Debra Probert: The treatment of sled dogs is morally indefensible

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The welfare of sled dogs came to the public’s attention in 2010 when Robert Fawcett, an employee of Howling Dogs Tours in Whistler, British Columbia, filed a claim for post-traumatic stress disorder. He was reportedly ordered by his employer to kill surplus sled dogs after a downturn in business after the 2010 Olympics. He shot, stabbed and bludgeoned 56 dogs to death.

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That same year, filmmaker Fern Levitt and her husband went dogsledding in northern Ontario. In his words: “After an exhilarating ride, I went back to see where the sled dogs lived. What I saw was unexpected and distressing – hundreds of dogs, all tied to chains several feet long, unable to move beyond their very short restraints. It was an image I will never forget. One of the employees told him that 30 of the dogs would be “put down” if they were not found homes.

The result was Levitt’s film Sled Dogs, which was released at the 2016 Whistler Film Festival. Every winter, Canadian SPCAs and humane societies across the country warn people to keep their animals indoors. .

The Nova Scotia SPCA describes what can happen to a dog left outside as “an agonizing death.” Yet across Canada and the United States, thousands of sled dogs are chained to stakes, often around the clock, with only a wooden shack or plastic igloo for shelter. Sled dog operators say these dogs are different from companion dogs – that they are bred for these conditions. But science does not support their claims.

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In Sled Dogs, Dr. Paula Kislak, a veterinarian with the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, says, “(Sled dogs) have the same basic needs, demands, and desires (as companion dogs), and people who claim the otherwise do not. scientific basis for asserting this.

In fact, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association’s code of practice for kennel operations in Canada states: “Dog tethering (i.e. chains or ropes used to tie the animal to an immovable object such as a stake or building) as the primary method of containment is not acceptable.”

The code also states, “All accommodations must allow for enrichment strategies. Dogs are pack animals and require social interaction with their own species and with people. They don’t do well in isolation.

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Dr Kislak cites extreme weather conditions as sometimes unbearable – both high temperatures in summer and sub-zero cold in winter. “Animals succumb to frostbite, they succumb to hypothermia, they succumb to stroke.” In summer, there is no escape from biting insects and flies.

Perhaps even more morally indefensible is the use of sled dogs in the grueling eight-to-fifteen-day, 1,000-mile Iditarod sled dog race in Alaska (due to begin March 3) and the similar Yukon race. Quest. Dogs are at a high risk of injury or death, as Levitt’s film shows. They are expected to pull a sled weighing up to 250 pounds through harsh winter conditions including blizzards, whiteouts, high winds and temperatures as low as -73°C with wind chill.

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Levitt’s film shows harrowing scenes of dogs suffering from vomiting, extreme exhaustion, dehydration, bloody diarrhea and bleeding feet at checkpoints during the Iditarod. Dogs cannot be replaced, so mushers may be reluctant to remove sick animals. In a disturbing scene, a severely weakened dog was forced to continue, despite the advice of a veterinarian who was obviously trying to get the musher to voluntarily remove the dog, pointing out that the dog’s pulse was abnormally and dangerously high.

In fact, the Iditarod’s chief vet admitted that about a third of dogs fail to finish. In 2017, despite all the precautions and the sled dog controversy, six dogs died – and that doesn’t take into account those who may have died before the race in training or after the race due to the pressure exerted on their body.

Following the “massacre” of howling dogs in Whistler, British Columbia, penalties were increased in the provincial animal cruelty law and basic standards were created for the care of sled dogs.

Unfortunately, 24-hour tethered dogs and gun dogs remain legal. The rest of Canada has no standards. Unfortunately, whenever animals are used as commodities, their welfare may be compromised, even when the animal is man’s best friend.

Debra Probert is executive director of the Vancouver Humane Society.

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Bette C. Alvarado