Injured sled dog, Aklavik NWT sled dog race, Winter of 2006/2007 [Photo submitted]

Injured sled dog, Aklavik NWT sled dog race, Winter of 2006/2007 [Photo submitted]

Sled dog race, Inuvik, NWT, Winter of 2006/2007 [Photo submitted]

Sled dog race, Inuvik, NWT, Winter of 2006/2007 [Photo submitted]

Inuvik sled dog race, Winter of 2006/2007 [Photo submitted]

Inuvik sled dog race, Winter of 2006/2007 [Photo submitted]

Email message from ‘lone spokesperson’ for CBC Yukon:

March 8, 2010

Hey Terry.

Always enjoy the detail and attention you put into your cause.

However… before you put Genesee Keevil on a pedestal… you should know she’s a musher… and keeps a bunch of dogs on her property at Squatter’s Row.

Just thought you should know.


Al Foster
CBC North
Whitehorse Yukon

[Doesn’t CBC have highly-paid communications people to respond to the well-deserved criticism directed its way instead of relying on staffers with hurt feelings replying by way of a condescending email message? And yes, I was well aware that Genesee Keevil was a dog musher and have noted such on this website since it was launched in Feb. 2007. Send Vic Istchenko (CBC Yukon’s version of Geraldo) or The Fifth Estate up to Squatters’ Row immediately to dig up some dirt on her dog mushing operation!]

smellslikeyukon1The real problem when it comes to musher dogs is the same as for greyhounds – what to do with the ones that won’t run fast enough or are too old to run competitively. No one talks about it but every once in a while someone will be out in the woods and come across a pile of dead dogs, shot in the head, or if they’re puppies, necks wrung.”

Forum message attributed to Hay River, NWT resident – April 5, 2007

Yukon Quest – `Media Darling`

The Yukon Quest has for many years benefitted from a lack of media scrutiny with regard to the crueler aspects of the race itself, and to the sad conditions many sled dogs live in when they are not racing. In the early years of the race, the media may be forgiven somewhat for their limited awareness about sled dog welfare. However, we are now living in the ‘information age’ and media have no excuse for not delving further into the various cruelties inflicted on dogs by the Yukon Quest, or the suffering caused to dogs because of the lack of any regulation of mushers’ sled dog operations in the north.

There is much criticism of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on this page and web site. The writer is not blindly opposed to CBC but actually grew up listening to CBC Radio from an early age. It helped to develop my judgement as to recognizing ‘irresponsible journalism’ whenever I encountered it. The CBC should have a policy of not supporting and promoting events that injure and kill animals.

In the Yukon, the major media sources are the two Whitehorse newspapers (The Whitehorse Daily Star and Yukon News) and the public radio and television broadcaster, the local Canadian Broadcasting Corporation affiliate (CBC `Whitehorse). All three organizations, to various extents, support and promote the Quest. The Whitehorse Star is a major sponsor, providing numerous full-page advertisements for fundraising events and other race promotions. The Yukon News has, in the past, sponsored individual Quest mushers, according to mushers’ web sites. CBC Yukon and its parent, CBC North, are the biggest media cheerleaders, and negative coverage of the Quest by CBC has been practically non-existent for the 20-odd years the Quest race has been staged.

CBC Yukon and CBC North: Irresponsible journalists use public airwaves to promote an ethically questionable race that has killed and injured sled dogs:

In February of 2005, the [now] administrator of this website wrote a ‘letter to the editor’ that was published in the ‘Yukon News’ about CBC Yukon’s perceived biased coverage of the Yukon Quest. The letter, headlined (by the editor) ‘CBC Should Stop Cheerleading for the Quest,’ was printed on the Friday of the first week of the Quest, in time for the Quest mushers’ layover in Dawson City. The letter addressed the perceived lack of journalism ethics displayed by several CBC radio employees when speaking about the Quest, seemingly sanctioned by CBC management.

For most of the race there was no discernible change in CBC’s coverage. However, toward the end of the race it became apparent from listening to CBC Radio that the letter had registered with at least two CBC Radio personnel. For example, the visiting ‘writer-in-residence’ at the Pierre Berton House in Dawson was interviewed on the second Friday after the start of the Quest (when most mushers had already finished).
The writer mentioned that he had been in Dawson watching the mushers arrive there, and told CBC Yukon radio announcer Roch Shannon-Fraser that, although he realized the Quest was somewhat controversial, he found it ‘touching’ to watch the dog teams arrive.

To that date in the Yukon, the only way this visitor would have thought the race was controversial was by reading the ‘CBC as cheerleaders’ letter which would have been passed around in Dawson during the mushers’ mandatory rest stop there, and another letter (also published in the Yukon News) critical of a particular Quest musher known for his callous treatment of sled dogs, from another Whitehorse resident
during the second week of the Quest.

