When word went out last week that 86 sled dogs in the Whistler Sled Dog Co. (WSDC) kennel needed to find homes, offers to take them immediately started coming in. According to Sue Eckersley of WSDC, more than 300 email messages from people with questions or messages of support were sent to the email account set up for the dogs. The animals were put out of work when WSDC folded its operations and announced it wouldn't be offering sled dog tours next winter.
Eckersley said the Victoria SPCA took 10 dogs last week and another 15 are expected to follow this week. The SPCA in Vancouver also took five dogs and Eckersley said WAG found homes for a pair of dogs last week.
At least four WSDC dogs are expected to go to Jaime Hargreaves, who has a kennel of sled dogs in the Callaghan Valley and operates tours for Canadian Wilderness Adventures.
Hargeaves said she's looking forward to taking the animals, which she said were once owned by a friend of hers.
"Those four dogs were given to the Sled Dog Co. by an operator in the area under the condition if we close she gets those dogs back," said Eckersley. "She wants those dogs to go to Jaime."
Eckersley said she believes Hargreaves is an ethical dog sled operator who truly loves her dogs, so she is comfortable with Hagreaves taking some of them from the WSDC kennel.
"We do believe that Jaime loves her dogs and is doing the best she can," said Eckersley.
After her 18 months in the sled dog industry, Eckersley said she has decided she won't ever go on a commercial sled dog tour. She said she feels Whistler isn't the ideal place for sled dog touring because the resort has a short season.
"I'm not ready to light a match to the industry but I have serious concerns," she said, recognizing there is demand for tours and that Hargreaves has successfully operated for many seasons.
"I don't think we have the climate to have enough months of the year to both provide the dogs with the exercise and the socialization. When you're actually dog sledding they're getting 30 pats on the head per day by different people, tummy rubs and little kids hugging them, and then they get to run for a couple hours a day. There's so much good stuff going on with them," said Eckersley.
But then when the snow is gone there isn't much to engage the dogs in Whistler for the remaining seven or eight months of the year.
"It's a challenge," she said.
Eckersley is now calling on Whistler to make sure the sled dog industry in the resort is held to a high standard. She feels tour operators who employ animals in unethical ways have the option of moving to another community if their ethics are found to be lacking.
"You have to hold people accountable that actually care about being accountable — have something to lose," said Eckersley as she listed off booking agents, local veterinarians and customers as those who can be kept accountable. "They (tour operators) have very little to lose and they feel like they've got more to gain by not doing it properly because there's more profit in it by doing it improperly."