This is a bit of a difficult blog for me to write. The story is so tragic that words kind of escape me-- and there is always the danger when that happens of what I want to say coming out all wrong. Because 100 dogs are dead -- brutally dead -- and there were so many opportunities to have made it right. And everyone involved failed miserably.
Unless you've been living in an internet void, you've at least caught the headline of the story. But, as the story goes, a man in British Columbia brutally shot and killed 100 sled dogs that were owned by his employer (and I say brutally because this is even worse than a typical shooting with some graphic details in the article and apparently the man isn't a good aim). The man worked for a tour operator in Whistler -- which is the area that hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics. They built themselves up a large base of sled dogs in order to capitalize on the tourism from the Olympics and giving dog-sled tours to tourists.
However, after the Olympics passed, tourism slowed, and the the company found themselves with a lot more dogs than they had work for them to do.
So the tour company owner had one of his employees take care of the problem. So the employee reportedly did what would be expected and tried to contact his local SPCA....who denied him. Twice. Apparently, the tour operator also called a veterinarian to humanely kill the dogs, but the veterinarian also denied the request to kill 100 healthy dogs.
So the man shot the dogs. This event happened back in April of 2010.
The entire story only became public 10 months later because the man who pulled the trigger went in seeking treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because of the stress of the situation he was involved in. It is unlikely that had the man done this with a clear conscience that we would ever have found out about the tragedy.
Most people are obviously outraged at the story. And they should be. But how we aim that venom could very well lead to a lot of decisions that could dramatically change how we view dogs on this continent.
This story represents, on so many levels, where we as humans have failed dogs in this society.
While some have pointed to dog sledding and other types of working as the problem, in my opinion, that is somewhat misplaced. I confess, up front, that I am a fan of working dogs. For the most part I think dogs enjoy having a job to do, and being trained to do it, and doing it well. I have met so many happy dogs that spend their days working, whether it be doing hearding work, 'helping' on the farm, racing, catching frisbees, searching for drugs, police work or basic agility. I have no doubts that this translates well to sled dogs (although confess that I am not around it much in Kansas City).
"I think dogs who are doing the work for which they’re bred are among the happiest dogs in the world, certainly happier than far too many bored, overweight, under-challenged couch pups."
No, I really don't think it is the act of working the dogs that is the problem -- but, as Fred summed up yesterday, the Cull Culture that too often surrounds these working situations:
In Canada, most of us grow up with a respect for dogs, albeit to varying degrees. The idea of using them as a source of income doesn't always sit well with a lot of people especially if the business results in dogs suffering. But the public itself is conflicted in this....
Dog sled tourism and, similarly, competitive dog sledding, also sit on that edge between what is publicly acceptable and what is not. I have to admit that the idea of being pulled around by a team of huskies has more than once crossed my mind as something I'd like to try doing some day. But while we, the public, are shown pictures of outdoor adventure and excitement with a fun loving pack of dogs, we are not usually privy to the lives, and deaths, of the dogs after they are taken out of the public eye.
While I, myself, am not as concerned about whether someone makes money off of a dog or not, certainly if the dogs are mistreated, or in this case, culled, I begin to change my mind on the matter very quickly. This has often been my problem with greyhound racing. While I don't see the act of sending a greyhound around the track chasing a fake rabbit as abuse (and the dogs sure seem to find it fun), it is the idea that so many around racing treat the dogs as disposable once their work is done that is problematic.
And as a society, we need to find the balance between dogs being useful in a working environment and the idea that those who are no longer "useful" at that task being seen as disposable. They're not.
Again, back to Christie:
"All our activities on this planet need to be sustainable, and if we bring sled dogs, or any other animals, into this world, they're our responsibility. Our business plans, our economic models, can't be based on an exit strategy drenched in animal blood, that becomes the stuff of human nightmares."
And this sums up where a lot of dog "industries" have failed -- whether those industries be greyhound racing, dog sledding, or breeding operations.
But our failure of the animals, as a society, goes much deeper than even this.
Meanwhile, as shelters, we have continued to fail in our core mission of helping animals that are in need and need to be protected when such an "exit strategy" has to take place. How is turning our back on a group of dogs that is running low on options (and a shelter should be a safe haven as a last resort), living up to our jobs as a shelters? As YesBiscuit! so eloquently puts it:
"Violence against pets – including the needless killing of healthy/treatable pets in shelters – is a societal issue which we have failed to adequately address for far too long. While individual acts of cruelty represent a tiny fraction of the pet owning public, needless shelter killing represents a systemic attitude excusing and whitewashing violence against pets. If we as a humane society fail to embrace the concept of no kill in our animal shelters, how can we expect our justice system to live up to our expectations when prosecuting individual cases of animal cruelty? And how do we expect our children, who are often provided so-called humane education by the same public shelter staff responsible for the needless killing of millions of pets each year, to cultivate compassion toward pets?"
Yes, we should be outraged. Because as a society we continue to be much more of a failure toward the dogs than they have ever been toward us. Shelters have to get themselves in a situation where they can actually help animals who need the help. And people who use dogs for working purposes need to be responsible about it -- lest their entire industries be understandably shut down (which is becoming close to a reality when it comes to greyhound racing).
Yes, it is a tragedy. But how we react to the tragedy could have long-term implications to the welfare of animals for years to come...including the role of some dog-related industries (and how those industries react), to how we handle culling and sheltering. Because across the board these dogs were failed by the humans in the equation...and placing the blame on in one area, or misplacing the blame, will only ensure that we don't really solve the problems that need to be solved.
The most updated info from the Vancouver Sun.
Great commentary from Fred at Pound Dogs.
Outrage growing over sled dog slaughter - The Pet Connection
Shelter twice refused to help sled dogs - The Pet Connection
Animal Cruelty Cases in the News - YesBiscuit!