The next day (early on a Saturday morning) Mr. Shannon-Fraser was talking to CBC’s Quest reporter Trisha Estabrooks, on one of the final Quest reports, and he questioned her about Quest sled dog care. He was assured by Ms. Estabrooks that Quest mushers took great care of their dogs and the name of a local Whitehorse-area musher was brought up, a musher who is widely promoted as being the ‘gold-standard’
with regard to dog care. This same musher had in the 2001 Quest, according to the ‘Racing the White Silence’ book by Adam Killick, “through an oversight,” neglected to bed his dogs down properly on a cold night early in the race, and the dogs’ heat loss had melted body-shaped impressions in the snow, causing the dogs to endure much suffering, and sapping their strength.

Because of CBC’s perceived pro-Quest bias, a decision was made to file an official complaint with the CBC Ombudsman, to have the issue investigated.

The complaint was responded to by the Director of English Radio and Television,  Mike Linder, from CBC North headquarters in Yellowknife. Mr. Linder ‘pooh-poohed’ the concerns expressed, and furthermore made a valiant defense of the Yukon Quest (strangely enough, Quest officials themselves never respond to the scant criticism the race has received over the years). A response to Mr. Linder’s ‘whitewashing’ of CBC’s biased reporting was e-mailed to several media sources and animal rights organizations, and included the original complaint letter and the response from Mr. Linder.

Shortly after, the Whitehorse Star published the letter of response to Mr. Linder (a previous CBC Yukon staffer and station manager), which the editor titled “Stop ‘Cub Reporting’ on a Northern Disgrace” (April 8, 2005). This apparently infuriated Mr. Linder who quickly wrote a letter to the Star ‘accusing the accuser’ of making ‘unwarranted personal attacks’ and ‘slandering’ individual CBC Yukon employees. It was obvious that Mr. Linder did not read the actual letter, but was responding to communication from CBC Yukon informing him of the letter having been published in the Star. In his letter to the Star editor [see ‘Personal Attacks Were Baseless’ letter, to follow], Mr. Linder defended by name those employees named in the original complaint letter (and some who were not).

It must be noted that, to that date, the only CBC employees named in print by the Star were the CBC ‘cub reporter’  (Trisha Estabrooks) who had covered the 2005 Quest race and one of the hosts of the CBC Yukon morning radio show. The week after, the Star then published the original letter of complaint to the CBC Ombudsman – ‘CBC is Promoting Cruelty to Sled Dogs’ (April 15, 2005).

CBC’s Yukon Quest reporting policy/defense of Yukon Quest according to/by Mike Linder (March 2005 CBC Ombudsman reply):

After a careful reading of your letter, I believe your true argument is with the very existence of the Yukon Quest and perhaps any and all dogmushing (sic.). I don’t dispute your right to hold this view but I can’t say that it is one necessarily held by the Yukon public…

There is great public interest in this event and as such it is one that the Yukon’s public broadcaster must pay attention to. This does not in any way suggest the event is above the same scrutiny we apply to other endeavours…

The Yukon Quest has been running for many years and CBC Yukon has been reporting it from the start. In our experience the Yukon public, the dog mushers and breeders and the veterinary community consider this a legitimate athletic event. The consensus appears to be the dogs, by and large, enjoy the event… [Ed. Note: I would be very interested, Mr. Linder, in seeing the transcripts of your interviews with the dogs. Did your reporters capture the last words of the many dogs who have died in the Quest over the years?]

I do expect our hosts to convey the sense of excitement around them when talking about one of the largest international events in the north. This should not be construed to suggest our team was “cheerleading”…

[Ed. Note: How’s this for cheerleading?]

February 24, 2005 Quest report from Quest reporter Trisha Estabrooks:

What a race! This morning, last week, the start of the race, it all seems like a blur. Lance Mackey, the rookie, victorious and hilariously excited. His father, Dick Mackey, travelled from Arizona to greet him at the Angel Point checkpoint. Today he stood on the finish line beaming. Dick Mackey looms large in mushing circles, being one of the founders of the Iditarod and by making history with his 1978 one-second win. Perhaps it was talking to him last night, perhaps it was my hunger for the race, but for just a moment I thought William Kleedehn would follow Mackey to the end. The finish line was exhilarating, the beginning of the end…

[Mike Linder letter continues]

The musher who dropped out early because of her team having bloody vomit and diarrhea [Ed. Note – it was actually bloody diarrhea and ‘normal’ vomit] did so at a designated dog drop with a veterinarian on hand to provide care for the animals. Weather prevented the plane from landing for two days. This weather related occurrence was unforeseen, but no lingering illness or injuries resulted…

The musher who overloaded his sled was a first-timer, learned his lesson and his “wore out” dogs recovered and completed the race in good health… [Ed. Note – The musher was Jon Little, of Kasilof, Alaska – an experienced musher/journalist who writes promotional articles about
dog mushing.]

