19 March 2007

Ramy Brooks

There's a lot of kerfuffle surrounding Ramy Brook's Iditarod finish. I just want to add two thoughts:

First, I want someone to ask how common the abuse that Brooks is accused of (and has apparently admitted to) is. While wrong, hitting a dog with a lathe doesn't strike me as a completely unpardonable offense (jockeys hit horses with crops all the time, greyhounds live in small cages and wear muzzles and I'm sure are hit) and there are many long hours on the trail when mushers are far from any observation. It doesn't make sense to me that Brooks is a random outlier who happened to make a mistake right in front of a bunch of people. It strikes me more that Brooks was the one who got caught. And he got caught doing something that reveals the tension in Iditarod between the reality of raising and racing large amounts of animals and the media and fan-fuelled anthropomorphization and romanticization of the "Last Great Race."

Second, could the ADN please use a better picture of Brooks? The picture they have used in all their stories on him so far make him look like an ax murder (or dog abuser) when he is, in fact, a pleasant man with a nice smile. I don't want to say he's a perfect person and doesn't deserve what he got but using a picture like this I think pre-judges the story for people who might just be flipping through the paper without reading the entire story.


Anonymous said...

Today's ADN story makes it pretty clear that Brooks did a lot more than spank his dogs. I'm pretty shocked at his behavior, to tell you the truth. And really disappointed, because I have always liked Ramy.
I'm not a musher, but what I do know about the Iditarod is that when a team sits down and refuses to go, the musher had better make him or herself comfortable, because there's just no point in forcing the team onward. These sit-down strikes have happened to the best of mushers, including Rick Swenson and Dee Dee Jonrowe, both of whom had enough common sense and compassion for their dogs to wait things out, even if it meant finishing lower than expected and losing out on lots of prize money.
I doubt that Brooks' behavior is common. It's not smart dog-driving strategy, for one thing.

Anonymous said...

Your first commenter is right about it not being smart. I don't know what he did - all I heard is he spanked them with a lath. But even that I just attribute to a loss of temper from exhaustion, sleep deprivation, and/or whatever else may have been afflicting him. Nevertheless - the dogs can't understand it. They see a musher who is irrational hollering around but they know not what is going on. Then he hits them with whatever - they lose trust in him. They definitely aren't enjoying themselves anymore. Bad deal.

Now if he was breaking up a fight - I think this would be perfectly appropriate. You gotta stop a fight quick and sometimes that means getting their attention through pain. But that's not what happened here.

I don't think this behavior is at all common. Most of these guys love their dogs as family. They will discipline them when needed but the good drivers know that the dogs have to understand what is happening. It can't be at a loss of temper. To do well in the race, the dogs have to be very strong mentally and being in good cheer really helps there - and trusting the driver and having a good bond with him. Completely pointless to whip a dog that is tired or otherwise not wanting to do what the musher wants and I think most drivers know that.