Making amends

The Whistler-based company responsible for the slaying of more than 50 sled dogs in April of last year has donated its remaining animals and property to a non-profit foundation, denying that this is a damage limitation exercise.

The Sled Dog Foundation has been created to not only take over the operation of dog sled tours, but to conduct research into how to improve the welfare of these animals. All proceeds from sled dog tours, which begin next week, will be funnelled back into research.

Outdoor Adventures Whistler suspended its dog sled operations this year after a former employee claimed to have stabbed more than 100 dogs to death due to a decline in tourism. A SPCA investigation subsequently found the bodies of approximately 50 dogs piled in mass graves.

Kirby Brown, vice-president of Outdoor Adventures Whistler, said the foundation is the best way to create a lasting legacy for sled dogs and their welfare. He said there were other options on the table like adoption, but that such a measure was only a “one-time thing.” The company gifted the remaining 53 dogs, land leases and equipment to the foundation.

“There are far simpler, far less emotional and far less costly exercises that we could have undertaken, but this was really the right thing to do,” said Mr. Brown. “It’s not about the money, but about doing the right thing.”

Mr. Brown admitted that business had suffered since news of the culling spread earlier this year, but denied that the donation of the dog sled operation was a public relations exercise.

“Our driving ambition was as a result of the shock we suffered when we learned of the incident, and we have a genuine desire to make a difference for sled dogs,” said Mr. Brown.

Sue Eckersley, a foundation board member, said dog sledding is a viable business in Whistler, second only to skiing and snowboarding.

“The easiest and cheapest thing for Outdoor Adventures to do would have been to just wind down their operation,” said Ms. Eckersley. “But by doing this, we’re recognizing that dog sledding won’t go away and that there’s a way to do it while ensuring the health and happiness of the dogs.”

The foundation will conduct research into ways to successfully re-home retired sled dogs. It will also, but also they are no longer tethered and only euthanize animals upon the advice of a veterinarian.

Ms. Eckersley said dog sledding has always been a controversial activity.

“Should any dog be working? Are drug-sniffing dogs and guard dogs happy? I think that if they’re well cared for, then they are,” said Ms. Eckersley. “Put them in a harness and they want to run, that’s what they were born for.”

Marcie Moriarty, general manager of cruelty investigations for the SPCA, said she wasn’t “fundamentally opposed to the concept of dogs pulling sleds as long as we can ensure those dogs are given a high level of welfare.”

Each year the B.C. SPCA conducts more than 7,000 animal cruelty investigations.

Ms. Moriarty said the B.C. SPCA submitted a 2,000 page report to the province’s Crown Counsel in September. She said the prosecution service will likely make a decision on whether to take the matter to court early next year.