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THE OUTDOORS ALMANAC | STOCK PILE

Mush ado

March 02, 2004

Sled-dog teams that power Alaska's Iditarod and all its merchandising spinoffs also stoke the anger of animal rights advocates.

While man and dog meld along the rugged, 1,150-mile route from Anchorage to Nome, the 75-pound canines clearly do the heavy pulling at the race's online store.

"It's pretty indicative of the fascination with these four-legged athletes," said Stan Hooley, executive director of the Iditarod. Hats, pins, T-shirts and coffee mugs are among the big sellers.

For mush-heads with serious bucks, there's a $3,600 bronze sculpture titled "Home Stretch -- Safety to Nome" by Nebraska artist Curtis Door that features a driver with "Iditarod," "Alaska" and the number 49 on his bib along with a team of dogs. It's a first effort for Door, who stumbled on the idea after discovering a dearth of sled-dog sculptures. "I saw it as a niche," he said.

The Humane Society of the United States opposes the race -- and the tchotchkes -- out of concern for the dogs and makes this recommendation on its website: "Do not purchase Iditarod memorabilia. Discuss your concerns with merchants selling these items."

The 32nd running of the Iditarod starts Saturday with a record 87 teams out to beat the record of eight days, 22 hours, 46 minutes and two seconds. For all things Iditarod, go to www.iditarod.com.

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