I had intended to post a piece on April 21 to commemorate the 11th anniversary of the Whistler sled dog massacre, but one of my own dogs has been sick and to be honest, revisiting that part of the Whistler dogs' story - even after all these years - brings on a lot of emotional weight that's difficult for me to temper right now.
The piece I was working on was about the commercial sled dog industry being a numbers game.
Like any business, owners and operators need enough dogs to accommodate the bookings. Not enough dogs and they may not make enough money to cover costs; too many dogs and they also may not make enough money as there are too many mouths to feed. Because there's food, vet care, employees, marketing, kennel upkeep and their own living expenses to pay for.
Then there's the dogs who age out, get sick, whose chronic pain is too much, aren't good at pulling sleds (surprise! not all dogs bred to be sled dogs take to the sport), die or are killed. Those dogs have to be replaced. Where do those dogs come from? Is the kennel breeding or having enough 'accidental litters' or are they buying them? The number game continues.
Then there's also having to speculate on what the next season holds. And oh yeah, what to do with the dogs in the off season if there's no snow in the winter. Or what if the tourists don't come because of a global pandemic?
But right now... today... I'm going to keep things brief and remember back to the few days in September 2013 when me and my camera tagged along with fellow sleddie advocate Penny Stone, to go to Whistler and visit the site where the 2010 massacre happened. By the time I got there, over three years had passed since the killings and there had been a couple iterations of sled dog businesses trying to make a go of it, but in the end they closed up shop and decided to find homes for the dogs (there's more to the story than that, but it's covered in other areas of my site). The day I arrived, there were 44 dogs, all survivors of the killings. 43 who were now ready for a new chapter in their lives, and one who was already writing that chapter for herself. If these guys were to follow in the pawprints of some of their already-retired and adopted kennel mates, there would be limitless choose-your-own-adventures to come.
It was hot over those few days with the temperature reaching 40+ degrees celsius up in the mountains north of Whistler, BC. And as I wandered around the property, dogs always followed. And not just me, but any human that was there - treat or no treat. Every time I turned around, a cute little face was there. If I sat down, someone sat next to me and would sniff, check out my cameras, get some pets if they wanted, then lay down for a nap. It made me think about the dogs who are kept chained - which some (if not all) of these dogs were, a short time back. Sled dogs that are kept chained don't get to follow people around, go check things out, visit and play with their kennel mates, sniff things and find the perfect shade spot for a nap.
Kennel runs cost money. Perimeter fencing so dogs can free-run safely costs money. Spay/neutering costs money. More staff to provide enrichment for the dogs costs money.... just to name a few.
And it circles back to being a numbers game again.
But I digress.
And now it's taken me much longer than I wanted to put this together for many behind-the-scenes reasons which are weighty, but also because once I start writing, there are so many topics I want to cover, that I get sidetracked writing down into rabbit holes that are just too big to get into right now. I may revisit that 'numbers game' piece, only time will tell.
I share this all because as much as I've always tried to keep this about the dogs, today the human behind this work feels a need to explain why she didn't make a big post two days ago. Why she's not making a big remembrance post today, April 23, also known as day two of the killings.
Trust me, she hasn't forgotten, nor will she ever.
To those 44 survivors, thank you for paving the way back then and proving that there was more to you than being only a sled dog. For showing us all the breadth of what you're capable of, given the chance:
Arctic, Bowser, Candy, Chocolate, Cola, Daffy, Dandelion, Gretzky, Gummi Bear, Heineken, Honda, Hooters, Hurricane, Ice, Igloo, Inky, Jet, Joffre, Johnny, Kawasaki, Kayla, Kilo, Kirby, Lady, Lucky, Manny, Misty, Myers, Noodles, Nooner, Nordique, Oilers, Pancake, Pez, Rocket, Rolo, Sapporo, Sausage, Silly, Snow, Sonny, Sun, Whiney, Wiggles
Some of the photos below I haven't shared before, including a video of me sitting with some new friends in the shade. We were just around the corner from some other humans and many dogs, but in those 55 seconds - even as I was acutely aware of the events on that land in the recent past - this moment was about being right there, right then.
As the last sleddie hopped into her foster's car to head on to a new life, I had to reflect on what this project is all about and why I'm doing this.
There are many reasons why I continue to document former sled dogs coming into care (more which will be chronicled very soon), but one of them is to give a face and name to those who have been a part of the industry while educating people on what it's like for dogs who come out of it.
So here's the intake of six former sled dogs who came into the care of the Victoria Humane Society yesterday evening. They made the journey from Whistler to BC to West Vancouver where they were took a ferry ride to Nanaimo, then transferred into VHS care. The transport volunteers drove them to Duncan where they had a pit stop for water and a potty break, got their harnesses fitted, GPS tracker attached and then back into the van for the short drive to Victoria and VHS HQ.
Then they got their hardware checked, got double leashed for safety and their foster homes met them one by one to take them home.
Vet visits for check ups and procedures, including some spays/neuters will be next, once they've had a breather.
Ace, Bear, Biggie, Catty, Loki and Porsche (along with Maddy a 7th dog who went to her foster home before I got to meet her) woke up as sled dogs and will go to bed as dogs covered under our domestic animal protection laws (which need updating, but it's a start).
In this small intake, two dogs were super fearful (Ace + Catty), Bear (who has an injured leg which will be getting looked at) was tentative but moved in close for pets, Porsche loved the ear scritches (similar to scratches, but scritches are on THE spot) and was seemingly content as long as a buddy was in view. Biggie was a treat hound and totally chill and even had a nap while waiting to head home... and Loki wanted to lean in close and get so much love... from whoever was closest.
Thank you to everyone who made this happen for these special pups! (and to Charla for mopping out the van to get ready for the next intake for VHS)
Welcome to retirement and island life sweet sleddies!
To learn more about former sled dogs, please wander around this site.
To see the diversity of 198 former sled dogs on one page, go HERE
To learn more about VHS or contribute to the care of the sleddies, please visit: www.victoriahumanesociety.com or visit their very active facebook page.
full gallery below:
What's makes meeting and photographing the handsome Loki this evening kinda special? He's the 198th former sled dog I've documented coming into retirement over the last decade!
I know I've met more, but for whatever reason, there is no photo - no name to attach to a face - but for Loki and 197 others, there is. And that's important. Because for the industry that paints all sled dogs as sled dogs who like to 'work' and 'pull', they are individual beings with needs and likes and dislikes. And yes, they are totally adoptable. Like any dog, some will be happy to spend most days curled up in a sleddie donut napping and getting in a walk or two a day. Some will want all the walks and adventures. Some will be nervous of new homes, smells, sounds, sights. And some will walk right into a house as if they've always lived there.
And what's more... these new retirees are now covered under Canada's animal protection laws (however substandard they are- that's another post)... but instead of being grouped under the agricultural animal laws, they are now considered domestic pets.
No, their DNA didn't change in the course of the trip from Whistler to Victoria, BC, it's just the fact that they were used for industry and now they aren't.
Sounds crazy because it is.
For now, Ace, Bear, Biggie, Catty, Loki and Porsche are going to have time to adjust to their new world, get some vet checks (and spays/neuters) and live as special beings they are.
Thanks to the volunteers who helped make this happen. All these guys will be available for adoption through The Victoria Humane Society, so watch their facebook page for updates. (if their fosters don't fail and adopt them, themselves!)