What happens to working dogs when they retire?
What happens to Woofy when he is no longer needed on the construction site? It’s a question many people were asking after it was reported that 100 sled dogs were shot in Whistler last spring.
Our best friends are employed in a variety of professions – as sled and avalanche dogs, companion and service dogs, and bomb-sniffing, drug-sniffing, cancer-sniffing, racing, guard, police and security dogs. shepherd. Can a working dog also be a pet, and therefore be able to be adopted when it can no longer work? There was a lot of talk that Whistler huskies couldn’t be adopted, or “rehomed” as the SPCA calls it, because they weren’t pets.
Jason Smith of Kingmik Dogsled Tours says his dogs are both workers and companion animals. “It’s how you breed them and raise them that determines the life they will have,” he says. Kingmik, the oldest dog sledding company in Western Canada, operates in Banff National Park, and Mr. Smith prides himself on treating the 75 dogs in his kennel with humanity. “You have to have a 10 or 15 year plan for the dog,” he says. “Our dogs are raised as pets, so they can be adopted.”
Because he raises them to be well-rounded animals, he has no trouble finding homes for older dogs, whether it’s with people who fall in love with them on a sledding trip or through his company’s website. “If they don’t become someone else’s pet, they’re still our pet dogs,” Smith says.
Other owners have found a way to remove the dogs from their jobs. Joan Levack of Berwick, Nova Scotia first got Memphis, a yellow Labrador, as a service dog for her quadriplegic daughter. Her daughter was unable to maintain discipline, but the guide dog association allowed them to keep Memphis as a pet because she was an older dog.
When Memphis was working, only their daughter could touch her. No one else could even pronounce his name because it was a service trigger. But once Memphis retired, everyone could pet her and call her name. “She was raised for service. Now we accompany her to the post office with panniers,” says Ms. Levack. “You can see its tail wag if it’s ordered to pick something up.”
Not all working dogs retreat to live indoors. Robert and Crystal Brydon of Waterville, NS, have a five-year-old Great Pyrenees, Trifle, who lives in the barn with Charlie, a six-month-old Great Pyrenees pup who will replace Trifle when she gets too old to protect the coyote sheep and chickens. It’s rural life, where it’s normal to have working dogs that aren’t pets. “She’s a pet in the sense that she’s family friendly, but she’s friendly on her own terms,” Crystal said. “You would never think she was a potential threat until what she was guarding was threatened.”
The life of a working dog is determined, from beginning to end, by humans. Part of the problem, Smith says, is the lack of regulation, whether it’s recreational kenneling, racing or touring; anyone can start breeding.
It’s a dog’s life is an understatement for misery and suffering. They deserve better. This old expression needs to be transformed into something closer to the “meow of the cat” – if not a life of magnificence, at least a long life of comfort and respect.
Christy Ann Conlin is the author of Heave. His young adult novel, Dead Time, has just been released.