I worked in a kennel that belonged to an Iditarod musher. So here’s what I have to say. Often dog care is left to the kennel workers or dog handlers. We are paid very little- whatever the minimum wage is with no benefits usually. In general, mushers don’t have enough workers. Keep in mind that they have lots and lots of dogs and most of our work is during very cold weather. What this all boils down into being is that most of the dogs aren’t well taken care of. Understand that the mushers know about all the bad stuff that goes down. Lots of times the musher is part of it.

I’ve seen kennel workers beat dogs. I’ve seen kennel workers not feed dogs they don’t like or not give them water. I’ve seen kennel workers kill dogs. If a dog is sick, most workers are too busy to notice or don’t report it. When a virus spreads through the kennel, most mushers don’t want to pay for the vets- especially if the dogs have a low rank- I’ll explain that later. Mushers sometimes kill the dogs they don’t want or they leave it to us. There are dead dogs under the ground where tourists walk in some kennels.

Dogs have rankings. The ones who race good have the highest rank and it goes down from there. The dogs with the highest rank get the best care. (Some people would still call that awful- the dogs are chained.) The dogs with low rank stay on the chain. Like I said mushers make sure that the high ranked dogs get the most attention. But if they are good at running they are made to run thousands of miles before the Iditarod even begins. And yes, dogs die from it.

Sometimes the mushers take the dogs on training runs. Otherwise, it’s the dog handlers who do it. We usually run the puppies who might have promise of racing good as an adult. I’ve heard stories from ones who say they’ve beaten the dogs when they’re out on the trail.

The kennels churn out puppies as fast as a factory manufactures bolts or screwdrivers. There is always more stock coming in from breeding. Or, if a musher needs a better racer, it can be bought, borrowed or leased.

The mushers running businesses that give kennel tours are entertainers or showmen. Make no mistake. This is all a business. No love. Just business. The less money spent on the dogs, the more profit the musher pockets.

‘John’ – December 5, 2006