By Christie Keith
February 2, 2011
On Monday, Canadian radio station CKNW discovered and reported on details of the gruesome killing of around 100 sled dogs by the manager of Outdoor Adventures Whistler in British Columbia.
The descriptions are graphic and upsetting, and I’ve wrestled with how much to share here. I’ve chosen to give you links instead of quoting the most disturbing material, because it’s taken me more than 6 hours to write this post — IÂ keep having to stop and get a grip on myself. Please click with caution.
Outdoor Adventures Whistler claimed through spokesperson Graham Aldcroft that they had no idea their employee, identified as Robert T. Fawcett, was going to gun the dogs down in such a brutal fashion. They thought they’d be “euthanized” in a humane manner if no homes could be found for them.
Fawcett did attempt to get a veterinarian to kill the dogs by injection, but the vet he asked refused to kill a hundred perfectly healthy dogs. FawcettÂ also stated some attempt was made to find new homes for the dogs, but without success.
All this came to light because Fawcett filed a workers compensation claim with local authorities for post-traumatic stress symptoms related to the killings. From the Montreal Gazette:
In a Dec. 27, 2010, posting on a website forum for trauma sufferers, a Whistler resident named Bob Fawcett, an award-winning dogsledder, wrote: â€œIâ€™ve had a pretty horrible ordeal and actually figure I may be able to be a good sounding board for others … and it has pretty much destroyed my soul.â€
Fawcett’s claim was approved, and he remains an employee of the company.
I have no problem with working dogs in general nor sled dogs in particular. 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.
But there is no breed of dog that was bred to be gunned down, a hundred at a time, by a single unqualified worker, while 200 other chained dogs watched and listened. That is an obscenity.
When I was at the North American Veterinary Conference last month, I attended a number of presentations that made reference to “The Five Freedoms.” (Our own Ericka Basile wrote about one of them here.)
The Five Freedoms grew out of a 1965 UK government investigation into inhumane farm practices, which resulted in the 1967 formation of the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (now the Farm Animal Welfare Council). After going through a number of incarnations, the “five freedoms” became these:
- Freedom from thirst and hunger – by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.
- Freedom from discomfort – by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
- Freedom from pain, injury, and disease – by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
- Freedom to express normal behavior – by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
- Freedom from fear and distress – by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.
Today, those freedoms are being applied to all populations of animals held, kept, sheltered, and worked by humans, from animal shelters to ranches to family farms. They are not honored everywhere nor even in most places where people keep animals. But they are a set of standards being more widely adopted every day, and against which there is no legitimate opposition.
One of the ways in which the last freedom is always interpreted is that animals should never be killed, slaughtered, euthanized — use whatever term you like — in the sight or hearing of other animals. And the animals who are dying need to die in a way that’s swift and as free of stress as possible.
We can argue all day long about the nuances and terms of these standards. I’ve had those debates already, and I’m sure I’ll have a hundred more. But every organization or business, from animal shelter to farm, that doesn’t live up to those standards is going to find itself increasingly expected to do so, or face consequences ranging from legal penalties to greater regulation to criminal charges.
If the sled dog tour industry wants to hold its head up for one more day, if it wants to continue to exist even beyond this winter, it needs to not just denounce this brutal action, but make sure the “culling” of its retired dogs is handled by adoption, sanctuary, and creative re-homing, not by the bullet nor even by the needle.
At least one Canadian sled-dogging guide agrees. From the Toronto Globe and Mail:
â€œAny dog sledder who culls dogs at the end of a season should be culled himself, as far as weâ€™re concerned,â€ said Paul McCormick, head dog sledding guide for Wilderness Adventures, a Toronto-based company that runs dog-sledding trips through Canadaâ€™s Algonquin Park.
â€œYou donâ€™t go out and cull dogs,â€ he said. â€œWeâ€™re part of the largest dog sled operation in the world with 40 dogs and we never cull dogs. We retire them, theyâ€™re adopted … there are a lot of alternatives.â€
The veterinarian who refused to kill those dogs was right, even if their ultimate fates may haunt him. 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.
Photo from a CTV.ca report.