[PART ONE of a series chronicling the re-homing of Whistler sled tour dogs.]
It was a last minute decision. I don't do well with last minute decisions. Anxiety kicks in and my fight or flight response always turns to flight... and worry. But for this, how could I turn down the opportunity.
It was an opportunity to go to Whistler. I had a ride there, a place to stay, a fun travel companion... sounds amazing, right?
Except this wasn't a tour to see the sights, go to spas and live the outdoor life that you see in the glossy magazines.
It was to photograph and help promote the remaining sled tour dogs that the Whistler Sled Dog Co. and Whistler Animals Galore (WAG) were trying to find homes for and to watch my friend and devoted animal rescuer, Penny Stone, in action again while she volunteered her time to help with the process.
I'm not sure what I expected when we first got to the kennels. I've met a lot of former retired sled dogs during my time volunteering at the Victoria SPCA, but this felt different. To see the dogs in the same place where their running mates were killed just after the 2010 olympics was, well, powerful.
Over the course of three days I spent hours there visiting with the dogs, trying to learn all of their names, photographing them, cataloguing them, strategizing and taking it all in.
The first day we arrived, I had noticed a bluff which overlooked the kennel area. I knew from there I'd get a good vantage point of the kennels. A place to take it all in and perhaps get a photograph to show the layout of the kennel area. So, on day three I passed through two sets of latched gates, locking them behind me, and made my way up to the hill. It was hot, but there was some shade. A dog named Sun kept his eye on me and made sure the other dogs knew I was up there. The others didn't seem to care, but Sun did. From this vantage point it was possible to see the scope of this place and even though the area isn't small, I couldn't visualize that there were 300+ dogs living there during the Olympics - tethered or not.
There are more kennels now and new sunshade covers them. The vista beyond this area is as impressive as it comes. Mountains and trees and peacefulness. Beyond the main kennel area, a gate separates the dogs from the area where the remnants of the days of sledding are now stored. I went beyond those kennel gates to explore. It was a blazing hot day, up about 40 celsius and as I wandered in the quiet the only sound was the click of my shutter and the odd bark of a dog. It seemed eerie, desolate and far away.
Buckets and piles of rusted chains - the chains the dogs used to be tethered to when they weren't sledding. Dog jackets, plastic igloos that belonged to dogs who are no longer there. The lucky ones having been adopted. Every igloo has been chewed around its opening. Some of them have names written in pencil on the front. Names of dogs I've met - Owl, Tuba, Arctic. Old trailers being used for storage. Used and dented metal food dishes. The sleds all piled up on top of each other - some old and wooden, some newer, more modern ones. Carriers that would transport the dogs from the kennels to the operation headquarters where the dogs would get harnessed up to take tourists racing through the snowy wilderness.
An empty dog house still stands on the hill. Perhaps it was for a special dog as it was much bigger than the igloos. Outside of it is a tree stump with a chain bolted to the top. The chain extends about 10 feet or so and its rusted. Wire fencing is attached to the tree stumps - seemingly as some sort of deterrent. There are burrows under stumps and holes covered over with rocks and fencing where the dogs would dig holes... to try to escape, to get warm, or to cool down as I saw them do while I was up there.
It's a wasteland. A graveyard of discarded things which mark the lives of another time.
What's left are dogs. Sentient beings who can think and feel. 43 dogs who are the leftovers. Beautiful, smart, loving and who have a lot of adventure left in them. Dogs who are in need of warm, safe, dry places with people who will have the patience to help them assimilate into home life... They've had the backs of humans for years... Now it's our turn to work for them. So, with a handful of committed, passionate people on the front lines working to spread the word and find homes for them, these dogs now have a chance at moving on to the next chapter in their lives.
Let's be sure that at the end of this all, what's left is the fact that we did all we could to do right for these incredible, deserving dogs.
For information on adopting or fostering a retired sled tour dog, please email: email@example.com, or visit their facebook page.
With extreme gratitude and thanks to Penny Stone, Shannon, Sue, Kim, Shelley, Angie, Jess and all 43 of my new four-legged buddies.
Please see images below...
9/14/2013 04:52:06 pm
9/15/2013 01:06:41 am
HI Tracey -- thank you so much for taking the time to read and view the images!
9/15/2013 04:03:06 am
Amazing so well written:)
9/15/2013 04:10:01 am
Thank you Wendy for blogging your experience on "what's left". I am so happy the dogs will find their furever homes and live out their lives with loving families. Tears flowed as I came across the pic with the dogs. They truly are angels in fur coats. They are so beautiful and only deserve the best. Bless your heart for all you do!
Hi Wendy --
9/15/2013 04:41:48 am
Overall a well written piece however I want to point out a few things that are a false statement and written without talking to the right people.
9/15/2013 05:05:56 am
I didn't read the article the same way you did, I suppose. You seem to be defensive of a few points, as it's clear it's a personal to you. But from an outsider's perspective, I didn't see any of the writer's comments as a slight on the previous people's care. Looking at the photographs of what's there, I am surprised it was just 3 years ago. It does look somewhat desolate to me. Scary how quickly that can change! And all that matters now is finding those pups a new home. <3
9/15/2013 05:11:39 am
I have read so many pieces that are worded to make it sound like the dogs lived in hell. Its ridiculous. I visited the kennels during the summer long before any dogs were killed. The dogs were running loose in pens, playing with each other and having a great time. I did not see a single dog that looked unhappy, sick or in any way not being treated well. A lot of people put a lot of their own time and money into giving these dogs a decent life when the owners (large corporations, surprise, surprise) did nothing. I'd love to see them get some damn credit. Spencer, you obviously know the dogs there right now. What is the age range?
