The Yukon Quest is over. Congratulations to Brent Sass for not just being the first team to Fairbanks, but for getting all 14 of his dogs to the finish line.
This year marked the third time in Quest history that the winning musher finished with his entire team. (I did it in 1992 with 12 dogs, and Allen Moore did it in 2018 with 14).
Teams opted for more rest than has been the habit during the past decade. In both the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod, there has been a slowly developing trend toward giving dogs a bit more rest in an effort to keep the team speed up.
This is a fine balance, but the results are showing promise. Hans Gatt, who finished second in the Quest, put on a how-to clinic on racing a 1,000-mile event (although this year’s trail was about 80 miles shorter than usual due to poor trail conditions on the Canadian side of the border).
Gatt used a judicious combination of rest, speed and dog drops to complete his Quest. He moved his eight-dog team on the final leg almost 40 minutes faster than Sass and a couple of hours quicker than Moore, who finished third. This model may become the basis for future Yukon Quests and Iditarod races.
The finish of the Quest finds Iditarod teams readying for the March 2 ceremonial start. At the same time, the Iditarod is looking for a new CEO since Stan Hooley left in December to take a job Outside. Chas St. George is acting as interim CEO and his long association with the race should provide a seamless transition.
Fewer teams are entered in the Iditarod this year, which will make the race logistically easier than past years. There is little doubt that racers will get better service at checkpoints with smaller crowds of mushers.
Some mushers opted out of this years’ event to show their distaste for several of the new rules instituted by the race. Public revelations of neglect at several prominent kennels may also have contributed to some kennels “wait and see what happens” attitude.
PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) is back to oppose the Iditarod with an advertising campaign on People Mover buses in Anchorage.
PETA, whose mission statement is “animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment with, or use for entertainment,” is the largest animal rights organization in the world, although the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has a larger following in the U.S.
HSUS is a softer-speaking version of PETA. It is not affiliated with local Humane Societies and shelters, and it has a different agenda than local shelters. There is little deviation between HSUS and PETA. A good comparison is the difference between a burglar and a con man: They are both out to get you.
PETA states, “Animals are not ours to eat” and “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.” HSUS, at its 1980 national membership conference, said “there is no rational basis for maintaining a moral distinction between the treatment of humans and other animals.” They haven’t watered that statement down since.
Gary Yourofsky, PETA’s former national education lecturer, has stated that “I hope fathers accidentally shoot heir sons on hunting excursions, while carnivores suffer heart attacks that kill them slowly.” Former PETA chief Alex Pacheco has said, “Arson, property destruction, burglary and theft are acceptable crimes when used for the animal cause.”
You might think PETA’s relatively small-scale People Mover advertising campaign is no big deal. You are right. It is not.The importance lies in what these radical groups are willing to do to garner attention.
Alaska citizens need pay heed. There may be things you wish to change in the mushing world, but I don’t wish to believe there are Alaskans who would intentionally commit a heinous crime to protest a dog race.
The Iditarod and the Yukon Quest watch closely how their respective races are run. Improvements are being made in veterinary care and race protocols. Change does not come quickly or easily to any major event, and knee jerk reactions to race-driven issues could harbor unforeseen consequences.
In his last two Quests, Allen Moore has dropped only one dog while posting first- and third-place finishes). Think about it -- in 2,000 miles of racing, only one single dog was not able to finish. Do you need to know something about dog care? Ask Allen.
John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives near Paxson with his family. He is a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and a two-time winner of the Yukon Quest.