Archives for posts with tag: dog

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

‘The existing document is fine’
Richard Mostyn, Yukon News

The Yukon Quest International Association has apologized.

It recently barred somebody from its annual general meeting for inexplicable reasons.

Now, in light of the controversy, it is apparently examining its constitution.

While this sounds reassuring, it is unnecessary and could cause more problems than it solves.

First, some history.

The dog-and-people show, which receives more than $300,000 in government funding every year, recently lost its executive director and was also recruiting a few new directors. It asked people to attend its annual general meeting.

So we did.

Sports reporter Tom Patrick took the time to attend the meeting – to see what happened. He was met at the door by outgoing executive director Georgina Leslie, who denied him entry unless he forked over $42 for a membership.

The meetings are fully open to the public, she said. Anyone can attend after they pay.

It’s always been this way, she said.

Patrick refused. The meeting went on without us.

There are several problems here, not the least of which was the Yukon Quest’s assumption a pay-to-attend approach to its annual meetings was OK.

Imagine the precedent this sets – suddenly the affairs of any nonprofit society could become revenue generators – a means to make more cash to sustain the organization. You want to see the financials, or observe the election? It’s gonna cost you.

Or, much more likely, the fee becomes an easy way to prevent snoops from nosing around a wealthy organization’s affairs.

Also, the way this particular event played out speaks volumes about the Quest.

This is a Yukon society that receives substantial government support – that is, the public pays for a huge chunk of its annual operation. As such, any citizen interested in observing its procedural business should be welcome to do so.

But the modern Quest is not all that interested in locals.

Instead, its officials run it like a exclusive club, accepting the government cash as if it were simply a fee for international tourism marketing services rendered.

It shouldn’t be like this.

And, according to the Quest’s constitution, it isn’t.

In fact, it clearly states all meetings are open to all, except people who don’t behave.

But at its most recent annual general meeting, officials clearly didn’t want any onlookers.

A skittish executive decided, in an odd twist of logic, that a membership meeting meant nonmembers were to be excluded.

“The interpretation of our constitution was made to the best of our ability,” Quest president Al Doherty said in his letter of apology (see below).


But remember, this organization is responsible for managing a huge chunk of government money. We hope they punch above their weight when handling the cash.

In the end, the group was successful in blocking observers from their recent meeting. We’ll never really know what happened there, but the organization has pledged to make its minutes and results of the gathering available. That is an imperfect fix, but it’s the best that can be expected in the circumstances.

And the leadership will review the wording of its constitution to “prevent further confusion.”

We’re curious to see how this plays out.

Such a review could be used to ensure undesirables, such as reporters, were kept from future meetings, without question.

But we doubt that will happen. We’re an optimistic bunch.

Nevertheless, we urge the Quest to save itself some time and simply affirm its existing constitution, which, despite Leslie’s wonky interpretation, is very clear, simple and concise.

“All meetings of the membership shall be open to the public and no person shall be excluded, except for improper conduct.”

“Yes, volvulus is extremely painful. It is the twisting of the intestines, which partially or completely shuts off the blood supply to the affected area. I cannot stress enough that the individual is in agony from start to finish. It may take several hours before infarction (the damage caused by the lack of blood supply) occurs. Furthermore, death is not quick; it is drawn out, usually due to shock. The fact that this dog died of the condition meant that he had to suffer through the entire process of incredible pain and then shock.”

– Veterinarian Nedim C. Buyukmihci, DVM, email to the Sled Dog Action Coalition on Feb. 9, 2013

Sled dog dies in Yukon Quest race

Dog belonging to Alaskan Jake Berkowitz died from severe bowel obstruction

CBC News

Posted: Feb 8, 2013 12:09 PM CST

Last Updated: Feb 8, 2013 2:53 PM CST

A dog has died on the Yukon Quest trail, race officials announced Thursday.

The dog, named General, belonged to musher Jake Berkowitz’s team. It died while being transported to Whitehorse by a race veterinarian.

In a news release, Yukon Quest head veterinarian Kathleen McGill said a necropsy in Whitehorse had found the cause of death to be “a condition called intestinal volvulus with bowel infarction.”

