Sled dogs not being neglected: vet
Local companies defend their dog care practices ANIMAL WELFARE
April 1, 2009
Jennifer Miller firstname.lastname@example.org
A long-time Whistler veterinarian who cares for many of the Whistler area’s sled dogs says he hasn’t seen any signs of neglect from local operators — and if he did he’d be calling the B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SCPA) to report them.
Dr. David Lane of Coast Mountain Veterinary Services has been a vet in Whistler for almost 17 years and he said he’s seen pretty much all the area dogs that are used for sled dog tours. He said the situations he sees at sled dog kennels in the Pemberton area and the Callaghan Valley are similar to the issues he encounters with regular pet owners.
Weight concerns, mostly with overweight dogs, dental health and parasite control are “normal” things all dog owners have to deal with, he said.
“There is no, in my mind, any outright neglect,” Dr. Lane said Tuesday (March 31) of recent concerns about the care of local sled dogs from tour guests and SPCA officers.
The SPCA’s Eileen Drever told The Question last week that she’s dealing with a couple of ongoing investigations in regard to how Whistler-area sled dogs are kept. Two women who took separate tours with Blackcomb Snowmobiles in January wrote letters to Whistler’s mayor and council expressing concerns about the thin, bony appearance of some dogs as well as their cowering demeanour and other health concerns. [AAS Comment: So why didn't Drever see Fawcett's declaration to it that the dogs were in trouble before he killed the dogs, as a red flag, and rush up to Whistler? She had, or should have had, years of reports of shoking abuse going back at least as far as 2000. And how many reports has the SPCA received over the years? The media should do its job and demand to know that.]
Dr. Lane said he supports the idea of SPCA officers checking out local sled dog operations, but he doesn’t see any “huge problems” in the Whistler-area industry. Just because the SPCA is checking things out doesn’t mean there’s “a horror story going on,” he said.
Dr. Lane said it’s difficult to tell from five feet away if a dog is underweight, and most sled dogs give the appearance of being underweight when they’re not. He uses a body condition score that evaluates bones and musculature in different areas of the dog’s body to make a weight assessment.
“It’s not a matter of the dogs not being offered enough food,” he said. “Some of the dogs look a lot thinner than they really are.”
It can be difficult to get working dogs, like Alaskan huskies and other sled dog breeds, to eat enough to compensate for how many calories they’re burning, Dr. Lane said. Owners have to work to keep weight on some dogs, and it’s a matter of keeping a close eye on the dogs and tweaking each dog’s diet to manage their weight. Dr. Lane said he sees that as an animal husbandry issue, not a “neglect thing.”
Still, he said he could understand why some guests might think some dogs look skinny, especially when “it’s become almost a social norm for dogs to be overweight.”
As for concerns about the dogs being fearful of humans, Dr. Lane said huskies are a typically “nervous” breed and it’s not an indication they’ve been treated poorly.
Dr. Lane said in the past he’s called the SCPA to report domestic pet owners when he’s seen evidence of abuse, and he wouldn’t hesitate to do that if he ever saw evidence at any of the area’s sled dog kennels.
“Although the client is the one who hired me I represent the animal,” he said.
Meanwhile, The Question received an email this week from a reader who told a similar story to the dog sled guests who had concerns about the dogs’ health. Patricia Watson wrote that she was “horrified” to see dogs that were “extremely underweight, had horrible diarrhoea and bleeding paws” when she took a tour booked through the Hilton in February.
The same dogs were used to pull the sled, and Watson described the situation as “animal cruelty.”
Two local sled dog operations also contacted The Question in response to last week’s article to publicly state how they care for their dogs. Bob Fawcett of Whistler Dogsledding, which provides dogs to Outdoor Adventures Whistler, has been in the Whistler industry for about a decade.
He said he’s worked with the SPCA in the past and has improved his operation based on their suggestions, such as providing the dogs with toys. But recent SPCA visits have been sporadic, unannounced and full of “anger and anxiety,” he said.
Dr. Lane does four kennel visits a year and those reports are sent to the SPCA. Fawcett said he would prefer to have the SPCA officers deal directly with Dr. Lane to monitor his Pemberton-area kennel.
Whistler Dogsledding currently has about 320 dogs, which Fawcett admits sounds like a lot, but he estimates the company does about 90 per cent of the tour volume in Whistler. He refuses to run each dog more than twice a day, and they work two days on, one day off.
Fawcett is vice president of Mush With Pride, an organization that outlines standards for the care of sled dogs. The company runs kennel tours in the summer for people interested in learning more.
Craig Beattie, general manager of Canadian Dogsled Adventures, outlined the company’s dog care practices in a letter. He wrote that the company strives to raise the bar in the industry and they have not received any citations from the SPCA.
Handlers live with the dogs in their Callaghan Valley kennel, and modifications and improvements are always being made to their care. “All of the feedback received from other mushers, industry professionals, vets etc. has been positive and encouraging,” Beattie wrote.