Almost two years after a gruesome sled dog cull, the British Columbia government has introduced another layer of protection for working dogs.
The Sled Dog Code of Practice sets out standards of care for everything from health, nutrition and housing to working conditions, transportation and euthanasia.
The new rules come after the B.C. chapter of the SPCA uncovered a mass grave of 56 sled dogs near Whistler, B.C., last year.
Marcie Moriarty, general manager of cruelty investigations, said the regulations are a good step forward to regulate the sled dog industry and the health of working dogs.
“This document, both the code and the regulations, will help inform the industry (and) provide minimum standards that will improve working dogs’ welfare.”
Ms. Moriarty said the SPCA found significant concerns in some of the sled dog operations it had investigated, including traditional practices in the keeping of dogs.
Ms. Moriarty, who was part of the consultation process on the code of practice, said the use of continuous tethering has been one of the main concerns about the industry.
“We fought very hard that the regulations required at the very minimum once-daily opportunities to be off tether for both socialization and exercise,” she said.
“We’d like to see a day when all sled dog operations go towards a penning-type setup.”
The treatment of B.C. sled dogs came into sharp focus last January after the leak of a worker’s compensation claim about a man with post-traumatic stress disorder after killing the animals.
The case drew international outrage and sparked a government task force that resulted in tougher laws and regulations.
Documents describe a bloody scene where some of the 56 dogs had been shot, while others had their throats slit.
The SPCA is recommending one charge of causing unnecessary pain and suffering to an animal against sled dog operator Bob Fawcett.
The Crown, which makes the decision on charges in British Columbia, hasn’t yet approved any allegations against the man.
This is the second major change to animal cruelty laws since the bodies of the dogs were dug up.
B.C. now has the toughest animal cruelty penalties in Canada and other changes ensure that sled dog companies operating on Crown land are inspected annually by the SPCA or a veterinarian.
Ms. Moriarty said it’s sad that such rules need to be spelled out, but some people with working dogs need to be reminded their animals need to be maintained.
“Unfortunately what was happening is you would get operations with hundreds of dogs and the argument is, ‘Well, we can’t let these dogs off, we can’t keep records, we have 100 dogs or more.’ Well the solution there is don’t have 100 dogs,” she said.
She said the code has some unique features such as a requirement for socialization of the dogs to ensure they could thrive in a new environment when their sled dog career is over.
The code also emphasizes that killing the sled dogs shouldn’t be used as a primary means of population control and when mushers acquire dogs, they need to have a life-cycle plan for each animal.
The regulations don’t limit the number of dogs.
While the SPCA supports the changes, Ms. Moriarty said the government hasn’t given the SPCA the tools to enforce the code.
“The provincial government has made it clear it does not intend to provide any funding for cruelty investigations this year,” she said. “If the regulation is to be enforced, the government will have to allocate funds needed to make this happen.”
The SPCA’s 26 cruelty investigators look into about 7,000 complaints every year in the province.