Summer is the cruellest time for sled dogs

After Tucker Linsig viewed footage of an activist of a property containing sled dogs in Alberta, Canada, the former police dog breeder said he couldn’t believe his eyes. He had to go see it for himself. It was June, and what he found, he said, disturbed him. “The kennels, for a big dog, weren’t very big,” he recalls, and the dogs, chained up, “went around in circles.” But what troubled Linsig the most, he says, was what he found a few yards from the dog area. “I found tons of bones,” he said, “definitely dog ​​bones.”

Not uncommon in the commercial dog sledding industry, piles and pits of dog bones, which activists have found in various locations across Canada. The cruelty of commercial dog sledding during the winter months is well documented. Dogs are considered “athletes” rather than companions. They are exploited for money and fame, often overwhelmed, pushed until they are injured or sick, kept in harsh and cold conditions, then can be put down once they are no longer useful, their bones simply thrown over the fence.

Tightly chained. Photo: Manitoba Animal Alliance

In Canada, dog sledding is a popular attraction for tourists looking for that “northern experience”. But what many people don’t consider is what happens to these animals during the hottest months of the year, when there’s no snow, no tourists, just scorching sun and hundreds of mouths to feed. Where and how are these dogs kept? Are they taken home to rest and recuperate? Do they become pets during their offseason, loved and cared for until it’s time to be exploited again? Unfortunately, the real story isn’t as magical as those sleigh rides in the snow.

In the summer, the majority of sled dogs in Canada are left tethered outside, in the heat, in the rain, with the legal minimum care, for months at a time.

Canadian animal activist Jenny McQueen, with local group End Dog Sled Cruelty and international group Direct Action Everywhere, brought attention to this often overlooked problem when she entered a commercial dog sledding operation in the south last month. from Ontario, Chocpaw Expeditions, by chaining himself to a barrel (aka doghouse), and streaming his experience live online for over 300 viewers.

In the video, dozens of dogs can be seen tied (three meters is the legal requirement) to cut-out plastic barrels on wooden supports. The area is barren, the floor is dusty, dirty and worn, and the air was a sweltering 30 degrees Celsius (86 F), with little or no shade at the site. The dogs were hot, many seeking relief in holes they had dug in the ground. A local law enforcement officer eventually released McQueen, ironically enough, out of concern for his health in the heat. She has since been charged with trespassing.

There are various laws in Canada regarding the permanent tethering of dogs. In the city of Toronto, for example, there is a maximum of one hour. In nearby Mississauga, there is a four-hour limit. There is an outright ban on tethering unsupervised dogs in the city of Calgary and in some municipalities in British Columbia. However, animals classified as “working dogs”, which include sled dogs, are generally exempt from these rules.

Thirsty sled dog in summer
Summer is the most cruel period. Photo: Calgary Vegan Activists

In British Columbia, where sled dog welfare standards are considered the highest, sled dogs must be released from their tether once every 24 hours. Once. Alternatively, sled dog owners can leave their animals tethered as they wish, solely responsible for providing the minimum legal care: food, water, shelter, and veterinary care (although enforcement of these requirements remains an issue). And if they want to shoot their dogs – their “property” – the owners are legally allowed to do so.

Watching video footage of commercial dog sledding operations in Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta, during the summer months, some things remain consistent: dogs tethered with heavy chains, dogs exposed to the elements with shelters very rudimentary, dogs living in filth and dogs acting frantically. Keeping these active, social animals constantly tethered within inches of each other could be considered a form of torture (although mushers have long supported this).

In other parts of the world where dog sledding is also a popular attraction, concern for the psychological well-being of sled dogs has been enshrined in law. According to Julika Fitzi, from the Swiss animal protection group Schweizer Tierschutz STS, it is illegal to permanently tether any dog ​​in Switzerland, including sled dogs. “Usually sled dogs are kept in groups in kennels,” she says, “minimum two dogs in a kennel, or if that’s not possible for example due to [not getting along with others], it is also allowed to keep only one dog in a kennel, but there must be another dog in a kennel right next to it. Fitzi adds that even kennel dogs are required by law to exercise daily, “whenever possible, free of charge and off-leash.” Even dogs chained as guard dogs in Switzerland must be allowed to run free, she notes, “during the day at least for five hours.”

Google Earth images show a property housing sled dogs near Exshaw, Alberta. The ground pattern is created by the many individual dogs tethered to their kennels, unable to move freely.

But of course, the prospect of improving the welfare standards of sled dogs in Canada would not right the wrong of exploiting the animals for money, nor change the position of these dogs as personal property. under the law. So owners could continue to use and dispose of their sled dogs as they wished, piling those bones even higher.

This is why activists in Canada are calling for an outright ban on commercial dog sledding in the country. Just as the horse-drawn carriage industry is rapidly falling out of favor with the public (most recently banned in the city of Montreal at the end of this year), and a ban on keeping whales and dolphins in captivity has just been enacted. , so should the exploitation of sled dogs for entertainment come to an end.

In the meantime, it’s up to tourists to look beyond the magical facade of a snowy sleigh ride across the northern tundra, to see the real life of these dogs, the truth, and stop making these businesses viable. .

Correction August 29, 2019: The original article claimed that the footage viewed by Tucker Linsig was from Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours. It was wrong. The images (posted to Facebook here) were from another nearby property. The article has also been edited for clarity, and the Google Earth satellite image has been added (source here).

Bette C. Alvarado