Despite the release of a new code of practices and standards of care by the provincial government regarding sled dog operations in B.C., SPCA officials are saying that unless they receive funding, the new regulations will be as useful as a book sitting on a shelf.
That’s because with just 26 constables to oversee the 7,000-plus cruelty investigations in the province, enforcement of the new regulations just isn’t possible, said Marcie Moriarty, general manager of cruelty investigations for the B.C. SPCA.
“If the code is enforced, it would result in improved welfare for sled dogs — but the reality is that the government has made it clear that they will not be providing funding to the SPCA for cruelty investigations this year,” Moriarty told The Question on Tuesday (February 21). “It’s just physically impossible for 26 constables funded by donors to conduct proactive, onsite visits to all of these operations on top of the animal cruelty investigations that we do each year.”
Some of the new regulations include restrictions for dog tethering, record keeping and ensuring that sled dog operators have life-cycle plans in place before acquiring dogs.
“All to the effect, I hope, that operations are kept to a size that they’re able to meet all these requirements,” said Moriarty, who was part of the working group that developed the new regulations.
Socialization, in particular, said Moriarty, was one of the key concerns that she hoped to see addressed with these new provisions, which now require operators to un-tether their dogs at least once a day for socialization and exercise.
“One of the most contentious issues and a main concern the SPCA had regarding the sled dog industry has always been the concept of continuous tethering,” explained Moriarty.
“We are fundamentally opposed to the use of tethers. However, within this industry, that’s something that’s been entrenched for decades. We fought hard to ensure that there’s a daily opportunity for dogs to be released from their tethers for exercise and socialization. We hope that the industry goes towards a system of only using pens and group housing.”
Local dog sledding operator Craig Beattie of the Whistler-based Canadian Snowmobile Adventures (CSA) said he supports the new regulations and that his company already follows the new code.
“Since we moved our team to our on-site kennel (three years ago) they have all been in a penning-type setup,” said Beattie in an email. “Within the kennel, each dog gets play time to run around with others and enjoy the freedom of being out of the pen.
“A happy dog is a hard worker, so these guys get lots of time to mess around, run, play, socialize and learn when it is time to work or play.”
Beattie said CSA also has plans in place for retired dogs, which includes retraining them to become pets or keeping them around to play with and teach younger dogs manners.
As for the standards surrounding the euthanization of sled dogs, operators are still able to kill healthy sled dogs under the new regulations — so long as it is done humanely and if efforts have been made to re-home the animals.
“The reality is in Canada animals are viewed as property. Imposing different standards on a sled dog was not something we could do,” explained Moriarty. “What we tried to do was ensure that the euthanization of healthy sled dogs is something that is not required. If an operator properly ensures that that dog is faced with all types of stimulation that it would face in a regular home environment, there should be no reason why they can’t keep them until the end of their life, or that they find a new home for them — and that should be built into their business operation.”
But Moriarty repeated that for all of this to mean something, the SPCA needs the funding to make it happen.
“With these changes to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, the government can now say we have the toughest penalties, we have the toughest legislation and now we have the first regulations in Canada around working animals, sled dogs, and that’s excellent,” said Moriarty. “But it’s just a book on a shelf without the ability to actually enforce it.”
To view the new codes and standards, go to http://bit.ly/h6PWnk.