Monday, March 19, 2007

Don't Hit the Dog, Dammit!!!

At my home there is a white feather hanging inside the front door. In Native Muskogee culture the white feather over the door is a reminder to always do the right thing. Whenever I leave the confines of my cabin I am reminded, usually very consciously, to always do the right thing.

Perhaps Iditarod musher Ramy Brooks should have hung a white feather on the drive bow of his sled. According to an article in the Anchorage Daily News, Mr. Brooks was disqualified from the 2007 race because he hit his dogs with a stick. Not just one dog, but several, maybe even all of his dogs.

"Apparently Brooks' tired dog team didn't want to go through the village of Golovin and lay down on a patch of ice. Brooks then grabbed a piece of lathe (used to mark the trail) and proceeded to the front of the team, smacking dogs as he went."

Brooks agreed that is essentially what happened, though he says it wasn't so much that the team was tired as that his dogs balked at crossing glare ice. "I don't agree with the idea it was abuse, but I accept their decision,'' Brooks said. "I probably didn't use the best of language, and I put myself into a compromising situation." Dimensions of the lathes used to mark the Iditarod trail are about 1 1/2-inches wide and 1/4-inch thick.

The dogs were apparently not harmed by the spanking, yet harm was indeed done. The ARFs (animal rights fanatics) were quick to comment, once again demanding that the Iditarod be outlawed, and at least hinting that the entire sport of dog mushing should be banned. Brooks also did considerable harm to his reputation, and by extension to the reputation of his family.

Most likely Brooks "spanking" taught the dogs an important lesson, though not the lesson that the musher intended. By hitting his dogs Mr. Brooks taught them that their musher is a creature to be feared rather than trusted and respected. At the very least it will likely take Mr. Brooks many years to regain their trust, if he is able to do so at all.

Most sled dog races prohibit drivers from even carrying a signal whip, let alone using it to strike dogs. If you aren't allowed a whip doesn't it follow that you probably shouldn't grab up a stick instead?

It isn't always easy to do the right thing, and a balky dog can be one of the most vexing creatures on the planet. Even the most even-tempered person may find himself or herself ready to explode in fury. At those moments it is critical that the musher remember the white feather, and the message it carries. ALWAYS do the right thing.

Don't hit your dogs. Don't EVER hit your dogs, dammit. All it does is give them reason to fear you.


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