She said blood and tissue samples would be sent to a lab for further analysis and the results from those tests are expected in in four to six weeks.

Berkowitz, a musher from Big Lake, Alaska, is in third position behind Hugh Neff and Allen Moore, also of Alaska.

Frank Turner, a veteran musher and Quest winner, said the dog’s death is sure to affect the mushers and fans of the race. “Obviously this is the most devastating thing that can happen,” he said.

Turner said the animal’s death is sure to trigger opponents of the race but he said the standard for animal care has never been higher.

“Anybody that has got serious questions, and thinks the care of the dogs is not paramount, in my opinion has not really gone out their way to verify that,” he said. “When you’re competing at this level, your success is totally based on the care of your dogs.”

Three dogs on three different teams died during the 2007 race. One dog died in the 2010 race, and another in 2011.

I worked in a kennel that belonged to an Iditarod musher. So here’s what I have to say. Often dog care is left to the kennel workers or dog handlers. We are paid very little- whatever the minimum wage is with no benefits usually. In general, mushers don’t have enough workers. Keep in mind that they have lots and lots of dogs and most of our work is during very cold weather. What this all boils down into being is that most of the dogs aren’t well taken care of. Understand that the mushers know about all the bad stuff that goes down. Lots of times the musher is part of it.

I’ve seen kennel workers beat dogs. I’ve seen kennel workers not feed dogs they don’t like or not give them water. I’ve seen kennel workers kill dogs. If a dog is sick, most workers are too busy to notice or don’t report it. When a virus spreads through the kennel, most mushers don’t want to pay for the vets- especially if the dogs have a low rank- I’ll explain that later. Mushers sometimes kill the dogs they don’t want or they leave it to us. There are dead dogs under the ground where tourists walk in some kennels.

Dogs have rankings. The ones who race good have the highest rank and it goes down from there. The dogs with the highest rank get the best care. (Some people would still call that awful- the dogs are chained.) The dogs with low rank stay on the chain. Like I said mushers make sure that the high ranked dogs get the most attention. But if they are good at running they are made to run thousands of miles before the Iditarod even begins. And yes, dogs die from it.

Sometimes the mushers take the dogs on training runs. Otherwise, it’s the dog handlers who do it. We usually run the puppies who might have promise of racing good as an adult. I’ve heard stories from ones who say they’ve beaten the dogs when they’re out on the trail.

The kennels churn out puppies as fast as a factory manufactures bolts or screwdrivers. There is always more stock coming in from breeding. Or, if a musher needs a better racer, it can be bought, borrowed or leased.

The mushers running businesses that give kennel tours are entertainers or showmen. Make no mistake. This is all a business. No love. Just business. The less money spent on the dogs, the more profit the musher pockets.

‘John’ – December 5, 2006

‘Dog’s beating left me appalled, sick and shocked’ (Whitehorse Star, Feb. 23/2011).

Ed. note: some readers may find this letter’s graphic details of the violence committed against an Alaskan sled dog disturbing.

It is around one year ago today as I write this, fewer than two weeks before the legendary 2011 Iditarod race start, that, as a dog handler at a private kennel location in Alaska, I witnessed the extremely violent beating of an Iditarod racing dog by one of the racing industry’s most high-profile top 10 mushers. Be assured the beating was clearly not within an “acceptable range” of “discipline”.

Indeed, the scene left me appalled, sick and shocked.

After viewing an individual sled dog repeatedly booted with full force, the male person doing the beating jumping back and forth like a pendulum with his full body weight to gain full momentum and impact.

He then alternated his beating technique with full-ranging, hard and fast, closed-fist punches like a piston to the dog as it was held by its harness splayed onto the ground.

He then staggeringly lifted the dog by the harness with two arms above waist height, then slammed the dog into the ground with full force, again repeatedly, all of this repeatedly.

The other dogs harnessed into the team were barking loudly and excitedly, jumping and running around frenzied in their harnesses.

The attack was sustained, continuing for several minutes perhaps over four minutes, within view at least, until the all-terrain vehicle I was a passenger on turned a curve on the converging trails, and the scene disappeared from view.

