Local mushers weigh in on dog sled discussion

Musher Chris Schwanke stands by his dogs Loki (left) and Lima (right). Lima, a five-year-old pup, is retired and up for adoption. Dog sledders say it's difficult to find homes for retired dogs. Photo by Lailani Mendoza.

At our interview, Taryn Rixon, Mountain Man Dog Sled Adventures co-owner, has just gotten off the phone with a new client. Surprisingly, the company has not experienced cancellations after the news from Whistler broke out. Allegations of 100 sled dogs slaughtered in Whistler have prompted an international uproar, but in Sun Peaks, Rixon and co-owner Chris Schwanke were relieved the bad press hasn’t seemed to affect their bookings.

In fact, they said people have been supportive. On the day SPIN did the interview, they were the only Sun Peaks based adventure company that went out for a tour. Rixon and Schwanke just started operations in Sun Peaks last year but have been working with dogs for years.

“Not all dog sled tour operators are here for the money,” Rixon stressed. “We’re here because we love the dogs. It’s very easy to see them as inventory but we see our pets as family, as individuals, and that’s really important.”

The company’s kennel is composed of 50 dogs, with five either retired or not currently working. One of them is Lima, a playful five-year-old Alaskan husky who’s up for adoption.

Rixon said it can be difficult to find homes for retired sled dogs for several reasons.

“They’re not used to being indoors. They’re not housebroken. They’re not used to riding in a vehicle. They’re not used to being off-leash,” she explained, that’s why they train the dogs to get used to these things as they approach retirement.

Unfortunately, older dogs in general don’t always get adopted easily.
“Some people would be more interested in taking a puppy, or adopting a five-year-old like Lima, and aren’t interested in those older dogs,” she said. “If we have an older dog that we can’t find a home for, they’re staying with us. They’re family.”

Ron Stone agrees. Stone runs tours in Lumby through his company Big Bear ATV Canoe and Kayak. He has three 14-year-old sled dogs who are retired.
“I let them live out their life out here,” said Stone. “I’ll be out there sledding with four dogs and I’ll have the three running behind me.”

“It’s always hard to find a home for older dogs, so whenever I look for a new puppy I look at a 15-year time frame. Anything less, you’re cheating the dog.”

Rob Bryce, a Prince George musher who raced sled dogs for 16 years, said colleagues would sell or give older dogs to new mushers because they’re good for training.

“They want a dog that knows all the commands. An older dog can teach the younger dogs quite quickly what the commands are,” he said. “A couple more years of looking after a dog that doesn’t run, for what they give you throughout their whole life, I don’t think is an inconvenience.”

Dog sled operations are a small industry in B.C. and are unregulated. Talks have surfaced about whether or not regulation should be put in place.
Stone said he’s opposed to any type of regulation.

“If a dog is being mistreated, a veterinarian or at least somebody will know about it. It’s regulated through that. I’m not for regulations; they have regulations for everything,” he reiterated. “My veterinarian, I wouldn’t be afraid for anybody to call him and ask ‘How does this guy treat his dogs?’ because he knows exactly how I treat my dogs.”

Rixon thinks the care of dogs could improve with some form of regulation.

“Right now there’s no regulation whatsoever so almost any company can start up their own company and have dogs. There’s no regulation in the way that the dogs are handled, the way they’re cared for, how often they’re fed, how often they run, and we would welcome something like that.”

Ben Stewart, the minister in charge of animal cruelty laws, has suggested that self-regulation is working. The Whistler investigation is still ongoing.

For more information on local dog sled tours, visit http://www.mountainmanadventures.ca or www.bigbeartours.ca.

Comments

comments

13 COMMENTS

  1. Lifeforce, a Vancouver-based ecology and animal rights organization, was invited to participate in the BC Sled Dog Industry Task Force review.

    The history of the sled dog industries reveals that the reported inhumane slaughter of dogs in Whistler, BC was not an aberration. It is inherent in the sled dog racing and tourism industries. The Task Force heard that there have been many, many cruelty investigations and charges laid. Of course some operations wouldn’t want regulations and more enforcement.

