Tuesday, March 19, 2013

I don't even know where to start

So, Dorado.  I find it nearly impossible to write about something as personal, as intimate, as losing a dog.  If it were me I'd be running around Unalakleet with an axe or a gun, or more likely just sitting out on the ice for a couple of weeks (or a couple of months) and avoiding people entirely.  Much love and honor to Paige and Cody for walking a hard road.

Danny Seavey wrote about what happened to Dorado on his business's Facebook page, and that piece has received a lot of attention, reposts, and wide acclaim from Iditarod fans.  It made me more than a little ill, frankly, and I'd like to talk about that and about responsibility to the sport.

The upshot of his post is that life is short, everything that lives must die at some point, and we need to decide where to draw the line between tragic and just sad.  He talks about eating meat and he talks about the euthanasia of unwanted pets.  He says a well-intended volunteer messed up and that we shouldn't take it out on that person.  He's saying that accidents happen and that's just the way it is.

But here's the thing: this wasn't a freak accident.  This was negligence on the part of the person or people staffing the dog yard at Unalakleet.  Whether or not they understood how snow fences work, they weren't checking on the dogs regularly enough to identify a developing problem, and they weren't checking the dogs regularly enough to remediate what was going wrong.

I think we're living in a very good period in the development of dog mushing.  Veterinary research has made great strides in identifying and developing mitigations against preventable dog deaths.  Ethical standards in dog care, husbandry, breeding, and so on are improving a lot.  Much improved nutrition has both improved dogs' performance and improved their quality of life.  Some top kennels are working directly with veterinary researchers, and veterinary care awards have become some of the most prestigious titles awarded for many races.

But many dog mushing fans come from warm places, places without mushers or dog teams, places without roadless areas or true wilderness.  They're drawn to the sport for the romance and adventure and often don't really know anything about running dogs beyond what they learn while following Iditarod and reading blog posts or Facebook statuses from mushers.  They don't have enough experience to contextualize what they read.  They want to support the mushers and dog teams, and when a relatively high-profile musher says something they tend to believe it.  The kind of fans they become depends on what they read and experience.  And so even leaving aside moral and ethical questions raised by Danny's unfortunate post, I think that it's important to the sport that mushers are clear that any dog death caused by negligence on the part of race volunteers, race staff, mushers, whomever, is completely unacceptable.  We don't just shrug it off and compare it to the euthanasia of an unwanted, homeless dog or to eating chicken.  What happened here is intolerable, and much shame on anybody who not only thinks otherwise but influences people who don't know better to think otherwise as well.

So, onward.  I believe that the sport is going to continue to improve, that dog care will be valued more and more highly, that a solid understanding of the ethics of how we live with dogs will spread, and that fans will learn what these extraordinary dogs really mean to the people who raise them and care for them and travel vast distances with them as partners.  But it will take outreach, and communicating to those fans who think that Danny Seavey's explanation is brilliant that no, this is not how I feel about my dogs and this is not how it works.

1 comment: