Best Care

On December 1st 2017, the Iditarod Trail Committee published a press release stating the following:

The Iditarod Trail Committee announced today that it is developing framework for a “Best Care” kennel management program.

The objective of the kennel management program will be to ensure that all kennels
entering the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race meet certain standards in areas such as
breeding, shelter, tethers, cleanliness, nutrition, hydration, vaccinations, socialization, bedding, record-keeping, euthanasia, on-site care and kennel size. The program will involve kennel visits and a certification process.

To assist in generating the standards to be included in the “Best Care” kennel
management program for year-round care, the Iditarod Trail Committee board of
directors appointed an advisory committee made up of the following individuals from the mushing community:

• Vern Halter
• Martin Buser
• Dee Dee Jonrowe
• Jeff King
• Aliy Zirkle
• Sebastian Schnuelle
• Karen Ramstead

The ITC plans on implementing the “Best Care” kennel management program prior to the opening day for entries (June 23, 2018) for the 2019 Iditarod.


To those who have not been involved in the mushing circle for the past two decades, this may seem like a revelation. Let me tell you why it’s not.

According to the Anchorage Daily News,

The organization Mush with P.R.I.D.E., established in 1991 as an organization of mushers who were concerned about the care of sled dogs and public perceptions of mushing, supports the responsible care and humane treatment of all dogs, and is dedicated to enhancing the care and treatment of sled dogs in their traditional and modern uses.

The abbreviations in the organization’s name, P.R.I.D.E., stand for Providing Responsible Information on a Dog’s Environment, and to address some of the concerns relating to sled dog care and training, the organization developed sled dog care and equipment guidelines. A voluntary kennel inspection program was established because, as the page on their Web site explains, “The P.R.I.D.E. Board firmly believes that if we mushers conduct ourselves responsibly then we will be less likely to suffer from unknowing governmental regulation. We hope that this program is a demonstration of the fact that we can responsibly take care of our own.


Sounds familiar, right? Just like what the Iditarod is attempting to do – a self-regulatory body comprised of mushers to promote elevated standards of care.

In the Mush with PRIDE Spring 2009 Newsletter, we have an article written by “Whistler Bob,” aka Bob Fawcett.


In 2010, Bob Fawcett was the Vice President of Mush with PRIDE.


On April 21st and April 23rd 2010, “Whistler Bob,” Vice President of Mush with PRIDE, killed 56 sled dogs in plain sight of their teammates. Methods of execution included gunshot and knifing. Below are excerpts from the documentation he submitted to WorkSafe BC:

As a result of the panic, mid-way through April 21st, he wounded but did not kill one dog, “Suzie.” Suzie was the mother of his family’s pet dog, “Bumble.” He had to chase Suzie through the yard because the horrific noise she made when wounded caused him to drop the leash. Although she had the left side of her cheek blown off and her eye hanging out, he was unable to catch her. He then obtained a gun with a scope and used it to shoot her when she settled down close to another group of dogs… After disposing of Suzie’s body, he noticed that another dog, “Poker,” was injured. He realized that when he shot Suzie, the bullet passed through and injured Poker. Poker was covered in blood from a neck wound and covered in his own feces. He believed that Poker suffered for approximately 15 minutes before he could be put down.

On April 21, 2010, he put down approximately 55 dogs. As he neared the end of the cull that day, the dogs were so panicked they were biting him… He also had to perform what he described as “execution style” killings where he wrestled the dogs to the ground and stood on them with one foot to shoot them. The last few kills were “multiple-shot” killings as he was simply unable to get a clean shot. He described a guttural sound he had never heard before from the dogs and fear in their eyes… The incidents on April 23, 1020, were worse than those on April 21, 2010… The fear and anxiety in the herd began almost immediately. Many of the killings were multiple-shot-execution-style and it took a great amount of time and wrestling to get the dogs in a position to be put down… He noticed that a female, “Nora,” who had been shot approximately 20 minute before, was crawling around in the mass grave he had dug for the animals. He had to climb down into the grave amidst the 10 or so bodies already there, and put her out of her misery… Shortly thereafter, he grazed an uncooperative male, taking off part of his head. The dog bolted and the worker realized he was out of ammunition. When he went to get more, he was attacked by the dog and had to kill the dog with his knife, by slitting its throat while the dog was on top of him.

Mush with PRIDE also promoted Chocpaw Expeditions in Ontario, Canada as a preferred Business Member. Chocpaw was featured heavily in, and in deed the inspiration for, the documentary film Sled Dogs. Conditions at the kennel are shown below the Mush with PRIDE March 2007 newsletter excerpt.

Mush with PRIDE is only one example of how self-regulation doesn’t work in the sled dog industry. After the November 2016 world premiere of the Sled Dogs documentary, industry mushers who chain their dogs once again renewed their efforts to appear humane to the general public. In the first few months of 2017, we saw the creation of one pro-chaining organization – the “Canadian Coalition for Sled Dogs” – and the revitalization of another – the “Dog Powered Sports Association of the Yukon.” The CCSD is made up of members and supporters of a profit-based touring kennel which chains 180 sled dogs, while the DPSAY’s current spokesperson proudly chains 130 sled dogs of his own.

Though all of the aforementioned organizations have stated to the media that they are interested in bettering husbandry standards for sled dogs and heightening animal cruelty laws in their favor, they all fully support, practice, and promote mass chain warehousing as a primary means of containment. This flies directly in the face of humane mushers looking to make positive changes in our sport by only supporting integrated, ethical housing and full family immersion for sled dogs.
The Iditarod Trail Committee is doing nothing but creating another way for mushes to protect their own, hide the cruelties and neglectful practices that exist within the sport, and continue profiting at the expense of innocent sled dogs.

One thought on “Best Care

  1. Good job pointing out the failed attempt at reform Mush with Pride had.
    Vern Halter has a history of “deregulation” of sled dogs in the mat su borough.
    No meaningful changes will come from this crew.
    Advocates must continue to leverage sponsors of Iditarod to step down.
    ITC culture drives much of abuse in sled dog community.
    Thanks for your help.

    Liked by 1 person

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