verifiable.

Iditarod dogs are simply not the invincible animals race officials portray. Here's a short list of what happens to the dogs during the race: death, paralysis, penile frostbite, bleeding ulcers, broken bones, pneumonia, torn muscles and tendons, diarrhea, vomiting, hypothermia, fur loss, broken teeth, viral diseases, torn footpads, ruptured discs, sprains, anemia and lung damage.

At least 130 dogs have died in the Iditarod. There is no official count of dog deaths available for the race's early years. Causes of death have included strangulation in towlines, internal hemorrhaging after being gouged by a sled, liver injury, heart failure, and pneumonia. "Sudden death" and "external myopathy," a fatal condition in which a dog's muscles and organs deteriorate during extreme or prolonged exercise, have also occurred. The 1976 Iditarod winner, Jerry Riley, was accused of striking his dog with a snow hook (a large, sharp and heavy metal claw). In 1996, one of Rick Swenson's dogs died while he mushed his team through waist-deep water and ice. The Iditarod Trail Committee banned both mushers from the race but later reinstated them. In many states these incidents would be considered animal cruelty. Swenson is now on the Iditarod Board of Directors.

In the 2001 Iditarod, a sick dog was sent to a prison to be cared for by inmates and received no veterinary care. He was chained up in the cold and died. Another dog died by suffocating on his own vomit.

No one knows how many dogs die in training or after the race each year.

On average, 53 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 cross, 81 percent have lung damage. A report published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine said that 61 percent of the dogs who finish the Iditarod have ulcers versus zero percent pre-race.

Tom Classen, retired Air Force colonel and Alaskan resident for over 40 years, tells us that the dogs are beaten into submission:

"They've had the hell beaten out of them." "You don't just whisper into their ears, ‘OK, stand there until I tell you to run like the devil.' They understand one thing: a beating. These dogs are beaten into submission the same way elephants are trained for a circus. The mushers will deny it. And you know what? They are all lying." -USA Today, March 3, 2000 in Jon Saraceno's column

Beatings and whippings are common. Jim Welch says in his book Speed Mushing Manual, "I heard one highly respected [sled dog] driver once state that "‘Alaskans like the kind of dog they can beat on.'" "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...A whip is a very humane training tool."

Mushers believe in "culling" or killing unwanted dogs, including puppies. Many dogs who are permanently disabled in the Iditarod, or who are unwanted for any reason, are killed with a shot to the head, dragged or clubbed to death. "On-going cruelty is the law of many dog lots. Dogs are clubbed with baseball bats and if they don't pull are dragged to death in harnesses....." wrote Alaskan Mike Cranford in an article for Alaska's Bush Blade Newspaper (March, 2000).

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."

Iditarod administrators promote the race as a commemoration of sled dogs saving the children of Nome by bringing diphtheria serum from Anchorage in 1925. However, the co-founder of the Iditarod, Dorothy Page, said the race was not established to honor the sled drivers and dogs who carried the serum. In fact, 600 miles of this serum run was done by train and the other half was done by dogs running in relays, with no dog running over 100 miles. This isn't anything like the Iditarod.

The race has led to the proliferation of horrific dog kennels in which the dogs are treated very cruelly. Many kennels have over 100 dogs and some have as many as 200. It is standard for the dogs to spend their entire lives outside tethered to metal chains that can be as short as four feet long. In 1997 the United States Department of Agriculture determined that the tethering of dogs was inhumane and not in the animals' best interests. The chaining of dogs as a primary means of enclosure is prohibited in all cases where federal law applies. A dog who is permanently tethered is forced to urinate and defecate where he sleeps, which conflicts with his natural instinct to eliminate away from his living area.

Iditarod dogs are prisoners of abuse.

Margery Glickman
Sled Dog Action Coalition, 

1:08 PM  
Blogger Stitch or no stitch said...

Dear Margery,
Thank you for taking the time not only to read my blog, but also to explain many things about the Iditarod Race which I was not aware of.
Gary Paulsen speaks of his dogs with love & respect and I truly felt that he tried to understand them and treat them well. However, knowing what the human race can be like, I realize that not every musher is like that and perhaps he was just one in a thousand.
GP did touch on the abuse of dogs at one point (pages 215-218) and I think tried to give us a glimpse at the dark side of this race.
Once again, thank you for writing and sharing your knowledge. I will never look at this race in the same way again.

4:36 PM  
Blogger Mann said...

Dear Margaret,

I worked the whole summer with mushers in South-East of Alaska. During that time I saw both sad and enduring moments. We discussed the way mushers treat their dogs, how media portraits the famous Iditarod, what they feed the dogs, the way they, mushers, live. And much-much-much more.

I don't plan on running the Iditarod, but I personally know people who do. And just like there are cruel people, there are those who passionatley take care of their dogs and kennels.

Yes, dogs die every year Iditarod is run. But have you talked to the veterinarians checking EACH AND EVERY dog during the race? They say that these animals are amazing. Eric "Bush Vet" Jayne himself is running dogs, his son came 25th last year.

There are dogs of 15, 16, 17 years in the kennel, still happily barking every time you pass with the harness - energetic and healthy. Is a fat house-kept dog with severe heart problems better?

I truly hate people that abuse animals, abuse their pets. But it's not about the Iditarod - it's about people, mushers who act the way that leaves a "bad smell" to dog mushing in general.

Gary Paulsen is a friend of Randy Cummins, who touched me deeply by the way he cared about his kennel. And if he is there, running the Iditarod, there must be more people like him.

sled dog handler

2:25 PM  
Blogger Mann said...

Hi Margaret,

I read your comment on my blog and came upon yours again.

I don't know if you were able to check out any sled dog photos from my blog as it's in Estonian, so I decided to make a little Best Of link collection of my summer photos. I spent it in Skagway, AK in a sled dog summer camp giving rides to tourist. This year I'm returning to Skagway's Denver glacier to be a handler again.

A video I made about my summer:

How the camp looks like:

A handler's day:

How the people in the camp look like:

Our "camp bears" who came down every day to get some salmon:


2:22 AM  

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