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Dog sledding needs an industry standard, say operators

Socialized dogs have a good chance of finding homes



Dog sledding tour operators are saying that industry standards need to be set in place to avoid further culls of this magnitude.

"I do believe that standards need to be implemented to ensure that this never happens again," said Amanda Sinclair, owner and operator of Cold Fire Creek Dogsledding, in Valemount, B.C., which has 70 dogs in its kennel.

Her comments come less than a week after allegations that an employee of Outdoor Adventures shot about 100 dogs over two days last April.

Sinclair said she doesn't know what each individual kennel does for operations - the absence of a regulatory body makes that nearly impossible - but she is certain that a list of standards will likely arise from this situation.

She said her company keeps all dogs once they have retired and each retired dog gets the run of the kennel and stays as a part of the family

"It's all about management of your company," she said. "You don't need to have more dogs than you're actively running."

Dr. Stanley Coren, professor of psychology at UBC and an expert in canine behaviour and genetics, said that a vast majority of dogsledders, or "mushers," treat their dogs as companions, particularly those who use dogs for racing.

"When the dogs are too old to pull, they are retired and they're kept as pet dogs. The idea of putting down a dog that has worked for you so hard is just heinous for most of the people in the sport," he said,

He witnessed a good example of this two years ago at the Yukon Quest dog race, when the winner crossed the line in Whitehorse, he wouldn't talk to any of the media until he made sure that all of his dogs were okay.

"If (the dogs) have been well socialized, then you have a reasonable chance to re-home them," he said. "If, on the other hand, they have not been it's going to be a lot harder."

The Vancouver Sun reported earlier this week that the SPCA had consulted with their own animal behaviorist, saying that the dogs were not adoptable, but Coren said in this case, the dogs couldn't have been too badly socialized because they lived around and pulled mainly tourists. If any of them had misbehaved in front of tourists, they would have been yanked from the pack right away.

"If you can find people who are willing to put up with a fairly large dog, then most of these guys could have been re-homed," Coren said.

Connie Arsenault, owner and operator of Snowy Owl Dog Sledding Adventure Tours in Canmore, which has a public track record of fighting for standards within the industry, said the cruelty of this cull is unusual in the dog sledding world but there are plenty of tour operators, both big and small, lacking ethics in animal welfare.

She said Snowy Owl has collected reports from employees and customers of other tour operators who have experienced abuse. She has forwarded them to the Canmore municipality, to the SPCA and other stakeholders, to no avail. She has even pushed the Alberta provincial government to a set standard of operations when issuing permits, again to no avail.

"The government isn't even supporting what needs to happen to make sure that its oldest official sport since 1908, its oldest form of winter travel can still function and be the wonderful icon that it is, that represents our country," she said. "Our governments need to get on board with it."

She has visited numerous kennels during her time in the industry and has been appalled by what she has seen.

"Some dogsledders have lower standards than others," she said. "It's just the way it is. It's the way it is in every industry."