How Canada Legalized Sled Dog Neglect

It has now been three months since video of neglected, injured, and suffering sled dogs out of Moonstone, Ontario went viral (https://bit.ly/2I7oKnZ). It has been one year and five months since footage of neurotic, chained, and suffering sled dogs at the same location was first released at the 2016 Whistler Film Festival (https://bit.ly/2w4sPoa) – earning an award for Best Female Director and Best Documentary. The Sled Dogs documentary also showed a dog at this location freezing to death overnight; being found frozen solid outside of its doghouse, still chained, the next morning (https://bit.ly/2HNaQUO).

The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) was notified of the conditions these dogs are forced to live in when the film was created. Renewed outcry for them to act occurred when the film was first released in late 2016. In January of 2018, nearly half a million people from all over the world spoke out on the Care2 petition site (https://bit.ly/2BfNd6J), asking for these dogs to be saved and the operation (Windrift Adventures) to be shut down.

Similarly, this spring, complaints were made to the New Brunswick Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NBSPCA) regarding two touring kennels in New Brunsiwck – Les Chiens de Traineaux C Arseneau Dog Sledding in Alcida, and Chien Adventures/Sled Dog Adventures in Allardville. The difference here is that the province of New Brunswick actually has an anti-tethering law on the books. Section 4(1.01) of the New Brunswick Regulation 2000—4 under the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (O.C. 2000—48) states that: “A person who has ownership, possession or care and control of a dog shall not tether the dog outdoors for more than 30 minutes between the hours of 11 PM and 6 AM, unless the person is outdoors and within 25 meters of the dog.” (https://bit.ly/2I3Kt0a)

However, upon multiple inspections of the Alcida kennel, the NBSPCA refused to enforce the tethering restriction or seize the animals. Upon questioning, it was clear that multiple board members, volunteers, and staff members were uneasy regarding sled dogs being exempted in practice, when there was no written exemption in the law. The reason why this is happening is both shocking and appalling – as it is due to a code of practice that was created to protect the very sled dogs it is now endangering.

A little background history is in order. In April of 2010, fifty-six sled dogs were brutally slaughtered in Whistler, British Columbia (https://youtu.be/kYvH4eJtduU). This act was carried out by a celebrated tour operator – then Vice President of Mush With PRIDE – Robert Fawcett. Mass culling in and of itself is not uncommon in the sled dog industry. The reason why this incident gained international attention is due to the fact that Fawcett filed for workman’s compensation for post traumatic stress disorder, which he claims that he “developed as a result of having to put down a large number of dogs” due to a slow winter tourist season. Excerpts from his report include:

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“On April 21 and 23, 2010, he was tasked to cull the employer’s herd by approximately 100 dogs. The size of the cull meant that he had no choice but to euthanize the dog sin full view of other dogs slated to be euthanized. A veterinarian was contacted, but refused to euthanize healthy animals.”

“On April 21, 2010, he noticed that the dogs were getting hard to handle by about the 15th dog. It appeared to him that the dogs were experiencing anxiety and stress from observing the euthanasia of other members of the pack and were panicking. As a result of the panic, mid-way through April 21st, he wounded but did not kill one dog, Suzie… He had to chase Suzie through the yard because the horrific noise she made when wounded caused him to drop the leash. Although she had the left side of her cheek blown off and her eye hanging out, he was unable to catch her. He then obtained a gun with a scope and used it to shoot her when she settled down close to another group of dogs… After disposing of Suzie’s body, he noticed that another dog, Poker, was injured. He realized that when he shot Suzie, the bullet passed through and injured Poker. Poker was covered in blood from a neck wound and covered in his own feces. He believed that Poker suffered for approximately 15 minutes before he could be put down.”

“On April 21, 2010, he put down approximately 55 dogs. As he neared the end of the cull that day, the dogs were so panicked they were biting him; he had to wrap his arms in foam to avoid injury. He also had to perform what he described as ‘execution style’ killings where he wrestled the dogs to the ground and stood on them with one foot to shoot them. The last few kills were ‘multiple-shot’ killings as he was simply unable to get a clean shot. He described a guttural sound he had never heard before from the dogs and fear in their eyes.”

“The incidents on April 23, 2010, were worse than those on April 21, 2010. The fear and anxiety in the heard began almost immediately. Many of the killings were multiple-shot-execution-style and it took a great amount of time and wrestling to get the dogs in a position to be put down. The first significant incident on April 23, 2010 occurred when he noticed that a female, Nora, who he had shot approximately 20 minutes before, was crawling around in the mass grave he had dug for the animals. He had to climb down into the grave amidst the 10 or so bodies already there, and put her out of her misery. Shortly thereafter, he grazed an uncooperative male, taking off part of his head. The dog bolted and the worker realized he was out of ammunition. When he went to get more, he was attacked by the dog and had to kill the dog with his knife, slitting its throat while the dog was on top of him.”