    There are thousands of dogs bred for this industry and you can’t find humane retirement homes for all the victims. There is no Canadian culture to preserve with sled dog breeders breeding huskies with greyhounds and other breeds in attempts to create faster breeds to win the lucrative prizes. Contrary to industry claims these dogs are not doing what they’re born to do. This sounds like the illegal dog fighters who claim that pit bulls were born to fight. Both claims are absurd and both are inherently cruel businesses that cannot be condoned.

    A compassionate society should not license cruelty. As stated in our report any regulations and self-regulations will not eliminate the abuses in the racing and tourism industries. In addition, any enforcement is not possible in many cases.

    People can choose to race themselves under gruelling circumstances and stop the exploitation of dogs. Racers and tourism businesses must put on their skis, ride snowmobiles or run all terrain vehicles (ATVs). People can enjoy Super Natural BC without animal exploitation. The plight of these dogs must end!

  2. so lets all get rid of our dogs and buy hummers and snowmobiles and dune buggys, and enjoy nature with 25 inch tires and exhaust. thats “my” Super Natural BC. that’s much nicer than spending time with a bunch of happy animals in the wilderness

  3. who says i run 1000 mile races? those races are a little extreme. the dogs that get chosen for those races are the best of the best. the healthiest and the hardest working.

    do you seriously think we force the dogs to do this? if the dogs aren’t willing to pull, they won’t. they would sit down and the racer wouldn’t even get out of the starting chute.

    at a race, there are always helpers to hold the dogs back before the start. the reason for that is because the dogs are so strong( which means healthy) and wanting to go. if the musher does his or her job, at the end of the race, they are probably exausted, but the dogs could run another 500 miles, it the musher who is the weak link in that situation.

    as for running mixed breed dogs, that’s called evolution. where do you think all these other breeds came from? if people didn’t mix bloodlines and breed for a specific purpose, we’d have everybody walking wolves down the street. how do you think that would work in a tiny little apartment? if everybody bred according to the “standard” there would be more inbred (purebred) dogs with health problems than there already are.

    1 IN 4 PUREBRED DOGS IN THE UNITED STATES HAVE SOME SORT OF GENETIC HEALTH PROBLEM!

    when i hook up a team, my goal is for the dogs to have a fun run. i don’t push them harder than they can handle. i don’t want anybody dying on the trail from exaustion. i have happy and healthy dogs, ask anybody who has been to my kennel.

    DO NOT COMPARE ME TO A DOG FIGHTER. that is an ignorant statement. if anybody from your group ever actually wants to see their first sled dog kennel with their own eyes, let me know. i’d love to talk face to face. dogsled@mountainmanadventures.ca

    i will never let one of my dogs be adopted by an “animal lover” who would keep them in their condo, walk them around the block once a day and become so fat that their belly’s touch the ground. all retired dogs stay with us unless a proper home presents itself. they sleep inside sometimes, beside our wood stove. everybody get’s the food they need, we worry about paying for it after. if you talk to other mushers, you’ll see that this is pretty common. DOGS COME FIRST!

  4. So you do or don’t support the “extreme” 1000 mile races like the Iditarod? Sled dog businesses and kennels often participate to promote their companies. Those “hard working” dogs suffer from injuries and death. There is no count since the beginning but at least 142 dogs have died during the Iditarod races alone. About a third of the nearly 1500 dogs are flown out exhausted, sick or injured.

    Yes dogs like to run especially after constant chaining and getting fed afterwards eh?

    Mixing sled dogs with grey hounds and others to create a faster breed for the race monies is the issue. It will also result in those genetic and health problems created in those other breeds that you mentioned. That includes blindness, hip/walking issues along with all the other physical and even psychological illnesses. I certainly do not condone humans creating any size, shape and colour for money and self indulgence. These Victorian aged human mistakes are the root of what led to the fashion dogs in apartments. But even they are usually not kept on 3 to 5 foot chains as in the sled dog industries.