9/15/2013 07:02:18 am
Kim, the age range of the kennel was from 20 months - 16 years old. Almost half of the kennel were under 7 years of age when they shut down.
9/15/2013 10:04:27 am
Thought so Sarah. When I contacted WAG interested in giving one of the youngsters a working home (I am a recreational musher with a team full of rescue huskies, all culled from various racing kennels.) I was told that they were not giving dogs to mushers because all the dogs looking for homes were too old to be mushed. Obviously, that was a load of bull. I do not appreciate getting lied to just because I am a musher. I have little respect for that organization because of that. I wish the dogs could have gone to a rescue with some appreciation for what they love to do. But of course, since the Whistler Massacre became public, mushers all of a sudden became evil people. Articles written in this tone (though, I think this is one is not as bad for that as many, many of them were) do not help. Three years ago, when I said I was a musher, people were quite interested. Now, if I tell people, they look at me like I am an evil person who slaughters dogs for fun every Sunday. Once, when I was commenting on an article about what Bob did (negatively of course, I don`t think anyone understands how much what happened hurts a recreational musher) I was told I had no right to comment because I am a musher and therefore am no different than Bob. That attitude comes from people writing articles without knowing a damn thing about mushing, playing on people`s emotions and completely ignoring fact. Again, I don`t think this article is that bad, though clearly written to tug at the heart strings. Spencer just pointed out some facts behind the sorrowful picture written. Hopefully, people will read those facts and understand the dogs were surrounded by people who loved them and worked their asses off to make sure they were happy.
9/15/2013 10:50:37 am
Kim, you could not be more correct about WAG's stance towards dogsledding, and the WSDC for that matter (one of WSDC's members of the Board of Directors also hold a pretty high position in WAG). Look up their company profile. Most of these dogs would do great in another kennel and are far from retired! The day before the company shut down only 6 dogs were officially retired (4 due to age, and 2 due to the Vets advice). Many of the dogs still at the kennel would do better in another dog sled kennel than a home. Mainly due to the fact that they have very little human interest and are used to living in a pack... Arctic, Snow, Igloo, Ice, Rocket, Heineken, Sapporo, Gretsky, Honda, Kawazaki, Kirby, Kayla, Kilo would all happily continue running! I must add that ALL of these dogs mentioned bar 3 are 7 years or younger! The fact of the matter is WAG and WSDC would rather see these dogs living in shelters waiting for someone to adopt them, than give them to someone who would immediately provide them with a home and run them this Winter!
9/15/2013 12:01:14 pm
I think it is very sad that the dogs will be denied what they love most because of politics. Still, I understand and have no problem with shelters making and sticking to policies based on their beliefs. It's when they lie about their policies that I get upset. Obviously something is wrong if they feel the need to lie to potential homes. That is not helping anyone, and they are supposed to be helping the dogs, not making themselves feel important. "The dogs are all retired, it is an aging kennel and most of the dogs are requiring some medical attention." This is an exact quote from what they told me. From the information I have received from other people involved previously and presently with the dogs, that is a blatant lie.
9/15/2013 07:53:19 am
I didn't read this article at all the way you did. The author simply described what she was seeing and made clear that she was guessing about some things she saw and wasn't sure of. You are clearly defensive about this situation and I'm not sure why. The author didn't question your feelings towards the dogs. She didn't denigrate or castigate you or mushers in general. What I understand from your comment is that you're upset that you weren't given special mention for all the things you did for these dogs. The things you list as being worthy of recognition are things in my view are things that should have been expected and done automatically in the course of properly caretaking these dogs. If you feel you didn't get enough credit for your good deeds perhaps you should tell your story as a musher. You could write your own article and take your own pictures and then maybe you'd feel better. As it is, this is still considered a rescue by most people and finding appropriate homes for these dogs is the point of this particular article. Assisting in this effort would be a clear indicator of your love for them.
9/15/2013 08:51:18 am
I'm not looking for recognition, those things that were seen thru her eyes without asking why things were there or what they are for. Why wouldn't you ask about things like this instead of guessing or assuming? All that's ever happened with this event has been assumption and guesses. You can have your opininon and ill have mine
9/15/2013 04:51:44 am
... also, many of those chains are snow chains for tires, the wire lines around in bins and buckets we're all spare and old drop lines taken from the site where we ran dogs.
9/15/2013 05:44:47 am
9/15/2013 07:58:33 am
9/15/2013 08:29:27 am
Wendy thank you so much, the article brought tears to my eyes, being at the Victoria SPCA for so long we have seen so many wonderful sled dogs. Thanks to Penny Stone they received wonderful homes. We can only hope that the rest of them will have a chance to experience loving homes that they justly deserve.
9/15/2013 10:42:31 am
Personally, I thought this article was wonderfully written, and I know that the efforts of Wendy and Penny (and many others) will help find these dogs the homes they deserve to live out the rest of their years - patient, loving homes that will respect these amazing animals for all that they are and all that they have experienced. I empathize with the musher's feelings and have no doubt whatsoever that they loved these dogs with all of their hearts and helped make these wonderful dogs the dogs they are today. I also have no doubt that these amazing animals loved their jobs and were probably never happier (and may never be again) than they were when they were blasting along with their buddies, both human and dog. But..... I think we would all be wise to remember that this post is only "PART ONE." Love to you all.
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