“His memory of the final 15 dogs is fuzzy. Some he shot cleanly, others he had to chase. In some cases, it was simply easier to get behind the dogs and slit their throats and let them bleed out. By the end of it, he was covered in blood.”

(https://bit.ly/2JK9B9q)

———————

Some positive change came from outcry resulting from the Whistler massacre. Legislation was introduced in British Columbia to give it one of the toughest animal cruelty laws, with maximum penalties rising from $10,000 to $75,000; and twenty-four months imprisonment instead of six. The legislation also extended the statute of limitations for prosecution under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals from six months to three years. However, changes also occurred which would not only damn British Columbia’s sled dogs – but all of Canada’s.

It began when former premier Gordon Campbell appointed a provincially led Sled Dog Task Force in February of 2011. One month later, the first documentation appeared. (https://bit.ly/2IbBz0V)

This task force noted that, “the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) has published a series of national codes specific to kennels and catteries as well as guidance on the use of firearms in the euthanasia of animals. In developing their materials, the CVMA draws upon the research and policy direction of their American counterpart the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). The CVMA Code of Practice for Kennels is regularly used by enforcement agencies to determine generally accepted standards of animal care and has been endorsed by the Canadian Kennel Club. Within the sled dog sector, the leading source of information and voluntary standards related to the care of the animal shave been developed by a voluntary association of recreational and industry sled dog owners and operators from across Canada and the United States: Mush With PRIDE.” It’s worth noting that the CVMA, which the Task Force references, is actually opposed to tethering as a primary means of confinement, and states that in its standards.

According to a December 19th 2009 Anchorage Daily News article, “the organization Mush With PRIDE, established in 1991 as an organization of mushers who were concerned about the care of sled dogs and public perceptions of mushing, supports the responsible and humane treatment of all dogs, and is dedicated to enhancing the care and treatment of sled dogs in their traditional and modern uses. The abbreviations in the organization’s name, PRIDE, stand for Providing Responsible Information on a Dog’s environment, and to address some of the concerns related to sled dog care and training, the organization developed sled dog care and equipment guidelines. A voluntary kennel inspection program was established because, as the page on their web site explains, ‘the PRIDE board firmly believes that if we mushers conduct ourselves responsibly then we will be less likely to suffer from unknowing governmental regulation. We hope that this program is a demonstration of the fact that we can responsibly take care of our own’.” (https://bit.ly/2nmKjbc)

As was evidenced by the Vice President of PRIDE performing the Whistler massacre, and the occurrence of numerous other sled dog industry cruelty cases since PRIDE’s inception, self-regulation is not a viable option for sled dog sports.

A year after the Whistler incident, in January of 2012, the BC Sled Dog Code of Practice was released (https://bit.ly/2vvzNBV). “The Sled Dog Code of Practice is a reference document that provides guidance to sled dog owners and operators, veterinarians, and law enforcement officials. The Code of Practice contains recommended best practices. Mandatory requirements for Sled Dog operations are contained in the Sled Dog Standard of Care Regulation. The Working Group observed consensus that the welfare of sled dogs include their physical and mental state of well-being and that they are entitled to the principles of the ‘five freedoms’.” This is laughable, considering that the industry-promoted act of constant tethering flies directly in the face of the five freedoms.

The Association of British Travel Agents’ (ABTA) Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism provides a document regarding Sled Dog Welfare Needs & Best Practices, Based on the Five Freedoms. This includes, “freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area,” noting that, “tethering of sled dogs should be discouraged – but if it happens, it should not be for long periods of time. Operations with a small number of dogs are preferable, as they allow greater individual attention and socialization for each dog. Secure, well maintained yards are preferred – as they allow for regular exercise and can accommodate a number of animals comfortably.” (https://bit.ly/2nwzOzw)

The World Sleddog Association (WSA) also addresses tethering in its Code of Ethics for Animal Welfare, stating that “runs or pens must be large enough to allow dogs to perform most behaviors that are typical of their species. Good weather protection must be provided. Chain attitude is rejected. Unfortunately, in some countries it is permitted to keep dogs on chains. Nevertheless, this practice should be rejected by all sled dog organizations nationally and internationally. Sled dog organizations should engage with mushers practicing this with the aim to abolish this practice.” (https://bit.ly/2eqbgTU)

The fact that the BC Sled Dog Code of Practice is being used to defend tethering as a primary source of confinement for industry sled dogs is extremely disturbing, considering the fact that the province’s own BCSPCA spoke out against the practice during formulation of the Code of Practice and after. Craig Daniell, Chief Executive Officer for the BCSPCA stated in a February 20th 2012 interview that, “one of our main concerns regarding the sled dog industry has always been the continuous tethering of dogs. We fought very hard to ensure that this was not permitted in the new regulation. While the provision that dogs must be allowed off their tether at least once every 24-hours is a good first step, we believe this needs to go further in the future until sled dog operations do not use this practice at all.” He noted that there are excellent sled dog operations in BC who do not tether animals at all, stating that, “SnowPack Siberian Adventures in the North Thompson is one example of an operation that offers good welfare while still remaining financially viable. We would like to see the industry move to this standard.” (https://bit.ly/2HNdH4k)

