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Tag: sled dogs

Sled dog slaughter leads to calls for ban

The slaughter of 100 sled dogs in Canada has reenergized efforts by some animal activists to ban or boycott dog sled rides, the Associated Press reports.

There are hundreds of North American businesses offering dog sled rides as part of winter vacation getaways — from New England to Alaska — but the industry is not regulated or licensed, and kennels go largely uninspected.

And some animal welfare activists suspect that the kind of “culling” that took place in British Columbia takes place regularly, if on a far smaller scale.

“I don’t think society is willing to accept that animals, particularly dogs, should be killed just because they are surplus or don’t suit the purpose they were born for,’’ said Debra Probert, executive director of the Vancouver Humane Society, which has called for a provincial ban on tour businesses.

The 100 dogs killed last April belonged to Howling Dog Tours Whistler Inc., and its parent company Outdoor Adventures Whistler, located in British Columbia. The dogs were killed by a company employee, who shot some dogs and slit the throats of others.

The incident came to light when he applied for workers’ compensation, saying he has suffered posttraumatic stress since carrying out the orders from his boss.

Documents from the workers’ compensation probe said the company acquired the dogs in anticipation of extra business during the Olympic Games in Vancouver, and that the animals were destroyed after bookings fell. But in a letter to the editor published in the Vancouver Sun newspaper, Howling Dog’s owner, Joey Houssian, said “some old and sick dogs needed to be put down’’ and the company thought the worker assigned the task would perform the culling “in a professional and humane manner.’’

Killing 100 sled dogs gave him nightmares

About 100 dogs were gunned down execution-style in British Columbia when a company that offers sled dog tours apparently decided that, due to a downturn in business, it could no longer afford to maintain them.

The shocking revelation of the mass killing (the industry prefers the term “culling”) surfaced through the British Columbia Worker’s Compensation Board, where a company employee filed a claim saying that killing the dogs, on April 21 and 23 of last year, caused him post-traumatic stress disorder.

The SPCA in British Columbia has launched an investigation into the incident.

“Culling” – or thinning the “herd”  — is apparently not an uncommon practice among sled dog companies, according to the SPCA, either in the U.S. or Canada, where the sled dog tour industry is largely unregulated.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone engaged in the illegal killing of sled dogs in either country. 

The 100 dogs – used in sled dog tours operated by Outdoor Adventures — were gunned downed while tethered. The employee, acting under the orders of his boss, began shooting dogs as other dogs watched. Some of the dogs panicked and attacked him as he carried out the task, he said.

“By the end he was covered in blood,” the workmen’s compensation review board noted in its Jan. 25 decision, which ruled the employee did develop PTSD in connection with the incident. “When he finished he cleared up the mess, filled in the mass grave and tried to bury the memories as deeply as he could.”

The full report from the board was obtained by The Vancouver Sun.

In addition to sparking an SPCA investigation into allegations of animal cruelty, the report has led to a suspension by Tourism Whistler of reservations for dog sledding excursions by Outdoor Adventures.

Outdoors Adventures, which also offers snowmobiling, snowshoeing and horseback excursions in the Whistler area, said in a statement that there are now no firearms on site and all future euthanizations will be done in a vet’s office.

Marcie Moriarty, head of the British Columbia SPCA cruelty investigations division, said the employee, who was the general manager of Outdoor Adventures, could and should have denied to carry out the orders from his boss.

The employee said he has suffered panic attacks and nightmares since the culling.

“I’ve no doubt he has suffered post traumatic stress but there’s a thing called choice,” said Moriarty. “I absolutely would not have done this and he could have said no … I don’t feel sorry for this guy for one minute.”

“The way this employee describes it — it’s a massacre absolutely … These dogs were killed in front of the other dogs that were all tethered up on the compound.”

The order to kill the sled dogs came after a veterinarian declined to euthanize healthy animals, and some attempts were made to adopt out the dogs, the employee told the review board.

SPCA officials say the incident sheds some needed light on the industry.

“There is a problem with the sled dog industry in general,” Moriarty said. “People see these 20 sled dogs, an idyllic setting with snow in the background and think how great. But what they don’t see is the 200 dogs tethered and sleeping out back, chained to a barrel.”

