sled dogma: reality bites

behind the scenes of the "professional" racing kennels

"Between the Idea and the Reality....Falls the Shadow." – T. S. Eliot

The Seavey Empire

Dan, Mitch, & Dallas Seavey (3 Generations)

IditaRide Sled Dog Tours: Sterling, Alaska


Number of dogs: 200+


"[Mitch Seavey] helped raise and train twenty generations of sled dogs." – Stuart Engler, Parade Magazine

Mitch Seavey on "Discipline and Negative Training"

from Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way


"Fluffy, quit-your-screwing-around-you-miserable-excuse-of-a-fur-covered-garbage-disposal-before-I-whack-your-worthless-hiney-so-hard-you-will-need-two-stamps-to-send-back-a-postcard..."


"When he doesn't respond, stop, go up to the dog...and with a pre-selected willow stick about 1/2 inch in diameter and three feet long, give him a good whack on the butt...You have to whack him good too...If you are going to bother with this, it's got to sting."

On March 4, 2010, Jane Stephens reported that she

"witnessed Mitch Seavey beating on a dog"

to the Alaska State Troopers. No action was taken.


Dog's Beating Left Me Appalled, Sick and Shocked

Jane Stevens, Whitehorse Star 02/23/11


"As a dog handler at a private kennel location in Alaska, I witnessed the extremely violent beating of an Iditarod racing dog by one of the racing industry’s most high-profile top 10 mushers. Be assured the beating was clearly not within an 'acceptable range' of 'discipline'.


Indeed, the scene left me appalled, sick and shocked.

After viewing an individual sled dog repeatedly booted with full force, the male person doing the beating jumping back and forth like a pendulum with his full body weight to gain full momentum and impact.

He then alternated his beating technique with full-ranging, hard and fast, closed-fist punches like a piston to the dog as it was held by its harness splayed onto the ground.

He then staggeringly lifted the dog by the harness with two arms above waist height, then slammed the dog into the ground with full force, again repeatedly, all of this repeatedly."

Seavey's IditaRide Sled Dog Lot

"The Iditarod Trail Committee was notified today by Musher Dee Dee Jonrowe that her lead dog Mark died during surgery to repair a stomach ulcer."

Iditarod Race Advisory, Iditarod website, March 15, 2002

DeeDee Jonrowe


Jonrowe Racing Kennel

Willow, Alaska


Number of dogs: 100


The Dan Fagan Show Presents:

"DeeDee Jonrowe is Alaska’s most beloved personality. She’s a cancer survivor, former UAF basketball athlete, and everyone’s favorite Iditarod musher.


This is a special year for DeeDee as it marks her 30th year running the Iditarod. To commemorate the anniversary, the Dan Fagan Show is presenting “An Evening With DeeDee.”


The banquet will raise money for DeeDee’s working dog research."


11/05/11 General: $40 / Sponsor: $1000

David Straub


Alaskan Sled Dogs

Willow, Alaska


Number of dogs: 21


Mat-Su Licensed from 8/6/09 thru 8/6/12

Current Kennel Status Unknown


Shelter Struggles to Find Adoptive

Homes for Musher's Dogs

John Davidson, Frontiersman 12/21/04

"The 28 sled dogs Mat-Su Animal Care and Regulation took from musher David Straub nearly two months ago are having trouble finding new homes.

In October, officers from Mat-Su Animal Care and Regulation cited Straub for 17 counts of animal cruelty and revoked his kennel license after investigating a report that the dogs were starving.

The clock is ticking for placement of the animals... At the end of the business day today, at least one of the dogs is scheduled to be euthanized.

'These are sled dogs, they're not family dogs...' [says Animal Care & Regulation Chief Dave Allison] It would take a lot of work to adopt them as a pet because they've been in the sled-dog world quite a while.'

Mat-Su Animal Care and Regulation has only euthanized one adoptable animal in 14 months, Allison said. Approximately 1,200 euthanizations have been done by Animal Care and Regulation in 2004.

David Straub's Illegal Kennel 04/21/05

Courtesy of Mat-Su Borough

Photograph of Frank Rich's 2007 Kennel Inspection:

Courtesy of Mat-Su Borough


28 Sled Dogs Seized from Iditarod Musher


David Straub, 46, of Willow speaks with pride of his "fastest ever" red-lantern finish in the 2002 Iditarod.


