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Sled dog standards of care released to mixed reactions

New regulations described as a step forward by one Whistler operator



Passionate people with differing views have conflicting opinions about the much-anticipated sled dog standards of care regulations created by the provincial government.

"It is definitely a step forward," said Craig Beattie of Canadian Snowmobile.

After reviewing the standards of care document, he said his company has been following the standards from the time the company dog kennel was relocated to the Callaghan Valley in winter 2009.

"It is all stuff we've been doing," he said. Because his dog sled operator has always worked from a high set of standards Beattie said the regulations wouldn't have an economic impact on the operation.

One of the most contentious parts of the regulations is the section dealing with euthanasia, but Beattie said when it comes to dealing with dogs at the end of their life, business owners need to have a plan.

"If you can't find a home and you have to use emergency care (a dog shelter) then you have to reconsider being in the dog industry," Beattie said.

The regulations allow sled dog operators to kill healthy dogs, but only after efforts have been made to find homes. The regulations also indicate the highest standard is to allow a veterinarian to carry out the euthanization. If a vet can't do it then someone authorized to do so using a firearm and following guidelines provided by a registered vet is also permitted.

The first set of sled dog standards of care in Canada were announced this week 22 months after the infamous Whistler sled dog cull of April 2010. Industry representatives, veterinarians and the B.C. SPCA worked together to create them.

The new rules cover the containment and transportation of dogs, health care, breeding, working conditions, record keeping, life planning and the killing of sled dogs.

Some of the new protection regulations are in effect now. The sections of the regulation dealing with containment, record keeping and life planning will come into effect on Oct. 1.

The release of the regulations has the Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) once again speaking out against the sled dog business, reiterating its call for a total ban of the industry. The VHS issued a news release that claims the new regulations fail to address dog welfare issues.

"The standards are a travesty," said VHS executive director Debra Probert. "What is the point of having regulations if there is no funding for enforcement?"

Marcie Moriarty, the general manager for cruelty investigations with the BC SPCA, is also concerned about the enforcement funding issue.

"Our 26 full-time constables, that already respond to 7,000 complaints a year, cannot regulate this industry without government assistance," said Moriarty. "We'll use this as a tool, absolutely. If we were to get a complaint regarding a sled dog operation this tool will be useful, but if government or industry thinks that the BC SPCA is going to be able to come out and certify an operation as being in compliance with the regulations, that's likely not going to be possible."

Moriarty said everyone involved in the process of creating the regulations made compromises.

The new regulations were created in response to news that sled dog operator Bob Fawcett of Pemberton reported to WorkSafe BC that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after he admitted to euthanizing a large number of sled dogs over two days — some were stabbed to death.

The standards of care follow the release earlier of a Sled Dog Code of Practice and the amendment of legislation last year that gave B.C. the toughest animal cruelty laws in the country.