Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Response To The Whistler, BC Sled Dog Killings

Location: Armuchee, GA
Time - 12:31pm Eastern Standard Time
Temperature: 43 degrees F (6C)
Conditions: Mostly sunny, few high clouds
Forecast: Clouds increasing today, snow showers tonight and tomorrow with accumulation expected. Highs in the 40s, lows in the 20s
Above: Not all touring sled dogs are treated cruelly
Me with Orion at the Alaska tour kennel where I handled, March 2008

Many of you have probably heard the reports of the sled dog killings in Whistler, BC. It's turned into a he-said, she-said, pass the buck case in Canada with a lot of conflicting reports. I don't know the mushers or tour kennel involved (although I know the company has come under fire before and one prominent animal rights group has had pictures of their dogs on their website for several years) so I can't say who I believe. However, what is pretty much undisputed is that 100 sled dogs were killed last April at Howling Dog Tours of Whistler (which is NOT to be confused with Howling Dog Tours Ltd. of Canmore, Alberta OR Howling Dog Alaska). This came to light when a worker filed for compensation for PTSD after killing the dogs.

You can read the original document here - BUT BE WARNED - it contains EXTREMELY GRAPHIC AND DISTURBING DESCRIPTIONS. Honestly, I had a really hard time getting through it. It's absolutely reprehensible and disgusting.

This hit international news about a week ago and there has been a ton of outrage in the mushing community and the dog world in general. Of course, there have been disputes about who ordered what and why and whether efforts were made to find homes for the dogs. Whatever the case, it sounds like extremely bad kennel management on someone's part.

Below is a news report on the case:

There was a pretty good article on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution website today (it may or may not be published in a print edition of the paper), which I am including below because it has a lot of information:
Activists target dog sled rides after dog deaths
The Associated Press

slaughter of 100 sled dogs in Canada has re-energized efforts by some animal
activists to ban or boycott dog sled rides, a popular activity among tourists in
many winter vacation spots, from New England to Minnesota to Alaska."I don't
think society is willing to accept that animals, particularly dogs, should be
killed just because they are surplus or don't suit the purpose they were born
for," said Debra Probert, executive director of the Vancouver Humane Society,
which has called for a provincial ban on tour businesses.
The dogs belonged
to Howling Dog Tours Whistler Inc., and its parent company Outdoor Adventures
Whistler, located in British Columbia. The dogs were killed last April by a
company employee. The incident came to light recently when the employee applied
for worker's compensation, saying he suffered post-traumatic stress after
shooting the dogs and slitting their throats.
Documents from the worker's
compensation probe said the company acquired the dogs in anticipation of extra
business during the Olympic Games in Vancouver, and that the animals were
destroyed after bookings fell. But in a letter to the editor published in the
Vancouver Sun newspaper, Howling Dog's owner, Joey Houssian, said "some old and
sick dogs needed to be put down" and the company thought the worker assigned the
task would perform the culling "in a professional and humane manner." The worker
has not been named by authorities and no charges have been brought.
and others believe the incident is the tip of an iceberg in the dog sledding
industry, but others say it shocking because it is so rare.
Hundreds of North
American businesses offer sled rides as part of winter vacation getaways. But
there are no dog sled police who inspect, license or regulate them.
Paul and
Sue Schurke have owned Wintergreen Dog Sled Lodge in Ely, Minn., for 30 years.
"What happened in B.C. is such a shocking anomaly, I've never heard the likes of
it. The magnitude of this atrocity is so shocking — all of us, our heads are
reeling. I'm not aware of anyone in the recreational mushing industry who makes
a habit of culling," Schurke said.
Most reputable sled dog businesses belong
to an Alaska-based group called Mush for PRIDE, Schurke said.
Musher Karen
Ramstead, who owns North Wapiti Siberian Husky Kennels in Perryvale, Alberta,
Canada, has been president of the group for the last three years.
organization, which stands for Providing Responsible Information on Dogs in
their Environment, has about 500 members in several countries, including South
Africa, Sweden, Canada and the United States. The Howling Dogs employee who
killed the dogs was a member of PRIDE'S board, Ramstead said, and he has been
This isn't the first time the industry has come under attack. Mush
with PRIDE was formed in the mid-1990s because of pressure from animal rights
groups over the treatment of dogs, said Ramstead, who has finished the Iditarod
four times. The group recommends standards for things like food, water, exercise
and kennel size.
To call for a ban is "gross overreaction," she said. "I am
horrified by what happened in Whistler. That is not acceptable to me as an
individual or to the organization. But to paint an entire sport with the sins of
one individual is irresponsible as far as I am concerned."
"When dog sledding
is done correctly, it's an awesome sport — awesome, awesome, awesome," said Seth
Sachson, executive director of the Aspen Animal Shelter and the Aspen Boarding
Kennel in Aspen, Colo.
He has eight sled dogs, all rescued from his shelter.
"I am not going to kill them when they are done sledding. They are welcome to
live with me forever and be my pets," he said, adding that they get along with
his chickens, goats and horses and love the children who visit.
When critics
list their objections to sledding, they include culling and living conditions —
always tethered, always outdoors and with little social interaction.
As a
result, finding homes for older dogs can be a challenge.
Sachson believes
most sled dogs can become good pets. He has worked with older dogs who just
needed time and patience.
"We get them to stop walking around in circles.
Some walk in circles because they've lived on a chain their whole life and
that's what they know," he said.
They need to be taught how to walk on a
leash, climb stairs, walk across linoleum without falling and ride in a car
without vomiting. And there is house-training.
Schurke, who keeps 65 dogs,
said he has a waiting list of people who want to adopt his dogs when they are
The California-based Animal League Defense Fund has offered Canadian
prosecutors money for forensics and expert witnesses, asked whistleblowers to
report other culling abuses and urged people to write Iditarod race sponsors
asking them to back out, said Lisa Franzetta, ADLF's director of
The 1,150-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska, the
world's most famous sled dog race, starts March 5.
Humane Society
International/Canada called for stronger laws for the sled dog industry. HSI's
sister group, the Humane Society of the United States, doesn't have an official
position on racing for sport or recreation, just that it be humane to
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals does
not oppose racing, but opposes "any and all cruel practices involved in the
sport of racing dogs, horses or other animals, whether for speed, endurance or
both, on tracks, trails or snow."
"Sadly, this is not an isolated incident.
Mushers routinely abandon, shoot, bludgeon, or drown dogs when they become ill,
don't run fast enough, or are simply unwanted," Michelle Sherrow of Lexington,
Ky., wrote on behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
deaths of these dogs serve as a tragic reminder never to patronize dog sled tour
operations. With the Iditarod coming up, be sure to tell everyone you know about
the cruelty inherent in dog sledding," she said.
Whether the slaughter will
result in legal charges is unclear, said Maneesha Deckha, an associate professor
of law at the University of Victoria. She said that while killing your pets is
not illegal, putting them through unnecessary suffering is. "Anti-cruelty law is
very narrow in scope," Deckha said. "It doesn't really protect against animal
abuse, it only protects certain animals from certain types of treatment that we,
as a culture, find shocking."
Stehan Otto, an attorney in Portland, Ore., and
director of legislative affairs for ALDF, agreed, saying the legal question will
be whether there was inappropriate pain and
08, 2011 02:55 PM EST