For decades northern mushers have run their dogs under extreme conditions, sometimes to save lives, deliver mail, move freight or for their own personal survival. Quest mushers train their dogs to deal with conditions they are likely to encounter during the race…

If you or anyone else has any proof of animal cruelty it should be reported to the RCMP and/or the Humane Society. CBC Yukon would be receptive to reviewing any specific allegations or firsthand information you may have. [Ed. Note – Based on past experience, RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) officers do not have the will or resources to deal with animal complaints with their regular policing workload, and are also hindered by weak animal protection laws. Humane Society Yukon does not have either the resources or legal authority to police animal cruelty, more than that of any individual citizen of the Yukon. But this does not excuse HSY cowardliness/negligence,/political correctness in refusing to speak up against Yukon Quest cruelty and dog deaths or cruel practices inherent in the mushing industry in general over the years.]

[the letter concludes]

I hope I have gone some way to answering your concerns. I will note yours is the only complaint about our coverage we have received.

Reply from Mr. Linder (‘Personal Attacks Were Baseless’ – Whitehorse Star, April 11, 2005):

This is an open reply to the correspondence published Friday, April 8, as a letter to the editor re: CBC coverage of the Yukon Quest.

I believe I’ve addressed your substantive points in my reply to your letter to the CBC Ombudsman. That you then chose to bypass that process and circulate your correspondence widely was your decision. It seems to have achieved your goal, which appears to be gaining more attention for your personal views.

I challenged you to bring forward, to the proper authorities and the CBC, any evidence or first-hand knowledge you have of animal cruelty and neglect. You have not done so. Instead, you cite media reports as your sources. [Ed. Note – ???]

You then insult and denigrate those who made them – much as you insult and denigrate the many mushers, sponsors, community volunteers and veterinarians who participate each year in this event.

I have great respect for their professionalism, and you have given me no reason to doubt they operate from anything less than the highest standards of integrity and commitment. Your credentials to assess journalism appear to be on par with your credentials to assess the competence of those who work with or care for animals.

The people of the Yukon are well served and indeed fortunate to have broadcasters of the professional caliber of [four CBC Yukon employees’ names]. Your personal attacks on them are not only baseless but malicious and outside the bounds of civilized discussion. As I stated before, you are entitled to your opinion. I do not, however, believe that gives you licence to slander the dedication and professionalism of so many Yukoners, be they CBC employees or others.

To give evidence of CBC’s casting off all tenets of responsible journalism, here are some of the examples seen or heard on the public broadcaster’s various media formats:

After the 2005 Quest, when CBC Yukon had exchanged its Yukon Quest cheerleading garb for that of the Iditarod’s, one of CBC Yukon’s ‘A New Day’ morning show hosts told listeners (in a syrupy tone) in an interview with an Alaska Public Radio (another Quest and Iditarod media cheerleader) reporter that “of course we know that mushers are not motivated by money.” It is a great mystery how some of these newly-arrived CBC employees from southern Canada are instantly transformed into Yukon Quest (or Iditarod) disciples. Is there an internal policy at CBC Yukon, when talking about mushers, to occasionally refer to them as “well-respected mushers” or as “legends?” If an announcer had attributed the same altruistic motivations to Yukon politicians as he or she attributed to mushers, the phones at CBC would be ‘ringing off the hook.’

The 2004 CBC North television documentary ‘The Lone Trail: The Dogs and Drivers of the Yukon Quest’ used ‘creative editing’ to ridicule a lone, young activist who was brave enough to speak out in public in about the cruel aspects of the Quest. This offensive program is shown to tourists at the Yukon Tourism Reception Centre in Whitehorse. It was also circulated to the world on the CBC Newsworld International television channel. CBC makes ‘blood money’ off the documentary by selling it through private retailers.

This is a description from the CBC News national website about the video production:

The Lone Trail is a CBC documentary special about “The Quest,” an annual dogsled race that runs from Fairbanks, Alaska to Whitehorse, Yukon. The 1600 km race is gruelling and takes over a week to complete. The Lone Trail follows three of the race participants: a handicapped musher, a young woman and a third musher, who has competed in every “Quest” race and who is now contemplating retirement. This special broadcast, which combines moving human drama with breathtaking footage of the northern scenery, is guaranteed to keep viewers on the edge of their seats.

There is a permalink to Yukon Quest website featured on the CBC North web site year round. The fondness of CBC towards the Quest is evident in the written archived ‘race diaries’ and sound clips available on the site. UPDATE: CBC stopped adding content to the site after the 2006 Quest race.

The 2005 Quest reporter almost made the CBC Yukon noon show host cough up a vital organ by innocently blurting out that there was a portion of the Yukon Quest trail known as ‘The Dog Killer.’

