By: Anne Morgan  Date: 01/6/2005 Category: | Canine Issues |

Editor's note: The 2004 Iditarod - the 32nd running of Alaska's Anchorage to Nome "last great race on earth" - will start on March 6, but plans for the race have been underway for at least a year. As usual, the emphasis is two-fold: organizers concentrate on the historical aspects of the race and on the welfare of the dogs. Animal rights activists oppose the race as cruel, but few dogs in the world receive the attention given these racers. Pre-race checkups include cardiac work-ups and thorough exams; vets inspect the dogs at every race checkpoint; mushers keep a log that includes health information on each dog in their teams; sick, injured, and tired dogs are dropped from the teams and flown to Anchorage or Nome to await the mushers’ return.

Each year, the Iditarod Trail Committee hosts a variety of social and educational events in conjunction with the race. Teachers can attend workshops on the history and culture of Alaska and the race and incorporate race materials into their lessons. Ann Morgan, a sixth grade teacher at Chatham Elementary School in Massachusetts, had used the Iditarod in her classroom for more than a dozen years. She finally fulfilled a dream when she went to Alaska for the 2000 race and hired bush pilots to fly her to various checkpoints for a firsthand look at the mushers and the dogs on the trail. Morgan’s trip was partially financed through grants from the Cape Cod Times and the Westgate Foundation in Chatham. She recorded “Mrs. Morgan’s Great Iditarod Adventure” on her website ( for her students and other interested people.

The Cape Cod Times published articles about her trip and a “My view” piece by Morgan on April 13, 2000. That piece was reprinted in the spring 2003 NAIA News with Ann Morgan’s permission.

I spent 16 days in Alaska in March 2000, observing and participating in events surrounding the Iditarod Dog Sled Race. I was at the start in Anchorage, at the restart in Wasilla, at most checkpoints during the race, and at the finish in Nome.

I have been following the Iditarod for 15 years with students in several school systems in different states. I am well aware of the concerns over the health issues surrounding Iditarod dogs and have researched the matter quite thoroughly. With the availability of the Internet, it has been quite easy to gather much additional information.

However, one needs to be careful when using the Internet as the primary source of information, as it is difficult to determine the expertise of the author or their motive. I teach my students to be careful with what they read, check many resources, and be aware of who is speaking with authority. Although the Internet is a wonderful tool for researching, it is also a tool that promotes the spread of misinformation.

Prior to the race, I spent a day at a teachers’ workshop where the race marshal, race manager, and chief veterinarian spoke at length about the rules of the race and the care of the dogs. I also visited one of the dog kennels and spoke at length to mushers and dog handlers about the care of the dogs. This kennel had four teams of dogs running in Iditarod 2000.

Armed with a digital camera and a laptop computer, I flew the Iditarod trail with a bush pilot from the re-start in Wasilla all the way to Nome, stopping at checkpoints along the way. I reported back to my students daily on my “Mrs. Morgan’s Great Iditarod Adventure” Web site (

My journal entries were facts and honest impressions that I gathered. My priority was to see for myself how the dogs were cared for. I have a great appreciation of the race, the mushers, and the dogs. It is truly a team effort, everyone working together to have a successful race.

What I value the most, however, is that what I have believed to be true about the health and care of the dogs of this race is indeed true. Now, after being on the trail, no one will be able to convince me that it is wrong to run these wonderful animals. The Iditarod dogs are treated better and monitored more than I had ever imagined.

I watched and listened carefully along the trail. I saw nothing that would make me believe that these Iditarod athletes are harmed in any way. They are born to run and love it! To see them at the start, at checkpoints along the trail, and to see them trot under the finish line was very telling.

If those who say that the dogs are mistreated stood in my boots by actually attending the race, listening and observing the experts, volunteering at the checkpoints, and watching the care of the dogs, they would know that these dogs are treated well.

The Iditarod Trail Committee has many safeguards in place. I saw thorough physical exams on the dogs. Three to five veterinarians were at each checkpoint. Mushers are required to carry documentation, actually signed by veterinarians along the trail, about each dog from checkpoint to checkpoint to ensure uninterrupted care.

Volunteers worked hard to provide fresh straw on cleaned snow for the dogs. I overheard mushers and veterinarians discussing individual dogs with the common goal of protecting the dogs’ health. Everyone was working together for the same goal, producing an exciting race with healthy dogs.

I have received e-mail from all over the world in support of my adventure. The letters I received in support of my trip were informative and specific with first-hand experiences. Those that wrote against my trip used the same “cut and paste” words from the Internet, over and over.

Not a single person wrote of personal knowledge of any abusive treatment of the dogs. Each believed what they had read on the Internet without ever actually doing their homework.

My students have learned many valuable lessons as they followed their teacher along the Iditarod trail. They learned the importance of teamwork, and the knowledge that you don’t have to win to be a winner. They have come to the conclusion that information that they read might not be an accurate portrayal. They have learned to investigate for themselves before they make a judgment. Everybody has a story to tell and one needs to hear it all.

There are many teachers like me who have discovered the value of using the Iditarod as an exciting teaching tool with their students. I will continue to encourage and support other teachers to use the Iditarod.

This article was published in the Spring 2003 issue of NAIA News.

About The Author

Anne Morgan's photo
Anne Morgan -

Member/Volunteer/Partner/Article Writer of the National Animal Interest Alliance.

All Authors Of This Article: | Anne Morgan |
Like this article?
Don’t forget to share, like or follow us



blog comments powered by Disqus