Danielle Hanna, Global Animal

BRITISH COLUMBIA Dozens of former sled dogs are now seeking loving homes with committed caregivers, three years after surviving the brutal killing of 56 of their fellow pack members. British Columbia’s SPCA calls the incident one of the worst mass animal cruelty cases in Canadian history. The dogs that survived the cull have been under the care of a non-profit animal welfare organization after the mass grave was uncovered in late 2010. 

Former sled dogs look for loving homes with kind, dedicated guardians. Photo credit: straight.com
Former sled dogs look for loving homes with kind, dedicated guardians. Photo credit: straight.com

The Sled Dog Foundation created the Whistler Sled Dog Company (WSDC) in order to care for the remaining sled dogs. After taking in 187 dogs and successfully continuing the dog sledding business with the healthy survivors, the Sled Dog Foundation decided it would be best for the dogs’ welfare to abandon all dog sledding endeavors at this point, and instead focus their efforts on finding excellent homes for the remaining dogs.

WSDC is working with British Columbia’s SPCA along with a local animal shelter called Whistler Animals Galore (WAG), and succeeded in placing 90 of the dogs with caring adoptive families in the last 18 months.

WSDC volunteer board member Sue Eckersley explains that the company has enough money to continue caring for the dogs, but that they would need to bring in more dogs to continue dog sledding operations due to the trauma that many of the survivors face after witnessing the massacre. WSDC found it inappropriate, as an animal welfare organization, to take on responsibility for more animals in order to maintain the dog sledding business.

The B.C. SPCA’s chief prevention enforcement officer, Marcy Moriarty, explains they expect a high demand for the dogs, but these dogs will need especially understanding and patient adoptive guardians. Some of the dogs are traumatized after witnessing the massacre, requiring specialized care. Animal behavioral specialists have been assisting with socializing the dogs for life with adoptive families.

“People have to be cautious when they’re looking to adopt. This is not a novelty pet so people can say ‘Oh, I have one of the Whistler sled dogs.’ That’s a big, big fear. I’m sure that both WAG and us at the SPCA will be hyper-vigilant to match these dogs with the right home environment,” said Moriarty.

“Like all sled dogs they will need increased socialization, a customization to cultural sounds and smells – even just walking on concrete is something very foreign to them,” said Bob Buch, B.C. SPCA’s general manager of shelter operations.

Sue Eckersley of WSDC clarifies that none of the dogs will be euthanized in the event that adoptive homes cannot be arranged. “I will take the dogs into my own home before I let that happen,” she said.

Howling Dog Tours performed the cull, or selective killing, in April 2010 because of their decline in business after the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. The man responsible for the brutal deaths, Robert Fawcett, pleaded guilty to causing unnecessary pain and suffering to animals. He was fined $1,500 and sentenced to three years of probation, a 10-year firearms ban, as well as 200 hours of community service.

The massacre was uncovered as a result of a worker’s compensation claim that an employee filed for post-traumatic stress disorder after witnessing and partaking in the killings.

After the cull was discovered, the government of British Columbia enacted protection for sled dogs outlining appropriate sled dog living and working conditions as well as euthanasia policies. Regulations have been administered to require that dog sledding businesses arrange for the lifetime care of the sled dogs so that they do not end up in shelters after their dog sledding years are over.

Eckersley says that although there are no regrets regarding WSDC’s care of the surviving sled dogs, she is concerned about the practices of other dog sledding operations and “whether dog sledding is ethical or not as a commercial tourism operation.”

Those interested in adopting a former sled dog are asked to email [email protected].

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