Those who follow this blog know that I've been following the aftermath of allegations that Ramy Brooks abused his dogs during the 2007 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race fairly closely. There are several reasons for my interest. First and probably foremost is that I would like to believe that professional dog mushers of the caliber of Ramy Brooks would hold themselves to a higher than common standard of humane care and treatment of their canine charges. Striking dogs is not at all common among mushers if for no other reason that because it frequently results in fearful behavior in dogs that is counterproductive to running. I have commented on this point in the past.
I also have concerns that the ARFs (animal rights fanatics) will use any incident to fuel their campaigns to outlaw all forms of sled dog racing, and ultimately outlaw the entire sport. My feelings behind the ARF perspective and the organizations that foster misinformation and outright lies regarding the sport of dog mushing will be reserved for a later (and no doubt venomous) rant.
Today stories carried in Alaska's major news papers and the Associated Press note that the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race board of directors unanimously voted to ban Mr. Brooks from the race for two years, followed by a 3 year probation. The news articles can be referenced at the following websites:
Musher Brooks suspended 2 years in dog incident
Musher Brooks suspended 2 years in dog incident (different article in same paper)
Iditarod board suspends musher for dog abuse (AP story)
The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race's official announcement
A quick "Google" search shows that the AP article is being carried by newspapers throughout the United States.
Already some people are questioning whether the punishment meted out by the board is sufficient. Some, especially those in the ranks of animal rights organizations, feel it is a "slap on the wrist".
Let's consider that for a moment.
Mr. Brooks is a very rare person in that he is a full-time, professional dog musher. It's a tough way to earn a living simply because the prize money offered by even the most prestigious of races is not particularly great and no one, not even Lance Mackey or Jeff King, can win every race they enter.
Nearly all major sled dog race organizations honor censures placed by any others. Consequently a 2 year suspension by the Iditarod is tantamount to a two year suspension from sled dog racing, at least in events that offer a significant purse. So, by suspending Mr. Brooks for two years the Iditarod board has in effect deprived Mr. Brooks from his primary livelihood for at least that long.
If Mr. Brooks decides to continue in sled dog racing he will face some huge challenges trying to maintain a competitive team during his suspension. The demands of maintaining a team of sled dogs are huge, both in terms of time and money. Based on my own experience, I'd estimate that the typical musher, either recreational or professional, must spend approximately $1,000.00 per dog per year just to meet the basic needs of the working dogs. If Mr. Brooks were to maintain only 25 dogs (an unreasonably low number for a long-distance racing kennel) his dog care expenses would be $50,000.00 over the course of his suspension.
Meanwhile, it is unlikely that his major commercial sponsors will continue to support his operation. Most will run for cover rather than risk the wrath of the ARFs. Consequently Mr. Brooks will have to pay those expenses out of his own pocket, literally taking money out of his family's budget in order to support the kennel.
Mr. Brooks reputation has taken a HUGE hit as a result of this issue. It is going to be very, very difficult for him to outlive his actions. No matter how long he lives, it will be more difficult for him to gain important sponsorships and I think it is unlikely he will ever regain the full respect and trust of his fellow competitors. Certainly he won't be mistreated, but it is equally certain that he will always be viewed with a certain degree of mistrust.
Professional animal trainers define 'punishment' as "a consequence to a behavior in which something added to or removed from the situation makes the behavior less likely to occur in the future." The key phrase in this definition is "makes the behavior less likely to occur in the future."
I honestly believe that if Mr. Brooks sled dog racing career survives this punitive action at all, that the two year suspension and three years of probation levied by the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race board of directors will indeed achieve the goal of punishment and Mr. Brooks will never again strike a dog during a race.