Keeping sled dogs will likely involve some new rules soon. A new working group is being formed to come up with a ‘sled dog standard of care’ which will look at everything from veterinary care to nutrition to how much time the animals are tied up or ‘tethered.’

Sled dog ‘Standard of care’ being developed

Local mushers will likely be listening closely to hear what comes out of a working group being put together to create a ‘sled dog standard of care.’

The creation of a standard of care was one of the recommendations of the Sled Dog Task Force which was put together by the provincial government. The government was responding to public outcry which erupted when a brutal sled dog cull of around 100 animals took place near Whistler and was brought to light earlier this year.

But sled dog owners in the Fort St. James area likely don’t have much to fear, says Craig Houghton, president of the Fort St. James Sled Dog Association.

“It’s not really going to make that much difference for the industry because people are so cautious and caring about what they do anyway,” said Houghton.

“This whole incident in Whistler was just an isolated bizarre thing and blew everything up.”

Houghton isn’t even sure the changes would apply to non-tourism-related mushers.

This is something the working group will have to determine, said Kamloops-North Thompson MLA Dr. Terry Lake. Lake is a veterinarian and chaired the Sled Dog Task Force.

“I think that the standards that commercial operators will have to adhere to would easily be met by the recreationalists or the hobbyists,” said Lake. “Because they’re not in it for the money, they’re in it for the love of the dogs and the lifestyle.”

Lake also acknowledged there will likely be considerations taken to allow for a “transition time” for operators to put any costly infrastructure changes into place, should there be any.

“I think the bottom line is, if the industry isn’t sustainable in a way that is acceptable to British Columbians then that’s a problem,” said Lake, but “I don’t think anyone wants to see us regulate the industry out of existence.”

The working group developing the standard of care will be made up of members of the sled dog industry, veterinarians, animal welfare groups and members of government.

One point to be looked at by the working group will be rules around tethering dogs for long periods of time.

The B.C. Society for Prevention of Cruelty of Animals (BC SPCA) does name tethering as a concern, and there will have to be discussion around this practice.

“What we won’t accept is this notion that sled dogs or any working dog can be chained up all the time, that’s just not acceptable,” said Craig Daniel, CEO of the BC SPCA.

This does differ from Craig Houghton’s opinion on tethering, which he says helps keep the dogs more active, given the dogs get so much exercise everyday as part of their maintenance and training.

Houghton hopes the working group keeps things in perspective.

“Sled dogs are working dogs, they’re not like your pet dogs,” he said.

“They’re there to work and they’re bred to work and they love it.”

But the BC SPCA isn’t opposed to tethering completely, and Daniel said the organization is willing to negotiate in terms of any rules brought forward by the working group.

“We’re not opposed to tethering from time to time,” said Daniel.

“We want to be able to provide some flexibility to the individual.”

The question will simply be how long is too long for tethering the animals, and how does this have to be balanced with time off of the tether.

While the working group is being put together now, it will take some time before they will be able to develop a ‘standard of care’ to bring forward, potentially in the three to six month range.

Last week Premier Christy Clark announced she will be acting on all the 10 original recommendations of the Sled Dog Task Force.

 

The following are the provincial task force recommendations and the government’s planned action:

 

 

 

1) Strengthen enforcement of animal protection legislation (PCAA):

Increase penalties for offences committed under the PCAA.

The Province will begin the process to increase penalties for offences  to up to $75,000 and 24 months imprisonment, extend the current six month limitation period for prosecuting offences, and require mandatory reporting of abuse by veterinarians.

 

 

 

2) Amend the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCAA) to create a regulatory authority to define Standards of Care for animals and extend the current six-month limitation for bringing forward proceedings related to contraventions of the PCAA.

The Province will immediately begin the process to make changes to the PCAA

 

 

 

3) Consult with the College of Veterinarians of B.C. to create a mandatory reporting requirement under the PCAA for veterinarians to report suspected cases of animal abuse to the BC SPCA with statutory immunity for veterinarians making such reports.

The Province will immediately begin the process to make changes to the PCAA

 

 

 

4) Recommend to the Government of Canada that consideration be given to strengthening the Criminal Code provisions related to animal cruelty.

The Province will work with federal officials responsible for animal cruelty laws.

 

 

 

5) Enhance the capacity of the BC SPCA to undertake animal cruelty investigations.

Effective today, the BC SPCA will receive a grant of $100,000 to enhance their capacity for animal cruelty investigations.

 

 

 

6) Build upon the existing prosecutorial expertise in the Ministry of Attorney General to successfully pursue cases of animal abuse through ongoing training.

A Crown counsel has been appointed with an expertise in the area of animal cruelty to increase awareness among prosecutors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standards of care for sled dogs in B.C.:

 

 

 

7) Establish a working group to develop a sled dog ‘Standard of Care’.

Within the next 14 days, a working group will be appointed.

 

 

 

8) Require that all sled dog companies operating on Crown land include in their management plans annual inspections by either the BC SPCA or a licensed veterinarian.

The Province will immediately begin the process to make changes to the

Land Act.

 

 

 

9) Encourage the development of a self-sustaining sled dog industry association which establishes a certification and auditing program for the industry and related events.

The Province will direct stakeholders in establishing an industry

association.

 

 

 

Communication and awareness of animal abuse:

 

 

 

10) Enhance the provincial public sector’s ability to recognize and report instances of animal abuse.

 

 

 

 

The Province will: Develop information awareness materials regarding animal abuse for front-line staff. Develop policies to ensure the mechanisms to report animal abuse are in place. Establish information sharing agreements between the BCSPCA and the provincial ministries, Crown corporations and non-government agencies with statutory obligations.