Sunday, April 19, 2009

Jake and the Iditarod

or what's a nice Jewish boy doing all the way up in here in the cold with a team of dogs going nowhere? What am I supposed to say, my son the musher? Jake Berkowitz, a 22 year old dog sled racer, originally from St. Paul, Minnesota, just completed in his second Iditarod, placing 31st out of 67 and the only one who finished with all 18 of his dogs. How did he get here and what should we expect from him in the future?

It was a bit of a roundabout journey to Alaska as you might guess. It took Jake from Talmud Torah in St. Paul to Israel to white water canoeing in Colorado and then a winter job in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan guiding dog sled trips. The company he was working for in Michigan, Nature's Kennel, asked him to run in the Iditarod and after competing once he was hooked. So he moved to Alaska and the rest is history.

Look for Jake in next year's race as his dogs should all be back with an additional year of training and experience. As Jake has said, his goal is a top ten finish. I don't if that would be a record for a Jewish dog sled racer, but I was hazard a guess that it just might be.

Cross-posted to SportsBiz


Sled Dog Action Coalition said...

Shame on Berkowitz for running dogs in the Iditarod. The race is barbaric. Six dogs died in the 2009 Iditarod. Two dogs were on the team of Dr. Lou Packer. Dr. Packer told the Anchorage Daily News he believes the two dogs froze to death in the brutally cold winds. For the dogs, the Iditarod is a bottomless pit of suffering. What happens to the dogs during the race includes death, paralysis, frostbite (where it hurts the most!), bleeding ulcers, bloody diarrhea, lung damage, pneumonia, ruptured discs, viral diseases, broken bones, torn muscles and tendons and sprains. At least 142 dogs have died in the race. No one knows how many dogs die after this tortuous ordeal or during training. For more facts about the Iditarod, visit the Sled Dog Action Coalition website, .

On average, 53 percent of the dogs who start the race do not make it across the finish line. According to a report published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, of those who do finish, 81 percent have lung damage. A report published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine said that 61 percent of the dogs who complete the Iditarod have ulcers versus zero percent pre-race.

Iditarod dog kennels are puppy mills. Mushers breed large numbers of dogs and routinely kill unwanted ones, including puppies. Many dogs who are permanently disabled in the Iditarod, or who are unwanted for any reason, including those who have outlived their usefulness, are killed with a shot to the head, dragged, drowned or clubbed to death. "Dogs are clubbed with baseball bats and if they don't pull are dragged to death in harnesses......" wrote former Iditarod dog handler Mike Cranford in an article for Alaska's Bush Blade Newspaper.

Dog beatings and whippings are common. During the 2007 Iditarod, eyewitnesses reported that musher Ramy Brooks kicked, punched and beat his dogs with a ski pole and a chain. Jim Welch says in his book Speed Mushing Manual, "Nagging a dog team is cruel and ineffective...A training device such as a whip is not cruel at all but is effective." "It is a common training device in use among dog mushers..."

Jon Saraceno wrote in his March 3, 2000 column in USA Today, "He [Colonel Tom Classen] confirmed dog beatings and far worse. Like starving dogs to maintain their most advantageous racing weight. Skinning them to make mittens.. Or dragging them to their death."

During the race, veterinarians do not give the dogs physical exams at every checkpoint. Mushers speed through many checkpoints, so the dogs get the briefest visual checks, if that. Instead of pulling sick dogs from the race, veterinarians frequently give them massive doses of antibiotics to keep them running.

Most Iditarod dogs are forced to live at the end of a chain when they aren't hauling people around. It has been reported that dogs who don't make the main team are never taken off-chain. Chained dogs have been attacked by wolves, bears and other animals. Old and arthritic dogs suffer terrible pain in the blistering cold.

Margery Glickman
Sled Dog Action Coalition,

Anonymous said...

shame on YOU Margery!
for spewing such nonsense!
i am tootaly for animal rights, but dogsledding is double and triple checked for the animals welfare, and the dogs DO enjoy themselves, how many lapdogs die doing what they enjoy? like maybe getting into the trash.
yes, it is wrong whe ndogs die for any reason, but i also wonder if your facts are correct on 6 dogs dieing?