You don't set the red lantern record by being mean to dogs," he said, referring to the trophy given to the Iditarod's last-place finisher.

Animal control officers removed 28 dogs from Straub's property and cited him with 17 counts of animal cruelty.

The complainant stated in writing that when he saw the dogs they were starving, dazed, running in tight circles and foaming at the mouth.

Straub, who moved to Alaska from Missouri in 1996 to pursue dog-sledding, admitted one of his dogs died tat day. He said it wasn't from starvation, but from the flu".

In a nonjury trial, Straub was convicted of animal cruelty and fined $300 for violating borough code. Straub's license that had allowed him to keep more than 4 dogs on his property in Willow was also revoked.

Two weeks after being convicted, Straub was cited again, this time for keeping seven dogs, including two involved in the cruelty case, without the proper kennel license.

Mushers convicted of animal abuse are banned from the 1,100-mile Iditarod for at least 5 years.

He told borough attorney Nicholas Spiropoulos to expect a civil lawsuit for destruction of property -- the dead dogs -- and $1.2 million in damages for lost sled dog tour revenues over the next 30 years "as soon as I can find an attorney."

Update 4/7/05: A Palmer magistrate found Willow musher David Straub guilty of animal cruelty for failing to provide his dog team with enough food, water or veterinary care last fall.

Magistrate David Zwink fined Straub $300 for violating Matanuska-Susitna Borough code after the nonjury trial.

But outside the courthouse after the decision Straub vowed to rebuild his kennel for next year's grueling Yukon Quest sled dog race.

Walking toward his Dodge pickup in the courthouse parking lot, Straub shouted that he's getting more dogs and plans to run the Yukon Quest next year.

Animal control officer John Frey, standing near the courthouse doors, shook his head. The borough last year yanked the kennel license Straub needs to keep five or more dogs. "He'll have to move out of the borough," he said.

Update 12/28/07: A former Iditarod musher said he wants satisfaction from the Matanuska-Susitna Borough for seizing his malnourished dogs three years ago and curtailing his mushing career.

Of the $1.5 million damages claim, Straub said the number is "not arbitrary. I basically lost hundreds of thousands of dollars when they took my veterans. Six of those dogs finished with me in Nome. Those weren't poodles. They had Swenson and Butcher (dogs') bloodlines," citing a couple of the Iditarod's most notable names.

Mat-Su Borough Animal Care & Regulation Issued Straub a Kennel License on 8/6/09

Martin & Rohn Buser


Happy Trails Kennel

Big Lake, Alaska


Number of dogs: 82+


Mat-Su Kennel License exp. in 2008

Current Kennel Status Unknown


Valley Musher Arrested in

Seward Stand-Off

Todd Disher, Frontiersman 02/26/10


"Former Jr. Iditarod champion and son of a legendary musher was arrested Wednesday after taking police on a car chase ending in an hour-long standoff."

Doug Bartko


Palmer, Alaska


Number of dogs: 25


Owner of Skinny Dogs found Guilty of 39 Counts

Mat-Su Borough Press Release


Magistrate David Zwink found sled dog owner Doug Bartko guilty on 39 counts, most of them for failing to provide humane care for his recreational mushing kennel. Zwink also imposed fines for the offenses, which amount to $5,600.

In May, 25 skinny dogs were rescued by Borough Animal Care officers from Bartko's care. The remains of three dogs were also discovered tossed over an embankment on the Bartko property. While officers were investigating, Bartko removed 13 dogs to another property, avoiding evaluation by the officers. Nine of the 13 dogs were found on a property off Clark-Wolverine Road, all dogs were found dehydrated and thin. Several were tied to “gang lines” with leads that allowed only 12 to 15 inches for movement.


The single animal cruelty conviction pertains to a dog that was found dead on the Bartko property. The dog was extremely emaciated before it died. On the witness stand in District Court, it was Vet Zwolinski's opinion that the dog died from eating. The dog was in such poor condition that when it was fed, it died within a few hours.

The Borough revoked Bartko's kennel license and instituted a forfeiture regarding the 25 dogs. Bartko is appealing both cases in superior court.


