Picture yourself soaring across the frozen north, bundled tight in your toque with the crisp wind across your face, a group of furry canine companions pulling the sled in which you sit. It’s the authentic northern experience, the dogs are panting hard as you reach hour two in ride and you think about how tiring it would be if you ran this distance, but marvel at the strength and power of the animals. How fun would it be to have your own team of pups to pull you around? You chuckle as you imagine pulling up to the grocery store in a dogsled. You dream of curling up at night with eight dogs cuddling in your room, playing and laughing with the fluffy goofballs –it’s just a dream, but how fun would it be? Unfortunately for many sled dogs, it’s merely a dream for them as well. Every dog wants a loving family, but sled dogs aren’t seen as pets. With the growth of the sled dog tourism industry, the bottom line is what matters most to the owners and dogs are considered livestock, they are seen as dollars and cents. The life of a sled dog is filled with remorseless abuse, owners do what they must in order to keep the commercial sled dog industry afloat.The following is the fictional story of an Alaskan Husky named Bondi; from birth to death her story is that of the average sled dog, destined to live her life on the chain.
As the wind howls I can her the barks and yowls of dozens of other dogs not far away in the big dog yard, their chains rattling as they pace and circle to relieve the boredom. I know that I might join them one day, chained up outside in the cold, but right now I am a new puppy, so I snuggle in closer to my mom and siblings in our little dog house. I’m small, but I’m growing stronger by the day, I can’t wait to learn more about this world. When I am six weeks old a human comes by. I’ve had very little interaction with the humans so far, they’re so busy with all the other dogs, but this one picks me and my siblings up and takes us to a bigger cage… All right! More room to play, but wait! Where is mom? She’s gone! She’s still in the other cage with the tiny doghouse, why doesn’t she get to come with us? I don’t get to see my mom again, but one of the humans begins to visit us regularly, teaching us and training us, but they yell and push and shove, this isn’t how my mom introduced me to the world. Is this how I become one of those dogs on chains?
Happy half-birthday to me! I am six months old and I love to tumble around with my siblings, and jump around whenever I see people. The humans who care for me only have so much time to come by and play with me, but today is different. One of the humans takes my brother, she grabs his collar and drags him away, he’s whimpering and tries to run back to me, but before I know it, he’s gone. The human comes back and this time they are here for me, grabbing my collar I’m dragged away from my home. I gasp for air as my collar begins to strangle me, where am I going? What are they going to do to me? Help! All I can see are dogs on chains, unable to touch each other, a tiny house their only shelter, I flip and pull; I don’t want to be tethered. My human keeps pulling but suddenly, I can breathe, I am free! I make a run for it, but I don’t know where to go, my human is in hot pursuit, I wiggle underneath one of the tiny doghouses hoping that she won’t be able to grab me, but she does and before I know it I am chained. I tug and pull, running in endless circles, trying to feel the wind through my fur, trying reach that sunny grassy patch far away, trying to touch the other dogs, trying to curl up and feel another dogs warmth, but I can’t.
I don’t know it yet, but these days will turn to months and the months will turn to years. My life will become an endless cycle of running to the point of exhaustion and being trapped on the chain. I will learn to be helpless. I will starve not only for food, but also for love and affection. I don’t know it yet, but when the summer months come, I will be isolated even more. No more tourists will come by to pet me, and I’ll have no more reasons to be taken off the chain, no more reasons to run until the next snowfall. I’ll accidentally spill my water bowl and I won’t get any more until the next day so I’ll lie in the summer sun while I pant and pant and pant. I don’t know it yet, but life on the chain, means dealing with the elements.
I am eight months old and I live on the chain, but today is something different. My human untethers me; it’s my lucky day! Until I feel a harness, and a heavy weight. I try to move, but it’s hard. My human is trying to judge how strong I am, how skilled I might be at pulling a sled. I want more time off the chain, so I try to impress her and pull with all my might. She seems pleased, at least I hope she is.
I have been training to become a sled dog, it is difficult and exhausting, but I’m grateful for some time off the chain. My human has been watching me and all the other puppies, I’m lucky that I grew up to be a strong dog, some of my siblings are still struggling and our human is very unhappy. The dogs that have not grown as strong as I have are taken away one by one. This feels all wrong, I’m crying out; where are you taking them?!
I’ll never know for sure, I do not see what happens to the other dogs, but I hear the yips and howls quickly silenced. I hear the gunshots ring out over the yard.
I hear that if I am unwanted either because I am not fast enough to be a racing sled dog or if business slows down and I am no longer needed to be a sled dog, it is legal in Canada and in the US for me to be killed. The government of British Columbia has provided instructions on how I am to be killed.
I’ve been training vigorously for the upcoming tourist season and now it is time to begin my career as an actual sled dog. Initially, it’s thrilling; I get off the chain and spend my day with happy tourists who shower me with love and affection, but it’s also exhausting. I’m running for hours and hours in the snow pulling hundreds of pounds behind me. I try to keep up my energy, but I barely get enough food and my shelter isn’t always enough to keep me warm.
I’ve been a sled dog for 3 years now and one of the dogs tethered near me, Simon, froze to death last night. Our human brings a new dog to take Simon’s chain and he lashes out and bites our human, fearful of his life on a tether. She kicks him hard, again and again until he submits.
Throughout my years as a sled dog I see injured and ill dogs forced to run, I lose countless of my friends, I experience endless cullings and I run, and run, and run. I spend 9 years running and starving and watching my friends get beaten or killed. I spend 9 years without the freedom to run or play without dragging people behind me. I spend 9 years panting through summers and freezing through winters. I spend 9 years as a commercial sled dog until I become old and weak and tired.
It is very hard for me to pull a sled these days and my human knows it. I keep trying, because I know that being weak means disappearing, leaving nothing but an empty chain and the smell of gunpowder in the air. Sledding season is near its end, and I am pulling a middle-aged couple across the snowy plain, they smile serenely, enjoying the ride, not knowing that a gunshot is what waits for me back at the dog yard. When we take a break, the couple comes up to pet us, and the woman looks me in the eyes and smiles.
“It’s her last season,” my owner says casually, as though I’m being sent to some doggie resort to spend my golden years.
“Do they go up for adoption?”
“My ears perk up, adoption? What’s that?”
“If you want her, sure,” she shrugs and pauses, “Don’t spread around where you got her though,”
The woman smiles at me again petting me softly.
I learn what adoption is. Adoption is a full stomach, adoption is a warm place to sleep, adoption is freedom. I do not have many years left, but the years that I do have are filled with love. I am grateful, but I do not forget that many of my siblings ended their season with a gunshot in the dog yard.
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“To my mind, I hold that the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man.” – Mahatma Gandhi