This particular dog was just under 10 days out from commencing racing in the long distance Iditarod race. It was later seen to have survived the attack, although bloodied as a result.

Personally, I have never witnessed such a violent attack on a living creature before. The image of that explosion of anger and physical force of one man on a smaller animal is burnt to my memory.

Now, a year on, I look back at last year’s cover page article in a prominent Alaskan news publication, “Surviving the Iditarod”, and the irony of my experience is deep.

The article illustrating the harsh climatic conditions of the endurance race which threatens the dogs’ health and lives, and the conscious, detailed and careful measures taken by vets, mushers and the Iditarod organization to ensure each racing dog has the greatest chance of arriving at Nome humanely treated and alive.

It is not the beating itself that has created a persistent unease for me, disturbing enough as it is.

But the stone-walled, silent denial that followed engenders my persistent need to have a voice for that dog and others that may endure the same abuse away from public scrutiny.

The other witnesses of this attack are two young people, too scared or too stupid when requested to assist me and provide testimony to the Alaskan state trooper, who I notified about the attack. The young people explained to me, “They are not my dogs,” and “I am spineless.”

There was a kennel inspection whereby no person was located on-site to be interviewed by the same state trooper.

Despite that, further investigations based on my account of the attack could not be carried out without the testimony of a second witness in accordance to state law in Alaska.

Animal welfare agencies, the Alaska SPCA and the [City of Alaska Municipality – Note: original letter was unclear regarding this geographic reference, letter writer may have intended ‘City of Anchorage’ instead] were not in a position of authority to provide me with assistance.

Two months after the attack, and after many failed attempts to communicate directly with the Iditarod committee, I contacted PETA U.S.A. for assistance.

In response, the Iditarod committee stated, “The Iditarod is an event, not an enforcement agency,” and Mush With Pride and the state troopers were referred to as more appropriate organizations.

Mush With Pride is an immensely valuable organization developed by sled dog racing industry representatives to self-promote and educate mushers on the wellbeing of sled racing dogs.

In an early phone conversation with Mush With Pride, it was explained that intentional dog abuse is not addressed within their bylaws or objectives; (they) “assume all mushers intend to provide adequate care of their dogs.”

My written requests to add direct abuse to their policy of education have been met with more silence.

The impasse of the situation is of dire consequences to the wellbeing of racing sled dogs in Alaska.

The intention of the state animal protection law, which relies on the strength of several witnesses to stand up to dog abuse, is evidently prone to fail due to “whistle blowers syndrome”.

There is apparently no alternative Alaskan organization willing to acknowledge or openly address intentional sled dog abuse.

Witnesses are easily rendered silent in the face of high-profile employers, and witnesses are dead-ended by the law, yet the relevant race event organizations continue to promote this high-profile, abusive musher throughout “The Greatest Race on Earth”.

That said, where does any hope for responsibility and reform of this behaviour lie? Who is responsible?

Names are used to over-simplify and dust down complex issues into politics, polarization and denial, yet if labels are used as they have been, so be it.

I went to Alaska from Australia last year as an Iditarod race and sled dog enthusiast, and I was labelled an “activist” by the Iditarod committee.

I actively oppose sled dog abuse in any form. I actively promote the recognition of abuse and misconduct. I actively promote the need for re-education and reform in the high-profile arena of sled dog racing and commercial sled dog mushing in Alaska.

I speak for those dogs unable to voice their own needs, and those Alaskans and Yukoners who wish to be informed.

Recent news has emerged from Canada regarding the large-scale slaughter of commercial sled dogs near Whistler, B.C.

Consider the cultural and economic value and continued promotion around the world of the Iditarod and other sled dog races within Alaska, and the proud and compassionate nature I witnessed that regular Alaskans have for their pet animals.

Given this, perhaps it is time to pursue, at the least, an open discussion on the ethics and performance of mushers away from the major events, in a progressive, honest manner in Alaska.

For all is not as it seems in the Alaskan sled dog racing industry.