    Dog fighters are an example of those who claim that their exploited animals “love” what they do in whatever business they are defending. Others include the caged and violent training in circuses, the abuses in rodeos, and barren pool prisons in aquariums. Behaviourally and socially deprived animals exhibit neurotic, stereotypical behaviour, such as self mutilations and pacing back and forth. Chained sled dogs have worn foot deep trenches by going around and around and around.

    You must have a large house for your 55 dogs for them all to lie around your fire? Or was that the 5 not working right now? Are you breeding any of them? I guess you didn’t mean to imply it included all of the 50 dogs? In the Sun Peaks News photo of your “kennel” it actually looked like individually chained dogs with tiny outdoor dog “houses”.

    The promotion of animal rights and laws is needed to stop the exploitation of animals for human financial gains. It cannot be tolerated in a society that must extend their circle of compassion to include other sentient beings with whom we share this planet. Legislation, such as stopping the 24/7 chaining of all dogs, would help reduce the suffering of a multitude of dogs. However, a ban on sled dog activities for profit within the province is necessary based in part on the probable lack of compliance and enforcement.

  5. So you do or don’t support the “extreme” 1000 mile races like the Iditarod? Sled dog businesses and kennels often participate to promote their companies. Those “hard working” dogs suffer from injuries and death. There is no count since the beginning but at least 142 dogs have died during the Iditarod races alone. About a third of the nearly 1500 dogs are flown out exhausted, sick or injured.

    Yes dogs like to run especially after constant chaining and getting fed afterwards eh?

    Mixing sled dogs with grey hounds and others to create a faster breed for the race monies is the issue. It will also result in those genetic and health problems created in those other breeds that you mentioned. That includes blindness, hip/walking issues along with all the other physical and even psychological illnesses. I certainly do not condone humans creating any size, shape and colour for money and self indulgence. These Victorian aged human mistakes are the root of what led to the fashion dogs in apartments. But even they are usually not kept on 3 to 5 foot chains as in the sled dog industries.

    Dog fighters are an example of those who claim that their exploited animals “love” what they do in whatever business they are defending. Others include the caged and violent training in circuses, the abuses in rodeos, and barren pool prisons in aquariums. Behaviourally and socially deprived animals exhibit neurotic, stereotypical behaviour, such as self mutilations and pacing back and forth. Chained sled dogs have worn foot deep trenches by going around and around and around.

    You must have a large house for your 55 dogs for them all to lie around your fire? Or was that the 5 not working right now? Are you breeding any of them? I guess you didn’t mean to imply it included all of the 50 dogs? In the Sun Peaks News photo of your “kennel” it actually looked like individually chained dogs with tiny outdoor dog “houses”.

    The promotion of animal rights and laws is needed to stop the exploitation of animals for human financial gains. It cannot be tolerated in a society that must extend their circle of compassion to include other sentient beings with whom we share this planet. Legislation, such as stopping the 24/7 chaining of all dogs, would help reduce the suffering of a multitude of dogs. However, a ban on sled dog activities for profit within the province is necessary based in part on the probable lack of compliance and enforcement.

  6. do you actually think we keep 50 dogs inside? that is just stupid.

    you are also quite skilled at reading a number, and then changing it to make things seem worse than they are.

    i have worked with sled dogs for 10 years and have seen a couple dozen different kennels throughout saskatchewan, alberta, bc, and the yukon. i have never seen dogs on tethers less than 5 feet long. my dogs ARE tethered. this allows for us to walk up one row and down the other and pet every silngle dog. it also takes 10 minutes to clean up and 15 minutes to feed the whole kennel. as for the “tiny” house, what do you expect? should they get a 2 story bungalow with carpet and heated floors? my houses have dry straw and are elevated off the ground. i can see that you have no idea how warm they actually are in that house

    you make judgement without learning the reason for it. good for you. you have no idea the sacrifices we have made to live this livestyle, and i don’t care to share them with you.