CBC enthusiastically provides promotional support for Quest fundraising events. In mid-2005, one morning show host urged listeners to visit a popular Main Street coffee shop in Whitehorse (a venue for several Quest fundraisers), to see the ‘touching exhibit’ of Quest photography. CBC Yukon often treats Yukon Quest press releases or other Quest or Iditarod trivia as major news stories. Recent examples are:

the story about the local musher held up as an example to the corporate world; one about an Iditarod musher who did some TV ads in Alaska about depression (…Living in the north and feeling depressed? Get a bunch of sled dogs, they’ll cheer you up!); and a story about Canada’s national airline promoting the Quest on its flights for the month of December, 2005. One of the hosts of the CBC Whitehorse morning radio show excitedly expressed hope that it would be widely seen.

CBC Yukon and CBC North have for years, disseminated Yukon Quest propaganda to their southern affiliates prior to and during the Quest race, with radio spots sold to radio shows such as ‘Definitely Not the Opera’ and other national programs. CBC Yukon goes out of its way to make sure that its good friend, the Quest, receives promotion whenever a national CBC program does a spotlight on the Yukon.

Shelagh Rogers, host of the national radio morning program ‘Sounds Like Canada’ based her show in Whitehorse for a week in mid-December 2005, spotlighting various Yukon items of interest. She interviewed a young musher who was entered in the 2006 Quest race. Ms. Rogers visited the musher’s family home and took a tour of the dog yard. Shortly before this, the Yukon News had a full-page article about the young musher (November 18, 2005) and one of the accompanying photos showed the typical scene of chained-up dogs in the background. One could see in the photo, cheap plastic rain barrels used for dog houses, popular among mushers for their low cost, but which would provide very little protection from the elements.

Ms. Rogers needs to learn to recognize this minimal standard of dog care when she sees it (it was very likely that CBC Yukon employees did not tell Ms. Rogers that the Quest might be the ‘tiniest bit controversial’ to some listeners). In a related matter, earlier in 2005 on the CBC North evening television news program ‘North Beat,’ a Yellowknife dog musher was interviewed on a bitterly cold day in front of a dog house which had a glacier of frozen dog urine at the doorway, likely not even raising an eyebrow of the reporter.

Two CBC Yukon camera men were nominated for Canada’s version of the Emmys (the ‘Genie Awards’) for their filming of ‘The Lone Trail’ ‘documentary.’ They did not win, but were given special ‘internal awards’ by CBC for their work on the film (reported in Whitehorse Star, January 18, 2006). In the film there was footage of dogs running at night through icy water and a scene of exhausted dogs in burlap sacks being loaded onto a small plane. In the annual coverage of the Quest, where is the video footage of exhausted and suffering dogs? Where are the images of DEAD DOGS [Adam Killick, in his book, ‘Racing the White Silence,’ about the 2001 Quest noted that an average of one dog a year had died since the race’s inception. John Balzar, in his book ‘Yukon Alone,’ about the 1998 race, noted that two or three dogs died in some years, none in other years]?

Aside from Yukon Quest promotion, CBC Yukon is also very supportive of the fur trapping industry and big game hunting in the Yukon, judging by the frequency and tone of the stories – of which CBC can be depended upon to give only one side. Being supportive of these facets of northern society may possibly help to allay criticisms of CBC as being a member of the ‘liberal media,’ but whatever the CBC audience’s feelings are about these issues, the public broadcaster should give both sides of the story.

The intent of the complaint letter to the CBC Ombudsman was that some of the previous examples of media bias on the part of CBC would be included in the investigation. It was obvious by Mr. Linder’s letters, however, that CBC is entrenched in how it will cover the Yukon Quest, and did not bother addressing these points. Personally, I have better things to do with my life than sit around with my ears glued to CBC Radio, documenting the garbage that comes out of some of their employees’ mouths when they are speaking about the Yukon Quest. The sad truth is that CBC has chosen to take the approach of ‘preaching to the choir,’ seeing that the Quest is considered to be a ‘sacred cow’ by many Yukoners, and that many Yukoners also accept the word of CBC ‘as gospel.’

Whitehorse Daily Star

Although it is questionable that the Whitehorse Star, as a media entity, should be sponsoring a race in which harm is inflicted on dogs, throughout 2005 and early 2006, the Star was commendable in giving prompt and prominent attention to letters critical of the Quest and other letters to the editor about humane issues. 2013 UPDATE: Star editor Mr. Jim Butler has been extremely commendable and generous in publishing letters critical of the Yukon Quest as well as other controversial animal welfare-related letters in the opinion pages. Mr. Butler is now the sole remaining Yukon journalist with any guts, it seems.

Yukon News

The Yukon News, although not an official race sponsor, has in the past, sponsored some individual Quest mushers according to mushers’ web sites. At least two of the paper’s employees had, at points in their journalism careers, worked as dog handlers for northern mushers. One of these ex-Yukon News employees is Adam Killick, author of the book about the 2001 Quest, ‘Racing the White Silence: On the Trail of the Yukon Quest.’