An apparent first: No dogs die in Iditarod

husky

 
With the final teams crossing the finish line Saturday night, race officials say not a single dog died in this year’s Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race — possibly a first in the event’s history, the Anchorage Daily News reports.

“To stand there and watch that last team come in, I’ll tell you, is the highlight of my veterinarian career,” chief race veterinarian Stuart Nelson said after the final musher crossed the finish line.

Last year’s race saw six dogs die — from  fluid-filled lungs, hypothermia and, in one case, a rocky airplane ride — prompting People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to demand an investigation of the deaths.

Supporters say the sheer number of dogs — more than 1,100 started the 1,000-mile race this year — make a death inevitable over the two-week competition.

This year, Iditarod organizers increased scrutiny of  rookies, calling for veterinarians and race officials to rate potential Iditarod contenders on their ability to care for themselves and their dogs. Four mushers were asked to complete additional races before competing in the main event.

On Saturday, top finishers said relatively good trail conditions, low temperatures and the lack of a major storm this year helped teams complete the race faster and healthier than in 2009, the Daily News said.

After last year’s high death count, the chief vet had appeared “on edge” at a mushers meeting before this year’s race, said musher Hugh Neff, who finished ninth. “He put out the word to all of us that the dogs were going to be checked more thoroughly and that after what happened last year, we needed to be more vigilant.”

Nelson said he can’t remember a year without any deaths since he became involved in the race in 1986. At least twice, there has only been one death: in 1994 and 1996.

The average number of deaths rose from about two a year in the 1990s to roughly three deaths a year as the field of mushers ballooned to 80 or 90 competitors around 2000, Nelson said.

“I think it’s a pretty safe assumption that this is a first,” he said of the zero deaths in 2010.

The achievement isn’t likely to end criticism of the race.

Margery Glickman of Miami, Fla., who founded the Sled Dog Action Coalition in 1999, says officials still aren’t doing enough to protect dogs.

“If it’s true that there have been no dog deaths, I hope that remains the case for however long this race is run and I hope that they make other improvements,” Glickman said Saturday. She says officials ought to require mushers to take mandatory rests at checkpoints and shorten the length of the race overall to reduce not only deaths but injuries and illness.

(Photo: from BBC’s Frozen Planet series)

Dogs seized from Colorado sled dog kennel

sled_dogArrest warrants have been issued for the Colorado couple who operate the Pawsatrak Racing Sled Dog Kennel.

Investigators found dozens of dogs in poor condition on the premises. Eight dogs died and about 100 were seized by authorities last week, according to the Associated Press.

The kennel is in Hartsel, about 70 miles southwest of Denver.

Samuel Maeser Walker and Diane Elaine Walker face two felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty and 30 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty.

A necropsy on two female huskies found one died from starvation and complications of pneumonia. Another died from ”bloat” or ”twisted gut,” sometimes the result of animal being given a large amount of food after being deprived of food over time.

(Photo: Park County Sheriff’s Department)

Iditadrug: Of Mackey, mushing and marijuana

mackeyThree-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey may have to mush without marijuana in next year’s race.

Iditarod Trail Committee officials have announced plans to test mushers for drugs and alcohol in March. Officials haven’t decided who will get tested, or when, where and how it will be done. “It might be random. It might be a group of mushers at a specific checkpoint,” said Stan Hooley, executive director of the committee.

Alaska law allows for personal possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, provided the use occurs at home. In addition, Mackey, as a throat cancer survivor, has a medical marijuana card that entitles him to use the drug legally for medical purposes.

Mackey admits marijuana has helped him stay awake and focused through the 1,100-mile race, but he insists it doesn’t give him an edge.

“It isn’t the reason I’ve won three years in a row,” Mackey told the Anchorage Daily News. ”I think it’s a little bit ridiculous,” he said of the new policy. ”It is a dog race, not a human race. It doesn’t affect the outcome of the race.”

While Iditarod dogs have long been tested for a lengthy list of prohibited substances, the humans they are pulling — despite the Iditarod having had an informal drug and alcohol policy since 1984 — never have.

Mackey doesn’t blame the Iditarod board for creating the new policy, but he contends he is being targeted by other mushers jealous of his three straight Iditarod titles.