    i am just as mad as you are about the situation in whistler. i’ve been in contact with lots of other tour operators around the province, nobody was excited to hear about it. and many were dissappointed that we weren’t contacted to potentially help out. bottom line there is that those dogs are still owned by a corporation. i don’t know of any other kennel like that. all the ones i know of are family owned and operated and have less than 100 dogs. nobody has a 100 extra dogs to “get rid of” 350+dogs is way out of control. plain old stupid.

    i can’t wait for some regulation in my industry. if there were a set of reasonable rule to follow, this would eliminate the assholes who are in it to exploit the dogs. at my kennel, each dog get excersise and of course the get fed after. why wouldn’t they? they also eat first thing in the morning. a couple hours before they run. is that ok? my dogs get fed well. they get to eat a high quality dry dog food, rice and either turkey, beef, chicken or salmon. and also pure beef fat. they get what they need, and we worry about the food bill later. if it means not going out and partying all night, or eating out at a resturant or flying to mexico or something. that’s just one of our sacrifices we make for our dogs.

    this has already taken up too much of my time and patience. we have some family’s coming to visit with my dogs today. i can’t wait to introduce them to every single dog we have. they might even help me “force” those poor dogs into doing a 5km run in the backcountry. sounds like a terrible day. i’m might cancel the day and drive to the city and walk them on the sidewalk and dodge some traffic.

    feel free to make fun of my writing or mis-quote me any way you like. my offer still stands. i’d love to meet face to face. and i know of a bunch of other tour operators who would do the same.

    when it comes down to it, these are my animals, not yours. they are working dogs. i chose to make my life revolve around them. my goal when i started growing my kennel was to make sure i have the happiest healthiest dogs around.

    come for a visit. we’ll talk more. this back and forth bullshit doesn’t get anybody anywhere

  7. do you actually think we keep 50 dogs inside? that is just stupid.

    you are also quite skilled at reading a number, and then changing it to make things seem worse than they are.

    i have worked with sled dogs for 10 years and have seen a couple dozen different kennels throughout saskatchewan, alberta, bc, and the yukon. i have never seen dogs on tethers less than 5 feet long. my dogs ARE tethered. this allows for us to walk up one row and down the other and pet every silngle dog. it also takes 10 minutes to clean up and 15 minutes to feed the whole kennel. as for the “tiny” house, what do you expect? should they get a 2 story bungalow with carpet and heated floors? my houses have dry straw and are elevated off the ground. i can see that you have no idea how warm they actually are in that house

    you make judgement without learning the reason for it. good for you. you have no idea the sacrifices we have made to live this livestyle, and i don’t care to share them with you.

    i am just as mad as you are about the situation in whistler. i’ve been in contact with lots of other tour operators around the province, nobody was excited to hear about it. and many were dissappointed that we weren’t contacted to potentially help out. bottom line there is that those dogs are still owned by a corporation. i don’t know of any other kennel like that. all the ones i know of are family owned and operated and have less than 100 dogs. nobody has a 100 extra dogs to “get rid of” 350+dogs is way out of control. plain old stupid.

    i can’t wait for some regulation in my industry. if there were a set of reasonable rule to follow, this would eliminate the assholes who are in it to exploit the dogs. at my kennel, each dog get excersise and of course the get fed after. why wouldn’t they? they also eat first thing in the morning. a couple hours before they run. is that ok? my dogs get fed well. they get to eat a high quality dry dog food, rice and either turkey, beef, chicken or salmon. and also pure beef fat. they get what they need, and we worry about the food bill later. if it means not going out and partying all night, or eating out at a resturant or flying to mexico or something. that’s just one of our sacrifices we make for our dogs.

    this has already taken up too much of my time and patience. we have some family’s coming to visit with my dogs today. i can’t wait to introduce them to every single dog we have. they might even help me “force” those poor dogs into doing a 5km run in the backcountry. sounds like a terrible day. i’m might cancel the day and drive to the city and walk them on the sidewalk and dodge some traffic.