To its credit, in the 2005 Quest, the newspaper had a headline about a musher using ‘tough love’ (as did the Star) on his dog team to arrive first at the Dawson City checkpoint, winning a ‘gold poke’ prize for his girlfriend. The ‘tough love’ consisted of running his dogs for fourteen hours, with minimal rest. The Yukon News also printed two critical letters about the Quest, and had a front page photo of a glassy-eyed, exhausted Quest dog in the basket of a musher’s sled. In early 2006, the News printed a letter to the editor from a Whitehorse resident about the Quest’s lack of political correctness in holding a raffle for a gas-guzzling ‘Hummer’ vehicle, whereas a local charitable organization, Habitat (For Humanity) Yukon, was raffling off a ‘Smart Car.’ [2013 update: Critical reporting about the Yukon Quest ended in the year 2009, the last year reporter Genesee Keevil covered the race – journalistic output by her and excellent photographer Ian Stewart was drastically curtailed that year. In 2010, the Yukon News ceded the trail to slimy cheerleaders like CBC Whitehorse and CKRW.

Northern Native Broadcasting Yukon

Even the voice of the Yukon First Nations people apparently largely subscribes to the point of view espoused by the pro-mushing community. In 2005, the weekly television news program ‘Nedaa’ produced a lengthy feature ‘Mush for Gold,’ which was heavily slanted towards promoting competitive mushing, including the lobbying efforts of the mushing community to have sled dog racing featured as a sport in the then upcoming 2010 Olympics in Whistler BC.

[Thank you Roxanne Livingstone and cameraman Luke Smith for the APTN National television interview during the 2007 Quest.]

Reporting assignments for media (this especially applies to CBC Yukon/CBC North):

1. Visit the dog yards of Yukon Quest mushers and report on the level of care provided to the dogs [e.g. – Are the dogs chained up or (preferably) kept in fenced enclosures? Do they have insulated dog houses? Is the dog yard securely fenced off to protect the dogs from predators, to whom a chained dog might make a tasty snack? Do the dogs have a fenced area where they can run free throughout the day? Do Yukon Quest mushers cull (kill) unwanted/unneeded dogs (including puppies), and if so, are they humanely disposed of? How about seeking out and interviewing veterinarians who are ethically opposed to races like the Yukon Quest and Iditarod;

2. Select a number of particular dogs who have competed in the Yukon Quest and monitor their lives for a period of several years to see how they are doing, to ensure that they are being treated in a manner that ‘elite athletes’ deserve to be treated;

3. Take a survey of dog yards throughout the Yukon (this applies to hobby mushers and sled dog tour operators) and ask the same questions posed in assignment 1;

4. Question the various levels of government in the north (including First Nations governments) to learn about what they intend to do help improve the shameful conditions in which many northern dogs exist;

5. In conjunction with local animal protection organizations, help develop media spots to educate northerners regarding humane treatment of their domestic animals;

6. For CBC only: as CBC Yukon/CBC North has already produced a promotional film for the Yukon Quest, the organization owes the public a documentary devoted to addressing humane issues in the north, affecting sled dogs and northern dogs.









‘Tag 24’

On November 8, 2008, a Whitehorse-area resident (and animal samaritan) found the body of a dead husky-type dog beside the Alaska Highway in the Golden Horn area outside of Whitehorse. The man has lived in the area for many years and occasionally picks up and buries dead domestic and wild animals on his rural acreage out of respect for their lives, instead of leaving them beside the highway to rot or be
scavenged upon.

The dog was described as a black and white female of undetermined age and was wearing a Yukon Quest race tag with the number 24 stamped on it. The tag does not appear to be a souvenir tag, but one that would be worn by dogs who run in the Yukon Quest. Shortly after finding the dog, the man placed ads on the internet believing that if in fact this was a Yukon Quest dog, she would be missed by her owner.

The man also contacted the Humane Society Yukon, local media, and the Yukon Quest office in Whitehorse seeking assistance in finding the owner of the dog. None of the authorities were of any help. The Yukon Quest office reportedly initially told the man they would “get back to him” but, never having to be accountable to the public despite the massive amounts of government money the Quest receives, nobody at the Quest fulfilled the commitment.

It was not until late February of 2009 that this matter was brought to the attention of Yukon-based sled dog advocates, who in turn notified a Whitehorse television reporter and a Whitehorse newspaper, both of whom do not (officially or unofficially) sponsor the Yukon Quest. The television reporter did some initial investigation and interviewed the man who found the dog. Film footage was also taken of a microchip
scan which was performed at the Mae Bachur Animal Shelter in Whitehorse. No signal was received, it is not known whether this indicated that the dog did not in fact have a microchip or if the frozen state of the body affected the transmission of such. The television reporter informed me that the ‘number 24’ represented the number of a Quest musher’s racing bib, and was a unique dog tag number.