The Whistler slaughter does not reflect the way most tour (or racing) kennels are run anymore than the actions of one football player reflect on all football players who own animals. As I mentioned briefly at the beginning, I handled at a tour kennel outside of Fairbanks, Alaska. The kennel (much smaller than Howling Dog) was situated right beside a Bed & Breakfast. The dogs were well-treated, friendly and it was obvious the owner really loved them. Plus, with the kennel in full-view of guests 24/7, there would be no way to hide mistreatment.

I know owners of various other tour kennels and can say without a doubt that they would never do something horrible to their dogs. If you would like names of kennels that I can personally vouch for, let me know. Also, if you are wanting to take a sled dog tour, talk to the owners of the kennel about their sled dog philosophy - most mushers are happy to talk about their dogs and can tell you stories about every dog they've ever had!

In the wake of all of this however, I am encouraging anyone who wishes they could have done something to take a different kind of action. You can still make a difference in the lives of other sled dogs. Check out and . Or even check out your local animal shelter or breed rescue for pets of all kinds looking for a home.

We can continue on and maybe, just maybe, use some of that energy from our outrage and anger to do some good.

I'll close with a few other links to articles and writings on this issue. Note that this is not a cross-section of news articles, just some links I thought were of interest:

Are Sled Dogs Impossible To Rehome? -

Canmore Company Would Have Taken Unwanted Sled Dogs -

Local Man Believes His Dogs Among Those Killed -

The Morality Of Sled Dog Tours And Responsible Travel -

Local Sledders 'Sickened' By News Of Cull -

Whistler Sled Dog Company Continues To Change Its Story - (very angry/slanted against one person in particular, but shows a good example of the conflicting reports)

Sled Dog Company Finds Name A Problem -

In the meantime, I suggest we all give our dogs a big hug.

Signing out for today. I'll soon return to the usual fun posts about Wolf Moon's racing and training.



  1. This is such a sad and tragic event. What is even more sad is that most people may assume all mushers and the entire dog sledding community mistreat their dogs.

    Great blog!

  2. I think what the owner/employee that killed those dogs did, was absolutely monsterous. I also think the BC ASPCA dropped the ball big time. Having an "expert" say the dogs were un-adoptable without taking the time to evaluate them borders on willful neglect. Imagine if someone who knew anything about sled dogs, and animal behavior actually visited with those dogs. This probably wouldn't have ended in the tragic death of 100 beautiful dogs.

    I have two huskies after the passing of my two older huskies (from old age 15yrs, & 17yrs.) and will soon begin training them to run on lead while they "pull" me on my bike. My older huskies loved it when they were younger, and I'm sure the pups will too.
    BTW I live in Acworth, Ga. Not far from you; so if you ever need/want the company of some more huskies and their person, let me know. I'm always on the lookout for huskies and their people.

  3. is only speculation that this person actually made contact with the SPCA.

    As for the banning of the industry, I think it's absurd. If every industry that had ONE bad company, were banned...EVERYTHING would come to a grinding halt.

    These over zealous picketers haven't even bothered to investigate all the companies they wish to terminate. I say ban the foolish picketers.