Some of those truly enduring, heroic dogs continue to survive for sport, culture and industry.

Let it be with humane treatment and integrity, if only because, as desired and promoted by the Alaskan sled dog racing and mushing community, the world is watching.

So should Alaskans [and Yukoners be watching].

Jane Stevens,

December 13, 2012 Yukon Hansard, speech by Tourism and Uncultured Minister Mike Nixon:

Mr. Speaker, I rise today on behalf of all Members of the Legislative Assembly to pay tribute to the upcoming 30th running of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog race. This 30th anniversary celebration is a hallmark milestone in the history of the race and one that all Yukoners can be proud of.

Since the first running in 1983, many individuals and organizations have supported the race. Together we celebrate the achievements and the hard work accomplished by those who have worked hard to make this race an iconic winter event, which showcases Yukon’s legacy of sled dog mushing.

I understand that my Yukon Party caucus colleague, the Member for Lake Laberge’s sister ran in the Quest for the first time in 1989 at the age of 18 and is still one of the youngest people who have ever run the Quest.

We thank the Quest board, president Joost van der Putten, the staff and the Quest board members who provide organizational leadership. In fact, it’s a honour for me to report that Joost, the president of Yukon Quest, has just received notification, and in the coming weeks he will be presented with the Diamond Jubilee Award from MP Ryan Leef on behalf of the Queen for his hard work and dedication to move the Quest forward.

We also acknowledge the dedication of the many volunteers, sponsors, the vets, race officials, and Yukon and community organizers. Of course the race would not happen without the mushers, the dog handlers and of course the dogs. It is their willingness to embrace personal challenge that makes the Quest such an exciting event.

In September, I had the pleasure of announcing additional funding to support Yukon Quest for ongoing pre-race celebrations happening now during the next few weeks and leading up to the 2013 race. As part of that celebration on Thursday, December 13, MacBride Museum is hosting a visual tribute to the race — and that is this evening. The exhibit will feature poster images depicting the Quest vision. These images capture the essence of the race, along with information on the origin of dog mushing as a sport in the territory. From its humble beginnings 30 years ago, very few events highlight the romance of the north like the Yukon Quest. This northern spirit is reflected in the men and women who take part in the race. We see the love of their dogs through canine care and marvel at the skill it takes to race 1,000 miles across a harsh winter landscape.

For Yukon and Alaska, this special race and special relationship reflects our cross-border friendship and the recognition that our own success is tied to our neighbours’ good fortune. In addition to the cultural significance of the race, assisting the Yukon Quest with funding support is an investment in Yukon’s winter tourism product. Many media and trade familiarization tours are scheduled around the race, which offers opportunities to showcase Yukon winter travel and vacation experiences across the globe.

Since 1999, the Department of Tourism and Culture has provided over $2.3 million to the Yukon Quest Canada organization in support of the program development, cooperative marketing, foreign media familiarization tours, race administration and community outreach. The 30th running of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race begins at Shipyards Park in Whitehorse on Saturday, February 2, 2013. It’s a chance for all of us to be there at the start line to wish our favourite musher safe travels and to share in the excitement of the dogs as they ready themselves for their 1,000-mile journey.

We wish good luck to all of the mushers and their dogs and safe travels during their northern adventure — a true accomplishment marking the 30th running of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.

I will mention again that there is an exhibit opening this evening at MacBride Museum and that starts at 5:00 p.m. I welcome everyone to attend. I’d also ask for the indulgence of all Members of the Legislative Assembly to join me in welcoming staff and directors of the Yukon Quest to the gallery: Joost van der Putten, the president; Rolf Schmitt, the vice-president; Clarke LaPrairie, the treasurer; and Marie-Sylvestre Belanger, the executive director. Welcome all.

[What a shameful and disgraceful speech by Mike Nixon. In a Territory as backward as the Yukon is with regard to animal welfare, the big bucks go to the exploiters, abusers and killers. How are Yukoners to get the message of spay/neuter, proper food, shelter and vet care for companion animals, when the Yukon Quest organization and racers, sled dog puppy mills and dog cullers get the royal treatment from the Territory’s politicians?]