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http://www.animaladvocates.com/sled-dogs/whistler-sled-dogs-robert-fawcett-spca/

YQ09_dog_under_truckThe following letter was emailed to the Yukon Quest board, Mush With P.R.I.D.E., to Sled Dog Watchdog, and to Mrs. Margery Glickman, director of The Sled Dog Action Coalition:

To all friends of our best friends – the dogs…

—–Ursprüngliche Nachricht—–
Von: Gabriela Ramien
Gesendet: Donnerstag, 26. Mai 2011 00:47

An: info@mushwithpride.org

Betreff: Yukon Quest 2011

Dear members of Mush with Pride, here is a letter I sent to the Board of Direktors of the Yukon Quest. I hope, it will help to improve the dogcare. I would be happy, if you would also talk about it in your organisation and maybe discuss it with as many Organisations as possible.

Greetings from Germany

Gabriela Ramien

To the Board of Directors of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race 2011

Dear Sir or Madam,

For decades I have been keeping dogs in Germany, my home country. Ever since I watched a TV report about the Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race, I was thrilled. A truly fascinating adventure! Man and beast compete as a team and give maximum performance while racing across the wilderness of the Yukon. Were Canada my home country, I would probably be following this sport myself.

At least [last], this year I could complete my dream and participate in the Yukon Quest as a volunteer at the vet-check and as a spectator. At this point, I would like to thank the officials and judges. They gave us a hearty welcome and made it possible for us to get deep insight and some extraordinary experiences. I witnessed the event from Whitehorse to Dawson and found it very well organized and characterized by a wonderful spirit. Right from the beginning I felt at home, as if I had found a family of like-minded people.

In the light of these wonderful memories, I find it difficult to address the issues that overshadowed this unparalleled experience. Actually, the significance of these issues is such that despite my initial enthusiasm, I look back at the event with very mixed feelings.

“Dogs first” is said to be the motto – but as is well-known, ethics tend to sink into oblivion as soon as money and / or ambition are part of the game. In this case, ethics means animal welfare.

I am not talking about overprotection or exaggerated animal welfare. On the contrary, in my opinion, well-trained animals can be asked to perform in accordance to their potential. A couple of decades in eventing, as well as my own medical education, have taught me to tell apart sense from nonsense. If we, who claim to be the pride of creation, use animals for our purposes, we are responsible for their welfare and health. In my opinion, this responsibility has to be taken more seriously.

First of all, I am far from denying anybodies good will, but there seems to be a lack of clear, unambiguous regulations ensuring health and welfare of the dogs rather than the interests of the mushers.

I was lucky to have the opportunity to attend a demonstration where the chief veterinarian explained the procedural methods during a vet-check. Impressed by the thoroughness of the procedure, I was pleased and relieved with respect to the veterinary surveillance of the dogs. Later on, however, the lack of consequences that followed the examinations during the race left me puzzled and made me doubt my perception. Unfortunately, my perception was proven right when I discussed the matter with veterinarians and judges. This changed my initial satisfaction into indignation.

Here are a few examples:

1. Already at the first vet check prior to the start of the race, one team was in a miserable condition. I asked, why these dogs were allowed to participate and was told that this approach would avoid trouble, as it would be easier to advise the musher at the checkpoints… the musher in question only made it to Carmacks… Do you think that it is conducive to the reputation of the Quest (let alone the dogs` health!), when dogs that are obviously not up to the task are allowed to compete??? Even an ordinary person like me could see that these dogs should not have crossed the starting line.

2. Apparently, some of the mushers did not know their dogs: they did not know their age, so a rough guess had to suffice. Some dogs were [micro-]chipped just before the race, which means that any dog in the world could run this demanding and difficult race without any proof of qualification! In my opinion, this makes excessive demands and exhaustion of the dogs a very likely event.

3. During the race, the dogs very often presented with diarrhea, which the chief veterinarian categorized as a “normal stress reaction”. This would include bloody diarrhea, which was also frequently seen. These conditions were treated with Metronidazole. In Dawson [City] the mushers were reminded to take the required amount of drugs with them if their dogs needed medication. On inquiry, a second veterinarian confirmed this to be common practice. Likewise, she said that the administration of antibiotics during the race was permitted in the case of “minor injuries” and was done routinely. Being a physician myself, I could not believe my ears…. Bloody diarrhea is not a “normal reaction to stress” but a sign of colitis, i.e. an inflammation of the gut, which is a serious illness. In case the application of such strong medication as Metronidazole is required, the animal is sick and it should be taken out of the race and needs rest and medical treatment. As I am a physician and not a veterinarian, I talked to some vets when I was back in Germany and asked whether my appraisal would actually apply to dogs. The veterinarians confirmed exactly this point and said that Metronidazole was subject to cases of severe diarrhea.

4. Initially, it seemed to me that doping tests were a reliable part of the rules. However, the tests are useless, if drugs like antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs and cortisone, which are covered by the anti-doping regulation, are allowed in the first place. At first, I did not want to believe this but race-vets confirmed this upon request. This cannot be happening! An animal that needs this kind of medication is SICK and must not be exposed to the stresses and strains of athletic competitions, let alone such a tough one as the Yukon Quest.

5. All in all, I got the impression that there is a huge difference between the world of vet-checks and dog-welfare how the public perceives it and how it is in reality. In reality, it seems to be the job of the veterinarians to ensure that the dogs complete the race (with the help of doping, if needed) rather than to ensure that they are protected from excessive demand and permanent damage to health. I was told, that, during the last years, there actually have been vets on the team who performed their task mainly with animal welfare in mind. However, they have either been removed from the team of race-vets or have not been invited again…

6. In Dawson, the following conversation with a race-judge (!!!) evolved. He commented on the harsh conditions on the Alaska territory: “…it is going to be very cold, some of the dogs will sustain frostbitten penises – will have to be amputated.” According to my inquiries, it seems to be the preputium and/or the testes that are in danger of frostbite… bad enough, isn´t it? I replied that I had seen some mushers protecting their dogs with hides already before they arrived in Dawson and that I assumed that this would be obligatory when the conditions got harsher. Asking what kind of penalty the violation of this rule carried, I was told that this should be left to the mushers. Punishment or disqualification for lack of dog-caring would definitely not be an option, as the dog would be the musher’s property, after all. He could do with the dog whatever he wanted. And if he wanted to shoot the dog or cut his throat, then he could do that, too! At this point I abandoned the conversation and from then on avoided talks like these. This attitude towards living creatures certainly explains why horrible incidents like those in Vancouver can happen… Is this the Yukon way of animal-welfare?

I am looking forward to an early comment on these issues. In Germany, I am actively engaged in a couple of animal welfare organizations. Right now, I am exposed to a wealth of questions about my impressions of the Yukon Quest. I do hope very much that my observations give rise to improvements, as I would love to continue giving enthusiastic accounts of the Quest and dog sledding in general.

Again, I would like to express my gratitude for many wonderful impressions and experiences.

In the hope that much-needed improvement of animal-welfare will be implemented soon, I remain respectfully yours,

Gabriela Ramien,
Rosengarten, Feb. 28th 2011