    feel free to make fun of my writing or mis-quote me any way you like. my offer still stands. i’d love to meet face to face. and i know of a bunch of other tour operators who would do the same.

    when it comes down to it, these are my animals, not yours. they are working dogs. i chose to make my life revolve around them. my goal when i started growing my kennel was to make sure i have the happiest healthiest dogs around.

    come for a visit. we’ll talk more. this back and forth bullshit doesn’t get anybody anywhere

  8. The point is that sled dogs are not in idyllic types of “kennels” with sheltered indoor and outdoor runs. It’s usually an open field with chained dogs. Many resulting physical and psychological health issues. But as you said your 50 dogs are “working dogs”. Working or not they deserve better living conditions.

    You didn’t answer questions as to if you support extreme gruelling races like the Iditarod. Now that the sled dog racing and tourist industries are under public scrutiny we hear mushers’ claims that the dogs are loving it and it is the other guys who are bad not them. No misquotes needed since the most revealing exploitations come direct from the industries people.

    Animal protection people and organizations agree that enforceable laws are needed. Lifeforce and others understand the failure of such laws and support a ban. That is it. May the dogs win not the people who profit from their misery.

  9. really ignorant!! i’m assuming u guys got a great plan for this POOR sled dog! whats u got line up for them!! i like to know????$$$$

  10. Hi Chris,
    I just wanted to say I have been out at the kennel before and you run a great home there. The dogs are nothing like the way Lifeforce is presumming they are, there were a couple off leash who came and greated us and some off leash that just liked laying in there houses or in their friends houses. They were all extremely excited when they were about to go running and even more so for the nice big piece of fat they got after the run. The puppy was an angel, a misgivious one but still cute and healthy as a button. The retired one was so loving and so peaceful and still very energetic. The family that was there at the same time, loved the experience and the little girls had huge smiles on their faces. I think what you and Taryn have done with that place is amazing and it shows in your dogs.
    I read an article in the paper today about a dog beaten and left tied to the front door of the SPCA with a sevre head condition, which eventually had to be put down because she was not able to walk or even stand, she was too far gone. I believe that Lifeforce needs to start opening their eyes to those stories instead of verbally attacking your amazing and well loved dogs.
    Yes the whistler 100 was a horrific event and there is no excuse for that, but just because people have a business to have dogs doesn’t mean they have the dogs to have a business.
    If they did out in regulations, I don’t believe it would effect you guys because you already take such good care of your family, and it shows through and through.
    Keep up the great work you two, you guys and your dogs are awesome
    Cheers

  11. Help Stop the Whistler Sled Dog Cruelty Industry!
    The Liberals claimed that BC will have the best provincial animal protection following the massacre of the sled dogs in Whistler. However, animal protection has not improved. The Sled Dog Task Force lied about the 100 sled dog slaughter being isolated when it was proven that cruelties are inherent, the Liberals formed a Mushers’ Association to protect the industry not the dogs, and the recent guidelines permitted the continuance of 24/7 chaining, inhumane shooting and all the other abuses.  Outdoor Adventures “donated” their business and it is now operating as Whistler Sled Dog Co..
    In addition, proposed legislation to transfer Animal Abuse appeals from the B.C. Supreme Court to the B.C. Farm Industry Review Board, will make it easier for animal abusers.Nearly 2 years after the dog slaughter still no charges have been laid. The government can start getting tough on animal abusers by banning the sled dog abuse industry!
    The Lifeforce petition is to the three Whistler Dog Sled Companies, Outdoor Adventures (the company that slaughtered a reported 100 dogs), Whistler Tourism, and Premier Christy Clark. Since only March 6th there are nearly 500 signatures
    Stop “Whistler Sled Dog Cruelty Industry!” Petition
    http://www.thepetitionsite.com/378/749/188/whistler-sled-dog-massacre-no-criminal-charges-to-date/
    Lifeforce has also started  “Stop Whistler Sled Dog Cruelty Industry!” Facebook
    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Stop-Whistler-Sled-Dog-Cruelty-Industry/237793416299804

Comments are closed.