The television reporter promised to continue the investigation at a later date (apparently not much support by the news producer about the timeliness of the story as the dog mushing season was on the wane). Unfortunately, the journalist ceased employment with the media concern in 2009 and that is where the story died.

The Whitehorse newspaper right from the start was reluctant to pick up the story, a final plea was made in late 2009 for the paper to take an interest. The man who found the dog gave permission to the newspaper to contact him, which was never done.

It is important to reiterate that there is no proof that this dog was in fact a veteran race dog who had in her lifetime, raced in the Yukon Quest. It is possible that a tag from another dog had been attached to her collar for whatever reason. However, this story would have never come to public attention had the Yukon Quest, in a timely manner, undertook the responsibility of offering assistance to help determine whether
or not this dog was a previous Quest racing dog, instead of either dismissing the case out of hand or, being the cowardly organization that the Yukon Quest is, hoping it would go away quickly.

One can certainly not blame the (total of two) Yukon media concerns who have a record of having reported relatively responsibly about the Yukon Quest race and the Quest ‘organization’ itself, for their reluctance in taking on this story. I can well imagine they have not received much in the way of appreciation for critical reporting, and may well have been subjected to nasty phone calls and emails (as is customary from the rabid dog mushing lobby).

It would be much appreciated if readers of this message who have information to offer, reply using the contact form on this blog (any submissions will be treated confidentially), or that sympathetic readers contact Yukon Minister of Tourism and Culture, Mike Nixon, asking him to order the Yukon Quest, for which his department is a major race sponsor, to cooperate in determining the identity
of this unfortunate soul. It should be noted that Yukon Government for many years has purposely avoided replying to animal advocates’ public questions and criticism.

We will not give up seeking the identity of this dog, who was given a respectful burial by her finder and myself on April 29th, 2009.


Book excerpts from ‘Yukon Quest: The 1,000 mile dog race through the Yukon and Alaska,’ by John Firth (currently out of print)

This book, by local Whitehorse author, John Firth, gives an informative and relativley balanced treatment of the Yukon Quest (the book even includes a section about Quest race rules, such as they are), among the few books written about the event. Although Mr. Firth, like the authors of other books reviewed in this section, is a strong proponent of the race, he does express some concern and compassion for the dogs, and gives an airing to some of the Quest’s ‘dirty laundry.’ That being said, one wonders how knowing the details of all the cruelty that takes place in the Quest, he can continue to propagandize for the race, having recently written a shameless Yukon Quest promotion, a book focusing on ‘Jamaican musher’ Newton Marshal.

[About Alaska musher Gerry Riley]
Riley walks down the team, rubbing each dog on the head, talking quietly to the team, reminding them who is boss. It’s like watching a coach prepare a team for the big game, trying to calm them down while keeping them pumped up. But there is more to the relationship between mushers and their dogs; borders on something like a parent-child bond rather than just players and their mentor. (Page 13)

[Alaska musher Jon Gleason on the intelligence of sled dogs]
“Dogs can be so stupid sometimes,” sums up Gleason. “It’s almost like it was written, ‘you will get to the top and you will stop and you will not go any further no matter how much they cuss and swear.’ At that particular point, all our dogs have got the same damn name: you dumb sonofabitch. I don’t care whose team it is, we’ve all got the same dumb dogs and they all have the same name.” (Pages 17/18)

[The effect of extreme cold on dogs]
It is harder on the dogs; they literally freeze-dry. The dry cold absorbs the moisture they breathe out and sucks it out of their skin faster than the musher can replace it. Dehydration is a problem in any long distance dog sled race, but its effect is magnified by extreme cold and wind. (Page 37)

[French musher runs injured dogs]
Francois Varigas, transplanted from France, moved to a cabin on a small creek just outside of Dawson City because he had fallen in love with the north reading Jack London novels as a child. He has injured two wheel dogs before reaching Angel Creek, but decides to keep on running and evaluate them on the mountain. [Ed. Note: Varigas dropped out shortly after](Page 41)

[‘True athletes’]
The Alaskan breed bears little resemblance to the multitude of pedigrees that have combined to produce this diminutive animal. Unlike many of those purebred animals or the dogs of Jack London and Sergeant Preston, few of these dogs will ever see the inside of a human home and even fewer will grow old lying at their owner’s feet by the roaring fire. They are the heart and soul of the multi-million dollar business of sled dog racing. When fitted into a harness and hooked to a tow line, they become perfectly tuned competitive racing machines. A balanced team operates almost like the pistons in an automobile engine. As tough and conditioned as the mushers may be, the mushers rank second to the true athletes who pull the sleds. (Pages 50/51)