Iditarod Officials said back in 1983, Bartko was disqualified for not adequately caring for his team.

Gerald Sousa


Sundog Kennels

Talkeetna, Alaska


Number of dogs: ?


No Record of

Mat-Su Kennel License

Over Past 7 Years


Sundog Kennels offers year round dog sledding tours in Talkeetna.

Iditarod Veteran, Talkeetna Resident Arrested for Assault

Andrew Wellner, Frontiersman 7/20/12


A top-20 Iditarod musher was arrested Sunday after Alaska State Troopers responded to a report shots had been fired at a home off of Cabin Spike Avenue. Troopers went over to Cabin Spike Avenue and knocked on the door of a log home belonging to Sousa, 54, who placed 20th in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race this year.


"Sousa answered the door naked, holding a black revolver in his left hand. I immediately announced, 'State troopers! Drop the gun!'" Blanchette [Alaska State Trooper] wrote. Sousa bent down and put the gun at his feet.


"As he was standing up I observed a silver revolver in his right hand... He then moved his entire body behind the door frame of the log-sided home and announced twice, 'just shoot me,'" according to the report.

Jeff King fined $4,750 for poaching Anchorage Daily News 12/5/08

A Fairbanks judge fined longtime musher and four-time Iditarod winner Jeff King $4,750 Friday for poaching a moose inside Denali National Park and Preserve.

King killed the bull moose 600 feet inside Denali's northern boundary in September 2007. He said the area in the park was not clearly marked and he didn't know he was hunting illegally, but the judge didn't buy his defense.

Only federally qualified subsistence users, which King is not, are allowed to hunt within park boundaries. King has lived in Denali Park for more than 30 years and hunted in an area near the park boundary for the last nine years.

Jeff King


Denali Park, Alaska


Number of dogs: Unknown


Melanie Gould


Trailbreakers Kennel

Talkeetna, Alaska


Number of dogs: 12


Mat-Su Kennel License: Issued 4/29/11


Have You Seen Melanie Gould?


After missing work and finding her dogs left unattended at the end of May, loved ones of Iditarod musher Melanie Gould sounded the alarm. The same loved ones have done their utmost, it seems, to push the story of their missing friend to the forefront. Rightly so a musher should not, could not, would not leave their dogs.


Gould maintained a small kennel of 12 dogs

and left no provisions for their care.


Melanie Gould Has Come Out of the Wild

Craig Medred, Alaska Dispatch 6/12/11


"After 11 days, Melanie Gould has come back from the wild, and now the outrage begins. On one side are those who want an explanation as to how and why Gould, a resident of Talkeetna and seven-time veteran of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, could abandon her dogs, walk off into the wilderness on the north side of the Alaska Range, and avoid those searching for her for days."(Gould) indicated to us that she saw search and rescue efforts but stayed away," the troopers’ spokeswoman Megan Peters told Alaska Dispatch.


Who knows what happened to Melanie and her 21 dogs...? No charges were ever filed against her.

Melanie Gould's Abandoned Kennel

Photo Courtesy of Mat-Su Borough

Learn more about cases of commercial sled dog abuse:


Sled Dog Action Coalition

Case Against Sled Dog Industries (PDF)

11 sled dogs, 11 rabbits neglected
Eagle River, Alaska (USA)​ases/10660/AK/US/

Sled dog killed with snow hook
Anchorage, Alaska (USA)​ases/7069/AK/US/

Sled dog kicked to death during Iditirod
Anchorage, Alaska (USA)​ases/7082/AK/US/

Sled dog, chickens die of thirst
Fairbanks, Alaska (USA)​ases/16377/AK/US/

Chained sled dogs stabbed, two die
Russian Mission, Alaska (USA)​ases/15229/AK/US/
Sled dog neglect, 35 seized
Palmer, Alaska (USA)​ases/14234/AK/US/

Sled dog neglect - 21 seized, one found dead
Wasilla, Alaska (USA)​ases/11318/AK/US/

Sled dogs abused
Golovin, Alaska (USA)​ases/11064/AK/US/

Sled dog stabbed, children suspected
Teller, Alaska (USA)​ases/2970/AK/US/

11 sled dogs abandoned and neglected
Kasilof, Alaska (USA)​ases/4230/AK/US/

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