The CBC is in need of another ‘tune-up’ By Whitehorse Star on February 15, 2013 at 4:07 pm

This letter was primarily motivated by a recent radio interview (Feb.1, 2013) conducted by CBC Whitehorse Mid-Day Café host Russ Knutson, in celebration of the Yukon Quest’s 30th anniversary.

Mr. Knutson had a jovial-sounding, half-hour pre-recorded session with ex-Quest musher Frank Turner and Whitehorse author/Quest evangelist John Firth.

It seems that on an annual basis, Mr. Knutson and some of his cohorts give generous airtime to people like Turner who have gained fame and fortune on the labours of their dogs, and in this case also to Mr. Firth.

In my opinion, he serves as a veritable propagandist for the Yukon Quest and for the dog mushing/racing industry.

In a manner I am quite used to seeing CBC employ, Knutson used a brief part of the interview to ask Turner and Firth for their opinions on Quest race opponents’ views (without getting into too many details) rather than directly asking the animal advocates themselves for their many specific concerns.

Apparently, the CBC believes this to be the best way to discount accusations of their failure to air both sides of the story.

I am also aware that “St. Francis of the Yukon” (Turner) served as the inspiration for the newly-elected president of the Humane Society Yukon (HSY; Dec. 21, 2012 Star story) after the man had heard the CBC interviewing Turner (about his wonderful ideas and suggestions for a more functional humane society?).

Pretty comfy situation for any dog musher or animal trapper to be able to call up the CBC (or vice-versa) and be given free rein to spout their garbage.

And then I see on CBC Northbeat’s coverage of the HSY election, Frank Turner, “front row centre.” (I was surprised he wasn’t elected as president, such is his local renown.)

I need to point out to the new HSY board, in case they are unaware, some of my knowledge of the relationship between the HSY and the mushing community.

About a year or so after the Mae Bachur shelter was opened, I learned as a new volunteer that a certain unnamed Quest musher had dropped off a couple of unsuccessful sled dogs.

Their names were Franklin and Preacher.

Staff and some other volunteers were upset because, it was conveyed to me, there was an “unwritten rule” from its inception that the shelter was not to be a convenient dumping ground for dog mushers, yet somehow two dogs got into the system.

The dogs, with various behaviour/socialization issues, spent a relatively long time at the shelter before being adopted by a local couple who mushed recreationally, and who took in other hard-to-adopt dogs.

At that time, I had not yet developed any strong views against the Yukon Quest or the mushing industry.

A few years later (around 2004/2005), alarms went off again after some staff, volunteers and HSY members/donors were up in arms over word of some new leased land behind the shelter being developed for/having a proposed use as, a yard for “outside dogs”.

This was again interpreted as being a place for mushers to ditch unwanted/surplus dogs.

This project seemed to have been mothballed by the HSY board after the outcry.

I then took a more active role advocating for sled dogs (“slave dogs”, as I now refer to them).

I was puzzled as to why the HSY has never, to my knowledge, spoken up against the Quest, what with its annual occurrence of dog suffering on a mass scale, and often, over three decades, dog deaths.

As a volunteer at Mae Bachur, I was told by some staff and other volunteers about general sled dog neglect by some owners, and even reports of gunshots from the vicinity of remote dog yards, with a limited capacity or lack of will for the HSY to conduct rescues.

Having said that, I am aware of a 2007 Yukon News story which mentions Frank Turner having been previously involved in the rescue of 17 dogs left to starve near Fish Lake.

I am not aware of the HSY having been notified about this, or if so, having had any role in asking Turner for help.

The only public rescue involving the HSY happened last February, in the rescue of 10 dogs from a Haines Junction-area musher.

Neverthless, it seems to me that the HSY has avoided public involvement in the “sled dog” fray, and has left that battle to one or two private citizens, acting without any public backing nor encouragement from the HSY.

Russ Knutson, were he to choose to act as a responsible and ethical journalist would, could have asked Turner and Firth about the actual official body count of Quest race dogs over 30 years – not something the Quest or its big supporters (the Quest would have shut down years ago without huge injections of cash from Tourism Yukon) want publicized.

Turner himself, prior to the 2007 Quest, brought up the culling issue to CBC (!).

That year’s race marshal stated in response that it was not the Quest’s business or concern what mushers did in their own dog yards. (Perhaps the CBC should delete this news story from its website.)

Not another peep out of Turner about culling, and the Quest, to this date, does not have a policy.

Turner also acted as a consultant to the B.C. government’s Sled Dog Task Force (the Whistler sled dog slaughter).

The highlight of that body’s public snow-job was, to me, the illustrated method of the correct way to shoot a dog!

Anybody who has read Firth’s book Yukon Quest: the 1,000 mile dog race through the Yukon and Alaska should be shocked by the numerous references to dog suffering, and callous disregard by Quest mushers toward their dogs:

• “All our dogs have got the same damn name – you dumb sonofabitch” (Alaska musher Jon Gleason); and

• even a reference to the disillusionment and withdrawal of services by a race veterinarian because, to the Quest organization, “dog care” appears to be mere window dressing.

One could be led to think that the infliction of animal suffering and risk of death are the big attraction to hardcore Quest fans.

Another dog was killed this year for people’s entertainment. (How many dogs will be culled to make room for more canine “athletes”?

We’ve had another shameful display of yellow journalism by the publicly funded CBC.

(Some friendly advice to Yukoners: turn off the CBC; they are making you stupid.)

Another year of the Quest being promoted to Yukon school children, with the blessing of government and the Yukon education system.

Some $2.3 million of Yukon government money has been given to the Quest since 1999. That’s money that should have been used to benefit (not exploit) those who can’t speak for themselves (Yukon animals), or all the unfortunate people in Yukon who suffer without help.

In closing, amongst the 2013 Quest hoopla on the CBC, I was somewhat heartened to hear a quick news snippet about more Whitehorse people speaking up for the dogs and hope that should the Quest still be around in 2015, there will be a sizeable contingent of people at the race start protesting to shut down this barbaric race for good.

Terry Cumming