Monday, May 7, 2007

Commentary on the "Spring Husky Dump"

The front page story in today's Anchorage Daily News was published under the headline "Spring May Be the Last Many Dumped Huskies Ever See". The lead paragraph reads, "Every year as the snow begins to melt, the Fairbanks North Star Borough Animal Shelter experiences what has come to be known as "the spring husky dump."

Each year, shortly after breakup, the Fairbanks North Star Borough animal shelter is filled to overflowing as mushers, "...mostly those who weren't as successful as they would've liked, clean out their dog lots."

In my opinion the worse offenders are those very rare cases in which mushers relinquish large batches of dogs to the shelter in order to acquire more, "better" dogs. I doubt that it happens very often, but when it does happen the impact is quickly overwhelming.

Although the majority of sled dogs relinquished to the shelter are perfectly capable working dogs, only about 1/3 of more than 1,000 sled dogs that wind up in the FNSB shelter each year are adopted. The shelter's sled dog yard only has room for 25 guests. Although the shelter enjoys the support of a network of dog mushers who make kennel space available for "foster" dogs there is a limit to that resource, and once the network is full the shelter has no other option. At that point dogs that are not quickly adopted or moved into local sled dog rescue organizations must be killed to make room for the next batch of unwanted dogs.

The A.P. article quoted Iditarod and Yukon Quest champion Lance Mackey as saying "It's unfortunate that there are no guidelines for people to own dogs." I think Lance may have been referring to guidelines that would prohibit unsuitable people from owning dogs. Iditarod rules require that racers be members of Mush with PRIDE (Providing Responsible Information on a Dog's Environment). A copy of the Mush with PRIDE Guidelines for Sled Dog Care is given to each member of the organization and is made available on-line, free of charge.

The PRIDE Sled Dog Care Guidelines address the issue of 'culling' unwanted dogs from a team in the section on "Keeping Your Kennel the Right Size." The PRIDE guidelines suggest several options including placing unwanted dogs into appropriate mushing or pet homes, selling extra dogs, and even humanely euthanizing unwanted sled dogs that are behaviorally not suited to pet homes (i.e. dogs that are unmanageably aggressive). Nothing in the guidelines would even hint that dumping unwanted sled dogs onto the local pound is acceptable.

I strongly feel that it is NOT the responsibilities of tax payers to find new homes for unwanted sled dogs. I'm not some 'bunny-hugger fanatic' that thinks animals have rights, but I am an old school conservative who strongly feels that human beings have responsibilities and that the responsibility to place unwanted animals rests with the owner of the dog. I feel the shelter should always be viewed as the option of last resort, reserved for those with emergency needs. Any one of us could find ourselves suffering a catastrophic injury or illness making it impossible to properly care for our animals. In that case we should be able to relinquish our animals to "the man" with a reasonable expectation that they be kept alive long enough to find appropriate new homes. That simply can not be the reality when irresponsible mushers overload the system by dumping their culls simply because it is more convenient than personally finding appropriate homes.

Make no mistake, the vast majority of dog mushers are extremely responsible dog owners. Of all the mushers I am acquainted with only 1 has intentionally dumped dogs into the shelter and 1 other relinquished a handful of dogs to the shelter as a last, desperate resort in dire circumstances. Meanwhile nearly all of the mushers I know have one or more rescued sled dogs in their kennels and they take great pains to ensure that their own dogs never become part of the problem.

In 1860 James Carnegie, Earl of Southesk wrote “The strange thing is, that men who are full of kindness and humanity towards one another and towards the rest of creation, should be as bad as the greatest ruffians in their treatment of the poor dogs..." This sentiment remains as true today as it was nearly 150 years ago.

With limited space in the shelter and foster network, it only takes one or two irresponsible mushers to create an overwhelming situation. Those who just dump their dogs on the shelter may be rewarded by convenience, but the dogs pay the ultimate price with their lives. That just isn't right.

Please read the follow up article posted on May 12th, "The Dump that Didn't".

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