sled dogs running on snow at dusk

Is Dog Sledding Mean? Fairness, Facts, and Final Verdict

2

By

Lara Jill , 27th March 2024

Throughout the ages, mushing (dog pulling sled) has stood as a cherished tradition in many cultures in the world’s northernmost regions.

While it may seem like a fun winter sport and an exciting vacation activity among tourists, troubling accusations of animal abuse have cast a shadow over the mushing (dog pulling sled) community.

The question remains: is dog sledding cruel? To find the answer we need, we must look through the eyes of the sled dogs themselves and consider the viewpoints of those intimately involved.

In this article, we aim to educate readers on mushing (dog pulling sled) and present both sides of the argument. When it comes to navigating a sensitive topic, it’s wise to perform extensive research before crafting praise or criticism about it.

The Dark Side of Dog Sledding

Have you watched the Canadian film Sled Dog directed by Fern Levitt? Aired in March 2016, the 82-minute documentary raised allegations of animal cruelty in the mushing (dog pulling sled) industry in Canada and the United States. The film featured the gruesome reality of sled dogs at Colorado’s Krabloonik Kennels under the ownership of Dan MacEachen.

PETA’s undercover investigations also revealed the disturbing conditions of the dogs at Ididaride Sled Dog Tours, Inc., which is owned by three-time Iditarod champion Mitch Seavey. The same goes for the dogs at Team Baker Kennel, which is owned by former Iditarod champion John Baker and his fiance, Katherine Keith. Not even Snickers, who played a crucial role in Baker’s triumph in the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, was spared from such horrors.

dog tethered to his plastic dog house at Chocpaw

Using drones across Canada, animal activist Francis Métivier spied on mushing (dog pulling sled) operators to find out how they treat their “commodities” behind closed doors. You can see a glimpse of the tragic lives of these canines in CTV W5’s Dogs in Distress. Among these dishonorable mentions were Chocpaw Adventures, Joe Redington Jr.’s Kennel, Lance Mackey’s Comeback Kennel, and Windrift Adventures.

And who could forget the Whistler’s sled dog massacre in April 2010? Robert Fawcett, then manager of the Howling Dog Tours, pleaded guilty when authorities discovered a mass burial of 56 dogs. He said a slump in tour sales drove him to cull the dogs. 

At some kennels, the pressure to produce a superb sled team comes at the cost of overbreeding. Performance culling is happening elsewhere, and this is nothing but a dead giveaway of irresponsible mushers, says German-born musher Sebastian Schnuelle.

The Dog Sledding Community Speaks Out

Megan Routley of Kingmik Dog Sled Tours didn’t hold back her seething disappointment when it came to the documentary film Sled Dogs. In an interview with a Canadian news outlet, she declared her intentions to pursue legal action.


“I threatened legal action because no one from the film had talked with me, seen my kennel, or met my dogs”

Routley argued that the film painted the entire mushing (dog pulling sled) industry with a brush of cruelty, focusing on a few morally reprehensible individuals. The Alaskan kennel, where dead dogs were seen piled, was run by a hoarder, who local mushers say had no links to the dog sledding world.

While statistics on the sled dog industry might be scarce, there are no less than a hundred kennels across Alaska, B.C., Alberta, and the northern United States.

Tim Tedford is also on the same fiery page as Routley. Tedford operates a kennel and recreational dogsled touring business near Kelowna, B.C., and speaks for the Professional Mushers Association of B.C., which represents about 10 kennels.

“British Columbia’s sled dog care standards are the highest in the world, but the film ignored that.”

Zoya DeNure, co-owner of Crazy Dog Kennels and Tours, and wife to the two-time winner of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race John Schandelmeier, also shares the same sentiment as Routley that not everyone has high standards of care for their dogs. During an interview for a global American media brand, she also expressed the following.

Mushers who are so-called champions are killing dogs left and right behind the scenes. Those are the people who are supposed to be leaders within the sport…

The concerned couple met with race officials to discuss housing requirements, kennel size, vet care requirements, and on-site care. Finally, ITC announced on December 1, 2017, that it was creating a “Best Care” kennel management program, which is overseen by an advisory committee of mushing community members, including Schnuelle.

While many animal welfare organizations, like PETA, push for the abolishment of mushing (dog pulling sled), conscientious mushers who show genuine love for their canines advocate to reform the standard practices within the industry. This is especially the case with Ashley Keith, the founder of Humane Mushing who is now a state-licensed animal cruelty investigator.

The Bright Side of Dog Sledding

While we can’t turn a blind eye to the scandals and high-profile canine deaths, we also can’t deny the fact that compassionate and dedicated mushers outnumber these bad apples in the community.

Many racers and tour operators have put a lot of effort into changing the dog sledding landscape. Moreover, the B.C. government has tightened its regulations and enforced more stringent guidelines concerning outdoor housing, health, and nutrition, among others.

Seedy businesses, like Chocpaw Adventures, have already ceased operations and on June 1st this year, Krabloonik will finally close, as well.

Mushers like Schnuelle care deeply about their dogs, putting in the effort to build special relationships with them and give them the best dog food and everything else they need so that they thrive on a life of doing what they were bred to do.

happy sled dogs wearing corduroy booties

When Dave Daley of Wapusk Adventure was asked, “Is mushing (dog pulling sled) cruel?” This is what he had to say.

We nurture the dogs’ love of running – this is what they love to do. Of course, there are limits, and we know them. To be honest, we’re like manicurists. We’re always trimming nails and pads; and rubbing in foot powders, oils, and lotions. On the long runs, especially in races, we put corduroy booties on their paws

Born to Run or Forced to Work?

Sled dogs, like the Samoyed and Siberian Husky,  possess exceptional abilities deeply rooted in their genetic makeup. With well-developed musculature, efficient cardiovascular systems, and abundant energy, they thrive not only in dog sledding but also in agility trials and outdoor sports, like bikejoring

a Samoyed looking down from a snowy hill

When treated kindly and with respect, any dog can work harmoniously and happily alongside their humans. Working breeds, in particular, have strong work ethics and derive a sense of purpose and satisfaction from engaging in activities that allow them to utilize their natural abilities.

Conclusion

Regrettably, there exist people in the mushing (dog pulling sled) community who subject their canines to abuse, seeing them merely as commodities they can discard once their value wanes. This distressing reality is undeniably disheartening, yet it is important to remember that such instances are by no means the norm in the dog sledding community.

Just like horses, some people lavish them with extraordinary care and affection and those who treat them as mere tools, devoid of compassion. Equestrianism is not inherently ethical or unethical. The same is true of dog sledding.

Please try to visit an ethical kennel or tour operator. Those familiar with dogs can easily interpret their body language. In sustainable and ethical dog sledding operations, it becomes apparent that dogs have a genuine passion for running. When properly cared for, they derive as much joy from dog sledding as we do.

Now, is mushing (dog pulling sled) mean, cruel, or unethical? Maybe, sometimes. But for the most part, no.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can sled dogs sleep in the snow?
Yes, in fact, sled dogs have even been known to bury themselves in the snow. That does not mean, though, that you shouldn’t give them a warm, comfortable place to live.
Can you keep sled dogs outside?
Yes, but make sure your dog has enough room to stand, sit, turn around, and lie down comfortably. The house should be constructed using quality materials to protect your dog from excessive heat and cold.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top