Sled dog abuse cases cause some to question sport

Posted By elaine on February 10, 2011

Photo of two Iditarod Sled DogsSled dogs and their care, or lack of has been in the news a lot lately.  The slaughter of 100 sled dogs in Canada has re-energized efforts by some animal activists to ban or boycott dog sled rides, a popular activity among tourists in many winter vacation spots, including here in Colorado.

Closer to home a Florissant man named Samuel Walker was sentenced to the maximum 90 days in jail this week after he pleaded guilty to felony animal abuse.  Walker owned Pawsatrack Sled Dogs in Hartsel where nearly 100 starving and 8 dead dogs were found in December 2009.

This has animal rights groups coming out saying these incidents are just the tip of the cruelty iceberg in the dog sledding industry, but others say they shocking because it is so rare.sleddog2

“I don’t think society is willing to accept that animals, particularly dogs, should be killed just because they are surplus or don’t suit the purpose they were born for,” said Debra Probert, executive director of the Vancouver Humane Society, which has called for a provincial ban on tour businesses.

The California-based Animal League Defense Fund has offered Canadian prosecutors money for forensics and expert witnesses, asked whistleblowers to report other culling abuses and urged people to write Iditarod race sponsors asking them to back out, said Lisa Franzetta, ADLF’s director of communications.

The 1,150-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska, the world’s most famous sled dog race, starts March 5.

But a Colorado musher says that abuse cases are rare.

sleddog3“When dog sledding is done correctly, it’s an awesome sport – awesome, awesome, awesome,” said Seth Sachson, executive director of the Aspen Animal Shelter and the Aspen Boarding Kennel in here in Colorado.


He has eight sled dogs, all rescued from his shelter. “I am not going to kill them when they are done sledding. They are welcome to live with me forever and be my pets,” he said, adding that they get along with his chickens, goats and horses and love the children who visit.


When critics list their objections to sledding, they include culling and living conditions – always tethered, always outdoors and with little social interaction.  As a result, finding homes for older dogs can be a challenge.sleddog4

 Sachson believes most sled dogs can become good pets. He has worked with older dogs who just needed time and patience.

“We get them to stop walking around in circles. Some walk in circles because they’ve lived on a chain their whole life and that’s what they know,” he said. “They need to be taught how to walk on a leash, climb stairs, walk across linoleum without falling and ride in a car without vomiting. And there is house-training.”

Here in Colorado the Department of Agriculture has rules for sled dog welfare. It is the basically the same for all kennels, but there are specific provisions for sled dog kennels. 

The Pet Animal Care Facilities program (PACFA) licenses facilities that house more than 15 dogs or produce more than two litters of pups per year.   

“We do have facilities which house and/or breed dogs used for pulling sleds,” says Christi Lightcap with the Colorado Department of Agriculture.  “There is no separate category for them so they are licensed as dog breeders, and they must comply with all dog breeder regulations plus specific sled dog guidelines.”

Those Guidelines are as follows:

 The tether must by at least 6 feet long and have a swivel to prevent tangling.

sleddog5The dog must have access to a shelter and shade in the summer as well as food and water.

 These facilities must apply for a waiver before being allowed to house dogs on tethers.

The number of dogs housed at any facility is limited only by the ability to adequately care for the dogs and maintain compliant facility standards.

 All the other regulations applying to dog breeding facilities will also apply to these types of facilities.

 While there are no requirements for how often a dog is allowed to work, the facility is required to provide a training and exercise plan as a condition of licensing and they are also required to document the exercise or training of each dog at the facility on a daily basis.

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