[Alaska musher Joe Runyan’s ‘sled-puppy mill’]
Runyan, winner of the 1985 Yukon Quest, the 1988 Alpirod (the European 1,000-mile race through Italy, Austria, Germany and France) and the 1989 Iditarod, is a methodical breeder who has no qualms about adapting new ideas from other breeding programs. His kennel has about 300 dogs, half of them puppies. Most of the pups won’t be kept past their age of maturity: about six to 14 months. He will sell most to other mushers for breeding and give away the others. Only the ones who show signs of what he is looking for will remain with him. The culling process for the pups is based on the method used by breeders of homing pigeons: the bird makes it home or it doesn’t. The dog meets his standard or it doesn’t. [Ed. Note -read about Mr. Runyan’s apparent use of electrical cattle prods to shock dogs while training, in the ‘cruel training methods’ section of the Sled Dog Action Coalition website (Pages 51/52)

[Breeding experiments]
Certain combinations of breeding worked better than others, and as the lines were inbred further, the chances of a successful hybrid dog were further enhanced. Genetic or inherited problems can be reduced as a breeding line gets older. But there were still too many unknown factors. Certain cross-breeding that should have worked, didn’t, for no apparent reason. (Pages 53/54)

[Common afflictions of sled dogs]
Viruses, such as doggie flu, can stop a team in its tracks. They spread rapidly, causing vomiting, lethargy, and diarrhea, Collisions with trees or stepping into cracks can sprain wrists, dislocate shoulders or break legs. Fights can result in disabling cuts to paws, mouths, necks and legs. Heat stress can cause dogs to lose their coordination, vomit and get diarrhea. This usually happens when a dog’s natural cooling system can’t keep up to the heat generated by running under a warm sun, even if the surrounding air is sub-zero…

Some dogs do die. Gastric torsion, or a twisted stomach, can kill them. Burst blood vessels in their brains claim others. Dehydration is often the catalyst that precipitates a fatal health condition. But the mortality rate of race dogs is no higher than it is for the dog who lives a sedentary lifestyle. (Page 63)

[‘Enter the Sandman’]
Ralph Tingey isn’t in the habit of falling asleep on his sled, but there’s one incident from the 1987 race he won’t forget – or remember. “I fell asleep on the sled and I must have been asleep for a while. When I camped the next day with Dean Siebold he said, ‘Boy, wasn’t that stretch of the Yukon back there horrible with that ice kind of sloping into that huge open hole?’ I said, ‘Dean, I fell asleep on the sled yesterday. What hole?’ He says, ‘There was this great big hole, with the river boiling through it, and there was all this side ice and it was really hard to negotiate.’ I said, ‘Oh.'” (Page 91)

[‘Thirst for gold’ in Dawson entices mushers to overdrive dogs]
“I hope four ounces of gold doesn’t end up costing me $20,000,” says [Alaska musher Dave] Monson. “That last push took something out of my dogs.” The gold wasn’t the reason for the finishing kick, he explains. “Coming in first was a question of honour.” (Page 109)

On this side of the mountain, just a few miles into the longest stretch between checkpoints (300 miles from Dawson to Carmacks) drivers are truly isolated when it comes to helping their dog teams. There are no veterinary facilities and no way to call for help when a dog team goes down. It is knowledge, ingenuity, quick action and desperation that mean the difference between life and death for the dogs. (Page 133)

[‘Burned-out’ team]
Clifton Cadzow had burned up the trail from Eagle, and burned out his team. His leaders were getting rebellious and balked at following his commands. “I pushed them too hard over American Summit in the heat of the day and now they’re not with me. If I go on, I could ruin them forever. At this point they don’t trust me any more.” He scratches at Dawson City. (Page 137)

[Some reasons why mushers drop out of Quest]
In 1984, Bob English broke into tears and cried when scratching in Dawson City after contemplating the toll the trail was taking on his dogs. In 1987, Jon Gleason endured frozen fingers, a frostbitten face and exhaustion to the point of losing control, but when he discovered his dog, Dutch, had frozen his foot, he withdrew immediately, just 100 miles from the finish line. (Page 146)

[Disqualified musher]
Mike Maurer, a fisherman from Salcha, Alaska, will be disqualified in 1990 after one of his dogs dies shortly after arriving in Carmacks. The injuries suffered by the dog will lead the vets to believe the animal was not given proper care on the trail. Maurer will protest the ruling, insisting that the autopsy gave the vets a false reading, but his disqualification will stand. (Page 160)

[Quest vet ‘saves the day’]
Jim Reiter has good reason to appreciate the extra effort put forward by the vets. When one of his dogs chewed off its foot after freezing it at Stepping Stone in 1987, Terry Quesnel, a vet from Vernon, British
Columbia, flew in, landing on the snow-covered ice to perform a quick bit of surgery that save the dog’s life. The dogs take all the pinching, poking of needles and peeing in jars in good humour. “The sled dogs I’ve seen back home are vicious,” smiles New Jersey vet Jean Buist. “Here, the greatest danger I’ve had near a team is being licked to death.”
(Page 160)

