03/29/15

The Accidental Advocate

I have surprised myself. This is an uncommon event for me at this stage in my life, for surly if we know anyone, it is ourselves…or do we?

In this instance, I simply got fed up with what I saw as an incredibly poor attempt to discredit mushers competing in Alaska’s Iditarod and the Alaskan/Canadian dog sled race, the Yukon Quest. Primarily these efforts have been centered on the Sled Dog Action Coalition (SDAC), an organization central to Animal Rights activism efforts to end these races. SDAC is allied with other hard core activist organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Sleddogma.org and Sled Dog Watchdog

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My younger undiagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder has morphed in my adult years into a form of Hyper-Attention ability, and once I decided to try to counter the false claims from Animal Rights Activists (ARA), this focus helped me direct my approach. In the Army Guard I was a logistician, and one of my best tools was Microsoft’s spreadsheet program Excel, and I picked up this tool again. Essentially, I entered each of the over 800 SDAC claims onto a multi-page Excel spreadsheet, allowing me to sort and analyze the hundreds of diverse claims. This took at most a hundred and fifty hours.

Once I was able to classify the claims (quotes from activists, quotes from mushers, quotes from books, references to medical studies, etc.) I began to track down original source material. Columns for “likely true”, “likely false”, “demonstrably false” and “overtly biased” allowed me to identify the most egregious lies and blatant propaganda.

It was this research and organization that led to my first opinion piece on ARAs and the Iditarod, which was published on this blog, the Fairbanks Daily Newsminer, the Iditarod.com website, and Joe Miller’s website. The results were quite satisfying; I riled up the ARA’s, and I found a lot of average Alaskans, mushers, and sled dog enthusiasts from around the world felt the exact same frustration that I felt about the SDAC lies and half-truths.

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Courtesy of Louise Cooke

I now seek out ARA comments on Iditarod stories, and if they contain errors, I rebut them. Due to my research I know anti-mushing dogma better than many members of the anti-mushing tribe. I’m likely to have dug into the specifics of any claim they bring to a discussion, and I’m able to engage them in debate without resorting to logical fallacies such as ad hominem (you’re stupid and your mother dresses you funny), appeals to authority (“experts say…” or “science says..”), and straw man arguments. I love language and logic, and am able to respond with fact and reason.

Recently I wrote another article that was self-published on this blog, and a shorter version was published in the Fairbanks Daily Newsminer. I was compelled to write this article when I found that the Sled Dog Action Coalition (SDAC) had excerpted blog comments from a well-regarded and highly competitive kennel and modified it through the deletion of a word, creating a malignant and false impression. Following this story being published, SDAC quietly removed the false claim without acknowledging their attempts at slander or offering apology.

I didn’t approach this debate with the intention of becoming an advocate for distance mushing, but it seems that I have come to this role inadvertently. I do know that there have been well over 3k “shares” via social media of my two stories. They have been read perhaps 10k times, and have prompted a tremendous amount of comments.

It appears that I have given a voice to a large number of people who have reason, knowledge and a passion for distance dog mushing who have long been frustrated by the campaign by ARAs to discredit the sport through half-truths, lies and innuendo. In addition to the comments, I’ve been approached through email and social media by numerous mushers and informed supporters who’ve offered their appreciation, and have provided specific information that helps build a true picture of distance dog mushing and ARA efforts.

Courtesy of Louise Cooke

Courtesy of Louise Cooke

It would seem, based only on a lack of official response, that the Iditarod has a policy, perhaps official, perhaps unofficial, to refrain from engaging ARAs in any manner. This tactic (if it is actually a considered tactic) seems to chafe many lovers of the sport, and in my opinion, cedes the battlefield of public opinion to a handful of committed activists.

When all is said and done, I’m unbelievably honored by their appreciation and by the trust that’s been shown to me. I sense a sea change in the larger debate on distance dog mushing.

03/18/15

Honestly Assessing the Iditarod

I’ve had a general interest in the Iditarod for decades, but I only began to seriously follow the Iditarod four years ago, about the time my family adopted a rescued sled dog. As my reading of online news stories began to follow my newfound interest, I found some pretty consistent comments on these stories by Margery Glickman, director of the Sled Dog Action Coalition (SDAC), ending each critical comment inviting people to visit her website for “FACTS”.

Rose, the beautiful rescued sleddog

Rose, the beautiful rescued sleddog

I took her advice and went to her site. I found a great deal of information that struck me as dubious, such as claims that ALL mushers beat their dogs, ALL mushers use seal skin whips, Iditarod mushers have eaten their dogs. Based on what appeared to be at best painfully biased information I decided to research many of their other claims.

