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Sled dogs always at risk

Following the revelations in February about the horrific slaughter of 56 sled dogs in Whistler B.C., various defenders of the sled dog industry insisted that it was an “isolated incident’ and that the industry’s reputation should not be tarnished by the actions of one “bad apple.”

While the Whistler massacre may be an extreme example, there are certainly other instances in which dogs have been put in danger because of the failures of sled dog operators.

Most recently, 37 sled dog were left homeless when an operator in Quebec went out of business.  A former employee tried to care for them but ended up living in a tent in the woods with the dogs tied to surrounding trees.  Animal welfare groups are now trying to find homes for the dogs.

In 2009, also in Quebec, nearly 100 malnourished sled dogs, some blind and many pregnant, were seized by the SPCA from a sled dog business in financial difficulty.

In the same year, about 100 starving sled dogs were seized from an operator in Colorado.  Eight dogs were found dead.

Back in B.C., 34 badly-neglected huskies were seized from a sled dog business in Tumbler Ridge in 2008.

Those are just the incidents that get reported.  Who knows what happens at the many sled dog operations in isolated rural locations that are rarely subjected to scrutiny?

These cases support the Vancouver Humane Society’s contention that whenever a business depends on exploiting animals for profit, those animals will be put at risk.  When equipment is obsolete it can be sold or dumped.  When employees are no longer needed they can, at worst, be laid-off.  When animals are surplus to requirements they become commodities with no rights, leaving them vulnerable to methods of disposal that are at the whim of business owners.

That’s why VHS called for a ban on sled dog operations following the Whistler massacre.  The B.C. government rejected that option and instead imposed greater legal penalties for animal cruelty in the province.  It also established a “working group” to produce a new “standard of care” for sled dogs in B.C.  VHS is urging the working group to at least recommend a ban on the tethering of sled dogs for long periods and take other measures to protect their welfare.  VHS’s full submission to the working group can be seen here.

The sled dog working group is due to report its recommendations to the Minister of Agriculture on September 7th.  VHS, and, no doubt, the public, await the report with interest.