Alaska's state sport of dog racing is in the news. The Yukon Quest is happening now and is big news in the Interior and in some European countries, though not so much in Anchorage. The biggest city in the state is home to the Iditarod and all things Iditarod.
This winter, the Iditarod is about controversy. The Dallas Seavey doping charge sparked an internal spat between the Iditarod Official Finishers Club and the Iditarod Trail Committee Board. The ITC has been mostly silent, but the IOFC has been vocal and public in its dissatisfaction over how the race is run.
Perhaps more troubling were the allegations of neglect and published photos at the Dallas Seavey kennel made by PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals).
PETA has launched a well-funded campaign aimed at the Iditarod and has indicated it will be at the race this year to protest. The focus of its effort is that dogs die on the Iditarod. And yes, they occasionally do.
Yukon Quest musher Hugh Neff had a dog in his team die Friday. The past 10 years have seen nine dog deaths on the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest. The Iditarod, with a much larger field of teams, has had 17 dog deaths over the past decade.
Should that seem an inordinate number of dog deaths, let's put it in perspective.
The ASPCA reports that 3.3 million dogs enter our nation's animal shelters each year. Of those, 670,000 are euthanized. Perhaps PETA could address that issue.
Troubling as those numbers might be, here's something that is really mind-boggling. PETA operates an animal shelter near its headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia, and in 2014 a staggering 2,455 of the 3,017 dogs taken to the shelter were euthanized, according to a Washington Post story. The PETA euthanasia rate of 81 percent was more than triple the statewide Virginia rate of 23 percent.
PETA said the dogs were put down to save them from "a fate worse than death." There was no indication what that fate might be.
In 2015, despite lobbying by PETA, Virginia lawmakers enacted a law that requires shelters to make a better attempt at finding adoptive homes and use euthanasia as a last resort. The animal-rescue organization has done slightly better since then. According to the Center for Consumer Freedom, PETA euthanized 72 percent of the 1,411 cats and dogs it took in in 2016, while other Virginia shelters killed an average of 16.9 percent of the animals in their care.
How do you adopt an animal from a PETA shelter? Good luck with that one.
Neither the Washington Post nor I could find any dogs listed for adoption other than one dog on petfinder.com. The shelter has no published hours for viewing or visiting a potential pet.
This "animal welfare" group is funded to a tune of $44 million of donations annually. Don't you think they might do a little better job with their dog care? A year's worth of PETA donations would buy 780,000 40-pound bags of premium dog food.
This is the outfit attacking a pretty small number of dog deaths in a sport that is an adventure for the dogs. This is a far better life than the vast majority of house pets have. Would you rather be a dog running the trail, taking in the sights and sounds of the wild, or a dog waiting in a kennel for 10 hours a day for your owner to come home and take you for a walk?
I would far rather be an Iditarod dog living my life to the fullest than a dog in PETA's Virginia shelter waiting to be saved from a "fate worse than death."
John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives near Paxson with his family. He is a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and a two-time winner of the Yukon Quest.