I found copies of interviews, requested copies of letters to editors, read medical studies and found the books that were referenced. Several clear pattern developed. A major trend showed that almost every quote that came from non-activists were taken out of context, grievously distorting the original meaning. I also found extensive use of outdated material presented in such a way that someone unfamiliar with the Iditarod would be led to believe that such practices were still common. Another trend showed that accounts by people who claimed to be former dog handlers for Iditarod mushers were all unsubstantiated, and all of the whistleblowers refused to name the mushers.

Some claims are mere editorial bias, such as a headline of “Mushers abandon dogs during the Iditarod-John Baker abandons his dogs”. This claim is in reference to an incident that occurred during his 2011 winning run to Nome, when he lost the trail, anchored his team and went looking for the trail on foot.

Other claims project obsolete or non-applicable practices on current mushers. George Attla last raced in the Iditarod in 1974 (the 2nd running of the race), the same year he published a book on mushing. Mushing evolves, and George’s book would be more useful as a window to racing 40 years ago, not an indictment of current practices, but this doesn’t keep the SDAC website from referencing George’s book in over 20 bulleted comments. Even more absurd, Jim Welsh, a musher who never ran the Iditarod, wrote a book 25 years ago on speed mushing (not endurance racing), and his book is also referenced again and again.

Perhaps this sort of information skirts around clear dishonesty, but in at least one instances this can’t be said; the Sled Dog Action Coalition states that Aliy Zirkle and Allen Moore raffled off sled dogs. On a page titled “Iditarod dog kennel horrors”, it claims that “dogs raffled off like pieces of merchandise”. In this year’s race, Aliy Zirkle has received extensive press coverage, and Margery Glickman has commented on at least four stories, referencing the alleged raffling of sled dogs.

SDAC comment in the Alaska Dispatch News

SDAC comment in the Alaska Dispatch News

I decided to find the original quote from SP Kennel, and what I found stunned me a bit. The page from SP Kennel very, very clearly shows that the sled dogs that are being offered for the drawing were stuffed toy huskies; at the top of the page in bold print it says “Take Home a Toy “Iditarod Dog“, in the text of the entry it states that “…fans will have your chance to take home one of five toy “Iditarod Dogs“, and there are 3 photos showing toy sled dogs. In an act of extreme activism, the Sled Dog Action Coalition has edited out the word “toy”, deliberately creating the false impression that SP Kennels raffled off living animals.

The unadulterated information on Aliy

The unadulterated information on Aliy

Jane Heller is the founder and director of The Humane Society of Southern Maryland Inc. and York, PA., and she is quoted on the SDAC website, where she says in part, “Aliy Zirkle and her husband, Allen Moore, who are raffling off Huskies, clearly have no experience in placing a pet in a new home. No reputable shelter or rescue would ever think of raffling off any pet because serious effort must be made to insure a suitable owner.”

Factually, SP Kennel is one of the leading kennels in dog care. This is from the SP Kennel website;

“We are a “dog first” Kennel…We do not breed for dog sales or lease dog teams…We keep virtually every dog we breed for its entire competitive racing career, then either keep them at the Kennel as retired/pet dogs for the rest of their lives or place them in situations particularly suited to their personalities. Some dogs who are “ready for a couch” will be placed in carefully screened and selected pet homes. Those who still want to run — but not the number of miles involved in our racing program — we place with highly qualified “dog first” recreational mushers world wide. These retired Iditarod and Yukon Quest veterans spend the rest of their lives doing what their genetics have taught them in a relaxed, enjoyable “pet home” atmosphere.”

I have sent a letter to Ms. Heller of the Southern Maryland Humane Society asking if her comments were made with the knowledge that the “dogs” she was commenting on were not living animals, but rather stuffed toys. In light of the actual practices at SP Kennel, and the fact that no living animals were raffled, I hope that Ms. Heller will do the right thing.

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Doing the right thing is what much of this comes down to. I believe in healthy debate, but the Sled Dog Action Coalition has presented so much false information for so long honest debate is stifled. I would ask those opposed to the Iditarod very carefully look at the source of their information before they engage in debate.

I encourage you to not take me at my word. See what the SDAC has posted at http://helpsleddogs.org/iditarod-dog-kennel-horrors-extreme-neglect-and-dog-abuse/ and compare it to the source at http://spkenneldoglog.blogspot.com/2013/03/take-home-iditarod-dog.html?m=1 .

For more information, please see my post “Animal Rights Advocates and the Iditarod“,