Despite his medical marijuana clearance, Mackey said he will not pursue a therapeutic use exemption; instead, he’ll just abstain for a while.

“I’m going to pee in their little cup,” he said. “And laugh in their face.”

Elephant treadmill will train Iditarod dogs

maggieWhat do you do with an ever-so-slightly used $100,000 elephant treadmill?

If you’re a zoo in Alaska, you do the same thing you did with your captive elephant – admit it was a mistake and find it a new home.

The Alaska Zoo had the treadmill custom made so that Maggie the elephant — fat, cold and lonely being the only elephant in Alaska — could get some exercise in her otherwise cramped quarters. When the zoo finally came to its senses and shipped Maggie to a sanctuary in northern California, that left them with a contraption that wasn’t in too great demand. Not the sort of thing you can put out at the yard sale. Though the zoo did try selling it on Craigslist.

While the zoo didn’t get paid for the treadmill, they did find a home for it: Iditarod musher Martin Buser has hauled it to his kennel to be used to train his dogs for the 1,150-mile race, the Alaska Dispatch reports.

While he won’t have it reassembled in time to train dogs for the coming race, Buser, a four-time Iditarod winner, expects to use it in the future. Built for an 8,000-pound elephant, it’s 10,000 pounds and 22 feet long, more than big enough to let a whole team of dogs run on at once.

elephant_treadmillAt Buser’s Happy Trails Kennels, he plans to use it to let his dogs run long distances while getting nowhere, invite scientists to use it to learn more about sled dogs, and possibly entertain tourists who want to see a team of dogs run long distances without getting anywhere — like the Iditarod, only without the freezing cold or the breathtaking scenery.

Maggie the elephant left the Alaska Zoo in 2007, after several years of controversy over whether she should ever have been brought there in the first place.

The treadmill was the zoo’s attempt to get Maggie exercising through Alaska’s long winters. It was one of the steps the zoo took to improve her controversial and cramped living conditions. Critics argued she should be in a warmer climate , with more open space, where she could walk outdoors year-round and be with other elephants.

But the zoo decided to try the treadmill experiment first. It didn’t work out, zoo officials admitted. Maggie would have nothing to do with the treadmill – an objection to which we can relate.

At that point, the zoo gave up and loaded Maggie on an Air Force C-17 for a flight to northern California, where, thanks in part to funding from animal activist/game show host Bob Barker, she’s living the rest of her life at ARK 2000, an animal sanctuary in San Andreas operated by the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS).

After Maggie left town, Buser called the zoo and inquired about the machine. In exchange for the treadmill, Buser added the zoo to his list of official sponsors.

In addition to drawing tourists, Buser says the treadmill will allow for closer scientific research of his sled dogs. Instruments like oxygen consumption masks and heart rate monitors can yield valuable information, but can’t be used when the dogs are running outside.

Sled dogs cruise at 10 to 12 mph, the Swiss-born Buser said, but he’d like to get the treadmill up to 20 mph so he can put his dogs through some speed workouts. Buser said he probably won’t get his dogs on the treadmill until after the coming Iditarod, which has its ceremonial start in Anchorage on March 6.

Despite 3 deaths, Iditarod likely to continue

“Two dogs died in the name of sport this week, and this time it wasn’t Michael Vick’s fault.”

So begins an Associated Press commentary by national sports columnist Tim Dahlberg that recounts the final hours of Dizzy and Grasshopper, two members of musher Lou Packer’s team. The two were among three dogs that died in this year’s Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

“Listen to race supporters and they’ll tell you that, unlike Vick’s dogs, the 5-year-old huskies died doing what they loved. Read the official Iditarod Web site and you’ll find out that sled dogs are pampered and loved by their masters…”

On the other hand, Dahlberg wrote, “They don’t have a problem with chaining up big packs of dogs and running them to within an inch of their life for sport. They accept the fact that the Iditarod is a part of the state’s heritage, and its biggest sporting event. A lot of us in the Lower 48, though, just don’t get it.”

He goes on to ask the question on the minds of many animal right activists: “How many dog deaths are reasonable? How many more must die before the fun is finally sucked out of the sport?”

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