[The race is over/’Running is their life’]
There is nobody to tell the dogs it’s over. They’ve passed under banners, stopped in crowds and been poked, prodded and needled by veterinarians a few times over the past two weeks…

For the first few days, the handler will take the dogs for a jog to loosen them up and take the ache out of their legs. They will welcome the easy jaunt. It tells them that the hard stuff is over for a while. They may get a week or two of easy exercise, then it’s back to the racing circuit. The big-money races are scheduled to be run during the next month. They will greet the reappearance of the sled and harnesses with grins and wagging tails. This is what they were born to do. Running is their life.
(Pages 188/189)

[The physiology of sled dogs]
Veterinarian Ken Hinchcliff was back for his final year of studying the physiology of sled dogs. This time he was trying to determine why some dogs finished the race and others didn’t. “The obvious reason for some is they are lame. But there may be a reason why some are more susceptible to lameness than others.” Dogs are dropped by mushers for various reasons – sore muscles, stiffness, virus, injury, dehydration or pregnancy. Their mental state is important. Some will just stop pulling because they’re not happy anymore or just don’t want to go any farther. Often, some young dogs are dropped automatically
by the musher who only wanted to run them for half the race anyway, just to give them some experience. Last year’s stress tests had surprised the vet. “The most surprising thing we found is how minimally stressed they are by competing in a race like this. It was not outside the normal range of a household pet.” Hinchcliff didn’t expect any surprise results from this year’s testing. “I don’t expect we’ll find any earth-shattering reason. But I won’t be surprised to find that dropped dogs, even if they are lame, have something in common in their blood.”
(Page 204)

[More about the ‘hallucinating musher’]
The [Yukon musher] [Bill] Stewart incident brought to light the fact that, while veterinarians and race officials are constantly monitoring the condition of the dogs on the trail, there is very little attention paid to the condition of the musher. It is, according to [Yukon musher] Frank Turner, a health and safety issue that needs to be addressed. “There are some real issues out there that might be worthwhile discussing. The results of Bill’s experience could have been far more serious.” Stewart did finish the race, in third place. He retired from long distance and competitive dog mushing. Several of his dogs suffered damage as a result of the long period of time that they ran without any food or water and they never raced again, something that Stewart regrets to this day. (Page 221)

[A Quest race veterinarian reflects on the dark side of mushing]
“I love this race,” she started suddenly, without taking her eyes off the window, “but I have to wonder if we’re going about doing this all wrong. It’s times like this that I wonder whether or not we’re running some of these dogs to death.” [Ed. Note – ya think???] Just a couple of hours earlier, [Quest vet Wendy Royle] had lifted a dead dog from the sled of Jay Cadzow – the second one she had to deal with in the past two days. John Peep had lost a dog just after leaving McCabe Creek (Peep was so upset he immediately withdrew from the race. Cadzow wrestled with the issue for most of his 36-hour mandatory stop in Dawson City, then decided to continue.) Cadzow’s dog had died when it stumbled, running down a hill, and the sled rode up on the animal before the musher could stop it. Peep’s dog hadn’t shown any
warning symptoms at all; it had simply collapsed and died in the harness. (The death was eventually attributed to “sled dog myopathy,” the sudden death of a sled dog for no apparent reason). It is a little understood condition that many now believe is the result of a genetic predisposition…

After setting new, higher standards in quality dog care programs and knowledge, Wendy Royle finally called it quits following the 1997 Yukon Quest. She was emotionally exhausted by her passionate pursuit of the perfect program and disheartened by the fact that, after two years of working with veterinarians and organizations, it was still a one-person

(Pages 245/246)

[‘Lucky I didn’t hurt any of those dogs’]
Tom Randall, president of the Canadian (Yukon Quest) board for the 1998 race, stopped driving dogs altogether several years ago. He was a veteran of two Yukon Quests. “I haven’t told many people this story. I’ve always told them that because I had snapped my Achilles tendon and couldn’t walk without pain, I stopped driving dogs. But that isn’t the real reason for it.” His last race had been in northern Alberta. He was close enough to the lead to possibly mount a challenge. He had a scheduled two-hour rest stop coming up, but if he didn’t take it, he could have a shot at catching the leaders. So he kept on running. A few miles down the trail, the team had dropped onto a river. After awhile, Randall noticed his lead dogs were starting to wander a bit, weaving back and forth across the icy surface. He stopped to take a look. The leaders had hit the wall. They couldn’t go any further. He had pushed them too hard for too long. Randall parked the team and waited on the river for five hours before the dogs could continue. “What in hell am I doing?” he asked himself, and stopped racing dogs at that moment. “I let speed and position get in the way of dog care. I was lucky I didn’t hurt any of those dogs. I decided there and then, it wasn’t worth it. If I could make that mistake once, I could make it again.” These are the kinds of issues that plague the mushing world, the issues of conscience.
(Pages 246/247)