The Prince Edward Island Animal Welfare Act Animal Welfare Regulations (https://bit.ly/2HK8hTo) states in Section 22 (23. Sled Dogs) that “every owner of a sled dog shall comply with the Sled Dog Code of Practice, January 30, 2012, published by the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of British Columbia.” However, that is the only province which has deemed the BC Sled Dog Code of Practice to be law. The Code itself even states that, “the Sled Dog Code of Practice is a reference document that provides guidance to sled dog owners and operators, veterinarians, and law enforcement officials. The Code of Practice contains recommended best practices. Mandatory requirements for Sled Dog operations are contained in the Sled Dog Standard of Care Regulation.” The Sled Dog Standard of Care Regulation is law only in British Columbia.

Carolyn Carter, Executive Director of the New Brunswick SPCA, has stated that they cannot enforce their own provincial law, 4(1.01) “A person who has ownership, possession, or care and control of a dog shall not tether the dog outdoors for more than 30 minutes between the hours of 11PM and 6AM unless the person is outdoors and within 25 meters of the dog,” due to Section 4(2) “A person shall not be convicted of an offence under subsection 18(2) of the Act for treating an animal in a manner (a) consistent with a standard or code of conduct, practice, or procedure specified in Schedule A; (b) consistent with generally accepted practices or procedures for such an activity, or (c) otherwise reasonable in the circumstances.” Their position is derived from the premise that “tethering is a generally accepted practice in the sled dog industry in Canada,” and refers to page 28 of the BC Sled Dog Code of Practice, page 34 of the Canadian Coalition for Sled Dogs Code of Practice, and page 7 of the Mush With PRIDE Sled Dog Care Guidelines as defense.

The BC Sled Dog Task Force was infiltrated by self-serving sled dog industry members, to protect both their way of life and their source of income. The Sled Dog Standard of Care Working Group included Frank Turner, who tethers approximately 130 sled dogs and profits from them as a tourist attraction (Muktuk Adventures) in Whitehorse. It also included Tim Tedford, who tethers approximately 30 sled dogs and profits from them as a tourist attraction (Candle Creek Sled Dogs) in Kelowna. He was quoted by CBC News stating that “sometimes shooting an animal is the most humane thing to do.” He also said, “I have euthanized dogs of my own and I would again if needed to.” (https://bit.ly/2rejm8S)

Two years after Whistler, a group of for-profit touring mushers in Canmore, Alberta, formed a smokescreen sled dog welfare organization known as the Canadian Coalition for Sled Dogs (CCSD). Connie Creighton, president of this coalition, stated that her objective was to, “develop a ‘bullet proof’ iron clad system to do something good for our industry and let the light shine where it needs to… without worry…” The president (Connie) and Vice President (Carlin Kimble) tether approximately 180 sled dogs, and profit from them as a tourist attraction (Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours) in Canmore. They use the CCSD as a platform to promote the continued tethering of sled dogs, and their own touring business. They host for-profit sled dog races, and ask for donations on their website – claiming that they will fund $25,000 – $250,000 studies which will prove tethering to be a humane method of confinement, even though numerous studies already exist which prove otherwise, and the practice is outlawed in foreign countries, and many of our own states and municipalities across North America. It’s additionally concerning that they also claim on their tax forms to be a non-soliciting corporation.

No current code of practice for sled dog operations in North America is derived from a purely welfare standpoint. Industry mushers who rely on the mass chain warehousing and factory farming of sled dogs have played a part in each and every piece of legislation and recommended practice written to date. Two more “best practice” literatures are in the works in Alaska – one coming from a racing and breeding kennel (Crazy Dog Kennels) posing as a 501(c)3 nonprofit in order to finance their racing career (https://bit.ly/2y4OBJ4), and another from the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in an attempt to placate corporate sponsors and fans despite a rising death toll. With high-profile, industry-leading mushers involved in cruelty investigations (https://bit.ly/2FzaRtr), dog doping scandals (https://bit.ly/2rh4Ek6), and banishments for racing dogs to death (https://bit.ly/2r5QgYN), we are likely to see more “codes of conduct” and “best practices” produced in an effort to shield the public from the reality of cruelty and neglect inherent in the sled dog industry.

The immediate problem we face is the growing database of footage of abused and neglected sled dogs, living in conditions which are illegal in Ontario and New Brunswick, which the respective humane law authorities are refusing to address, due to pressure from industry musher-led groups. Please e-mail info@humanemushing.com if you can provide any information which could help save these dogs and correct these atrocities.

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