|Quoting Spirtofalaska (Reply 14):|
Damn, i must of missed that one. When was it? i can try to rummage thru some things to find it!
Ask and ye shall receive:
Desk-jockey critics bark only malarkey about Iditarod
Published: February 20th, 2005
Last Modified: February 20th, 2005 at 04:05 AM
Almost a year has passed without so much as a peep from U.S. Today canine authority Jon Saraceno.
No phone call to say he's coming north this March for the first time to witness the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
No e-mail telling me where to take my opinion of newspaper columnists who shoot their mouths off about things of which they know nothing.
I've thought about calling the Iditarod-hating Saraceno to ask about his plans, but the last attempt at that ended with the columnist hiding behind an editor at America's self-proclaimed national newspaper. Apparently, the national newspaper man felt threatened by questions from a reporter up north of Podunk.
This is somewhat understandable. Alaskans can be intimidating. They are invariably opinionated. They can be loud. They are sometimes cranky. Even the white-collar ones are often found to have some grease or dirt lingering beneath their fingernails.
Unlike the more civilized citizens of America, however, Alaskans are also accommodating to the extreme. We didn't earn that reputation for being so friendly by being the opposite. Wolf-loving Priscilla Feral, president of the animal-rights group Friends of Animals, visits here regularly to tell Alaskans they are wildlife-abusing idiots, and she is tolerated.
In places, she is welcomed and embraced.
Given Saraceno's lack of Alaska knowledge, of course, he may not know this. So, it's possible he's just plain scared to come north.
That's too bad, because I was hoping he'd show up for the Iditarod this year. I wanted to introduce him to Red Dog.
Red Dog is a leader in the team of Kasilof musher Paul Gebhardt. Red Dog will turn 9 in June. That's the equivalent of 63 human years. But despite his age, Red Dog is scheduled to make his seventh run along the 1,100-mile trail to Nome with Gebhardt's team come March.
The Gebhardts -- Paul and wife, Evy -- had planned to retire Red Dog after last year's Iditarod. But Red Dog is having none of it. Through the fall and into the winter, running as a leader with young dogs in training, he has so impressed Paul with his continuing drive that the Kasilof musher doesn't think he can deny Red Dog another run to Nome.
"He's looking really good,'' Paul said. "He isn't keeping the line very tight, but he stays in front.''
A good, command-obedient lead dog doesn't have to do any more to hold his place in a musher's heart. Dogs like Red Dog, Susan Butcher's Granite or Rick Swenson's Andy are special animals, the creme de la creme of canine athletes.
Red Dog is the sort of athlete who might be able to demonstrate to Saraceno that the Iditarod isn't about dog abuse. It's about giving world-class athletes a chance to perform at their specialty.
Red Dog might be able help Saraceno understand that when Jim Rome -- the sports radio host -- blabbers away about mushers "riding through the snow, beating on a bunch of exhausted, hungry, cold, dogs with a whip,'' he isn't just lying, he's insulting the Iditarod's true athletes. Championship sled dogs aren't driven by a whip. They're driven by the same thing that drove Bill Rodgers to all those Boston Marathon victories, the desire to run faster than anyone else.
Rome, too, might understand this if he'd ever been out on the Iditarod Trail to witness the race. But like Saraceno, he's one of those desk-riders more comfortable ranting about his distorted ideas of how things work than in getting out to see how things really do work.
Granted, the thought of visiting Alaska, particularly in winter, probably scares the living bejesus out of both these guys.
"Who wouldn't like to spend the winter nearly freezing to death, all the while getting to pound on puppies?'' Rome once asked. "Me, that's who."
His expression of the fear that training in Alaska in the winter somehow involves "nearly freezing to death'' just about says it all, doesn't it? And forget about the idiotic reference to mushers who "pound on puppies.''
Without a doubt, there were people who tried that in the early years of Iditarod. Maybe hiding somewhere within the dozens of mushers now training for the race is someone who still tries it. But today's top dog drivers all know that a dog who wants to run will beat a dog that is made to run every time.
You would think Saraceno might understand this simple reality. Saraceno is a boxing fan. He must recognize that no matter how a trainer might psychologically abuse a physically gifted but emotionally unwilling fighter, his man is destined to lose to the man who is in the ring because he wants to be there.
It's no different with the dogs. There are plenty every year who fail to make Iditarod championship teams simply because they lack the drive to compete. They end up pulling some kid's sled, towing a skijorer or lounging around as house pets.
Yes, some of these dogs are probably shipped to the pound, too. That's a sad reality for dogs in general. Last year, 466 dogs were taken to the Fairbanks North Star Borough, and 41 percent were euthanized. The year before, 927 dogs wound up there, with 53 percent euthanized.
Very few were sled dogs.
It's no different most places. Pounds across this country each year kill tens of thousands of dogs because no one will adopt them. The usual reason given is "bad temperament.'' Basically, the dogs aren't socialized or, as is the case with some pit bulls and other "fighting breeds," they are trained to be anti-social.
It is rare to find an unsocialized sled dog, let alone an anti-social one. Mushers go to great lengths to make dogs part of the family for the simple reason that this makes the animals easier to live with on the trail. Sure, it's self-serving, but what's wrong with that?
Wouldn't anyone with half a brain or more rather spend time around friendly, happy, gregarious canines like Red Dog than unfriendly, misguided mutts like Saraceno and Rome?
Daily News Outdoor editor Craig Medred can be reached at [email protected]