It’s time to end the abuse of sled dogs

During the scorching days of an Ontario heat wave, few Canadian minds might be on the commercial dog sledding industry. Who stops to think about what happens to these energetic dogs in the summer, after attracting tourists and children in the winter?

Toronto animal activist Jenny McQueen wants us to think about it, so much so that she chained herself to a doghouse at Chocpaw Expeditions in southern Ontario last weekend to draw attention to the question. As temperatures hit 30 degrees Celsius, McQueen, in conjunction with local group End Dog Sled Cruelty and international group Direct Action Everywhere, livestreamed every moment: just her, dozens of dogs, an OPP officer from soft-spoken Ontario unable to help, and over 300 people are watching online, including me.

Although controversies remain over the ethics of commercial dog sledding in the winter, what might be the cruelest time of year is actually right now, in the hot summer, when dogs are chained outside. for months with little more than a barrel and a sterile one. terrain, regardless of heat and storms, regardless of isolation.

Some laws in Canada limit the tethering of unsupervised dogs (one hour maximum in Toronto, four hours in Mississauga, for example) and an outright ban in Calgary and some municipalities in British Columbia, but the province of Ontario has no such rules. Animals classified as “working dogs” are generally exempt anyway.

According to provincial animal care standards (which the OSPCA reminded me they no longer enforce, and in fact no one knows who does now), dogs kept tied outside need only of three meters of chain and “access to adequate and appropriate means water and shelter. That’s it. Places like Denmark and Switzerland, on the other hand, require the social and psychological needs of dogs to be met.

For the dogs at this Ontario property last weekend, “adequate, weatherproof shelter” meant cut-out plastic barrels and holes the dogs dug themselves in the worn ground they’ve obviously been pacing for a while. time.

“I just thought, as the rain beat down on our windows last night at home,” McQueen remarked, “the dogs don’t have any protection from the rain, because there’s no flap on the barrel. , and they cannot go below as they usually do when shielding themselves from the sun, as this area would fill with rain.

There are no rules in Ontario about outdoor temperatures above or below which dogs cannot be left outside, or about extreme weather conditions. There are also no laws prohibiting the commercial exploitation of dogs – considered personal property – for profit and entertainment.

While Canadian animal advocates have long called for a blanket national ban on unsupervised dog tethering, including for working dogs like sled dogs, a new wave of activists are now working towards a larger goal: permanently end the wasteful and unethical commercial dog sledding industry.

Because while McQueen now faces unlawful trespassing charges, people who exploit dogs and keep them tethered outdoors face nothing. And that’s not true.

Jessica Scott-Reid is a writer and animal advocate.

Bette C. Alvarado