Extermination of 100 sled dogs was a brutal act

Well, I’m just astounded by the case of 100 sled dogs being slaughtered in Whistler.

Well, I’m just astounded by the case of 100 sled dogs being slaughtered in Whistler.

What a horrendous story. It came to light through a Workers Compensation Board report into the condition of the employee of Whistler’s Outdoor Adventures who is suffering mentally from the trauma of putting down that many dogs.

Putting down is a polite word. This worker executed these dogs with a shot to the head, most of the time. I guess he missed a couple of them because the dogs were becoming upset as this man systematically gunned down these poor chained-up animals. The mayhem that must have resulted is staggering to contemplate. How could this have been necessary?

Now Whistler and British Columbia are getting bad press all over the world as this singular act of stupidity is going viral on the Internet. The SPCA is taking some heat because I guess they were asked to take some of the dogs and adopt them out. The SPCA, however, concluded the animals would not make good pets and couldn’t take them, even if they could handle 100. That’s a reasonable position and it in no way gives the owner or handler of the dogs carte blanche to exterminate the dogs.

But how can someone think that the only way to deal with these dogs is to shoot them? Even if their extermination is necessary – and I sincerely doubt it is – is there not a better way to do it?

One hundred dogs out of about 350 were to be shot. All the animals were chained to their kennels and were all kept in close quarters in a fenced compound. The din must have been horrendous once the shooting started and the dogs began to realize what was going on.

When I lived in the Yukon, I was introduced to the sport of sled dog racing. It was a beautiful merging of athletics (for both the driver and the dogs), racing skill and nature. Sled dog trails wound through the northern winter around snowcaked spruce trees, river valleys and mountains. An idyllic image.

The other side of the image was compounds of dogs chained to a post beside their kennel in the darkest and coldest of winter days and nights. The animals curled up on the ground to conserve heat. But I don’t get too bleeding heart about it. These animals are adapted to the cold and their life was not so bad. They weren’t pets by any means but most mushers were amateur enthusiasts racing for a bit of prize money and so treated their dogs well.

They knew them all individually and were well aware of their individual temperaments. I interviewed one husband and wife sled team owner who when talking about one of their dogs, shook their heads about one of them saying it would never be a sled dog, it didn’t have the temperament to stay focused on its role in the team. The dog’s fate? It was moved to the cushy confines of the owners’ house to become a pet.

I never knew of anyone who had 350 dogs. Most were around 20-50.

To run a sled team is a skillful blend of teamwork between driver and dogs with the dogs having almost as much to say about what happens as the driver. The start of these races always amazed me as the dogs, unable to contain their glee, set up a furore of barking, yipping and howling as they were dragged to the sled line to join their compatriots who were also barking, yipping and howling to no end. The sled is anchored to the snow to stop the dogs from bolting down the trail. Once the team is hooked up and the anchor is lifted and the musher urges the team on, instant silence reigns as the dogs dash down the trail. The only sound then is the swish of the sled tracks over the snow. It’s a fantastic ride.

And a great sport. That’s why this incident will taint the whole process as organizations like PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) get wound up.

I covered the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest sled dog race twice and gained great respect for this sport but like any venture, you get your bad apples. Whether it was the employee who made a terrible choice or the owners who didn’t have the wherewithal to manage such a huge team of dogs, this incident will taint sled dog racing and touring.

Unfairly.

By the way…Coincidentally, the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest begins tomorrow from Whitehorse. You can follow it via their website (www.yukonquest.com).

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