The provincial task force formed in the wake of the slaughter of about 100 sled dogs in Whistler last year will recommend measures to “increase the quality of life” of sleigh-pulling canines, according to panel chair Terry Lake.
However, Lake, a veterinarian and B.C. Liberal MLA for Kamloops–North Thompson, acknowledges that nothing can legally prevent dogsled operators from putting down their animals.
“Animals under current law in Canada are considered property, and you, as the owner of the animal, are entitled to do things to that animal as long as you are not mistreating it,” Lake told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “We have a very good Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. But if I decide, as owner of the animal, to essentially kill the animal, if it’s done humanely, that is not illegal to do.”
According to Lake—who was appointed minister of environment by new B.C. premier Christy Clark on March 14—this happens in many circumstances, in locations like farms and animal shelters. “As unpleasant as it is for us, this is the way the law is written at the moment,” he said.
In addition to provincial legislation prohibiting the mistreatment of animals, the Criminal Code of Canada contains a provision making it an offence to “willfully” cause “unnecessary pain, suffering or injury to an animal or a bird”.
Lake was set to go to Sun Peaks, a year-round resort area in the B.C. Interior that offers dogsledding, when he explained what is expected from the task force’s report, which is due on March 25.
A ban on dogsledding, which has been proposed by animal-rights advocate Peter Hamilton and others, is not one of the expected recommendations.
“Most people are asking us to ensure that the sled-dog industry is run in a socially responsible manner, but the majority of people are not calling for a ban on this activity,” Lake said. “A lot of the veterinarians, operators, and the animal-welfare people that we have spoken to recognize that a well-run sled-dog operation provides a very good environment and quality of life for the animals that are involved.”
According to him, there are 10 registered dogsledding operators in the province.
“The sled-dog industry is, essentially, a self-regulating industry,” Lake said. “Do we need to put in regulations to ensure that the animals involved are looked after to the standard that the public expects? That’s the question the task force is facing, and I think we can come up with some very good recommendations that will increase the quality of life for these animals.”
The task-force head was uncertain how the matter of culling will be addressed by the panel.
“I’m not sure that we’ll come up with words that say ”˜ban culling’,” Lake said. “I can see one possibility may be to have a working group come together to develop a code of standards that will ensure that these animals are looked after in a socially responsible manner from the time they are obtained to the time they are retired.”
According to Lake, many dogsledding operators don’t put their animals to sleep when they are no longer capable of working.
Jaime Hargreaves, a 30-year-old musher, said that she has 10 retired dogs in her kennel. “We’re family,” Hargreaves told the Straight by phone about her Alaskan huskies. “That’s the way it is.”
Hargreaves, who is a contractor with Whistler-based Canadian Snowmobile and All Terrain Adventures, said she recently sent one of her dogs to live in a private home.
The task force’s report will not contain specific findings regarding last year’s mass killing of dogs owned by the tour company Outdoor Adventures Whistler.
The B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is the principal body investigating the incident. Lorie Chortyk, manager of community relations, said the B.C. SPCA will release the results of the probe sometime after the Lake-led panel submits its report to the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture.