Letter to the Editor

Generous community The Whitehorse chapter of the Canadian Cancer Society would like to thank everyone who supported our Rent-A-Santa fundraiser this…

Generous community

The Whitehorse chapter of the Canadian Cancer Society would like to thank everyone who supported our Rent-A-Santa fundraiser this year.

Because of the overwhelming generosity of the public, we had our best Christmas ever, raising more than $6,000.

The dedication of our volunteer Santas and Mrs. Clauses is to be commended. They give unselfishly of their time and always go above and beyond the call of duty.

It is their commitment to this program that makes it so worthwhile.

Special thanks to the Yukon News for its donation of advertising, to Qualita Cleaners, which continues to clean our Santa suits at no charge and the Whitehorse Fire department and Ajax Industrial for Santa’s white gloves.

These contributions are vital to our program and much appreciated.

The Canadian Cancer Society relies on the commitment of volunteers and the giving nature of the public.

The community’s ongoing support and donations to this program assure its success and provide much-needed funds for cancer research and support for cancer patients.

Mary Mickey and Laurie Babala

Whitehorse chapter, Canadian Cancer Society

Old Quest/New Quest

It has been very gratifying to see the increased awareness among the dog-mushing community (including some Yukon Quest mushers) and Yukon media about some of the issues surrounding this year’s Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race — dog-mushing issues that are usually suppressed or ignored.

We have heard longtime musher Frank Turner ask for prospective Quest mushers to disclose their dog-culling policy.

He went on further to suggest that any musher who culls dogs should not be allowed in the Yukon Quest.

In an earlier letter, which was printed some time ago in the Whitehorse Star, I made the same suggestion, only I did not go as far as Turner has.

My suggestion was that competitive mushers disclose their dog-culling practice, and that if they did cull dogs and puppies, that the animals were disposed of in a humane manner.

If this is done, prospective event sponsors and volunteers can decide whether or not they want to support a race that also kills dogs and puppies.

Turner is the only competitive dog musher I am aware of in the Yukon who has publicly disclosed (in advertising literature for his sled-dog tour business) that he does not cull his dogs.

I believe him when he says this.

The Quest response to this, according to CBC Yukon Radio (which has made a big improvement in reporting the race), was that the dog-culling practices of Quest mushers were “not our business.”

Quest musher William Kleedehn, in a CBC radio spot about mushers “trash talking” during the race, was heard to say words to the effect that “Frank Turner started his trash talking before the race [in reference to his open discussion of dog culling].”

We have also heard mushers talk about getting rid of the Eagle Summit route, as it has always been dangerous to mushers and dogs.

Hans Gatt has been vocal about this for years. Again, the Quest made a bureaucratic-sounding excuse about why this cannot be done, and discounted this criticism, as it seemingly always does.

Hugh Neff, who has developed a reputation as a rogue musher for his past treatment of dogs, was heard on CBC radio on Friday, saying that he realizes he has a bad record and was working on changing his ways.  I seem to recall Neff saying something along these lines before — maybe this time he really means it.

I actually almost have a grudging respect for Neff as he has never tried to portray himself as a saint and he speaks his mind when questioned by media about his own errant ways and those of the Quest.

Despite devoting a lot of negative print to Neff on the sleddogwatchdog.com website, I could be persuaded to think he is a very intelligent man who is devoted to dog mushing and has a lot to offer to the community about the science of dog mushing.

I have read of Turner’s criticism about the relatively small amount of money that is devoted to veterinary care during the race (I understand the budget was cut considerably years ago).

I have read in a news story from last year’s race that musher Gerry Willomitzer criticized the Quest committee for spending too much money on flashy fundraising and media events, when the money should have been better spent elsewhere.

In the 2007 Quest race, one dog (her name was Jewel) died in an unfortunate and horrific-sounding accident along the trail.

The chance for the occurrence of dog deaths and injuries is high because of the often unpredictable situations that can happen along the long route, where there are long distances between checkpoints staffed by veterinarians and where sleep-deprived mushers are more likely to make mistakes.

We have seen that many dogs have been running in this year’s race while suffering from viral illnesses and physical injuries.

About 50 dogs were dropped as of February 14th, according to media reports, most of the maladies pertaining to “wrist and shoulder injuries.” (Yukon News).

One of musher Aaron Burmeister’s dogs collapsed suddenly when it choked on its tongue.  Fortunately, Burmeister was able to revive the dog.

Quest veterinarian Vern Starks said that this medical crisis affecting racing sled dogs “isn’t an uncommon occurrence.” (Whitehorse Star).

Other dogs have the hell run out of them and can drop dead at any time.

Lance Mackey is treated as a hero for running his dogs hard and for long distances with minimal rest.

Mackey had a dog die suddenly in the 2004 Iditarod. The dog choked on its own vomit.

I will never in a million years come to see this Yukon Quest race as being humane, as long as it continues to be run in the current manner.

There has been too much negative influence from the obscene (for its commercialism and for its mistreatment of dogs, who in Alaska, are mere ‘cannon fodder’) Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

Similar sentiments to mine were thoughtfully expressed in a letter to the Whitehorse Star by a Quest supporter (initials B.A.) of Whitehorse, during last year’s Quest.

That letter should be framed and put in a prominent place on the wall of anyone who is interested in dog mushing and the Quest.

The Quest needs to roll back to how it started out, as a glorified camping trip for mushers.

I can visualize many mushers, including current Quest veterans, First Nations mushers, young mushers and hobby and recreational mushers taking part in such a race.

The race should have more stages, better vet care and checkpoint amenities, and should allow mushers to drop out without embarrassment, whenever they feel they and their dogs have had enough.

Perhaps tourists can be trained to mush along with the other entrants.

I don’t care if it would take a whole month to finish a Quest such as this. Communities in the Yukon and Alaska would continue to benefit from the pageant of dog mushers passing through.

The Yukon, from observing all the Yukon Quest and Canada Games banners flying around Whitehorse, feels that it has a proud history of dog mushing to celebrate.

The reality is vastly different and serves to exploit the sled-dog image and all the sled dogs who have helped build this country — dogs who have suffered and who continue to suffer, without adequate animal protection.

I would like to thank the Seppala Sleddogs website http://news.seppalasleddogs.com/blog/2006_02.html for its very intelligent and passionate criticism of the Quest, that makes me feel confident that I am on the right track in devoting considerable time and effort to publicly criticize the race (sorry if I have offended anyone in doing so).

I would like to make it clear that I am not ‘anti dog mushing,’ and do have respect for the skills and devotion to dog mushing of Yukon Quest participants.

It is just that the barbarity that happens during the race, and in the dog yards when the race is over, needs to stop.

Only then will it be OK for substantial public money to be invested in this event, or for it to be promoted in Yukon schools.

Only then will you be able to look at dog-mushing banners flying overhead, and feel pride and confidence that the dogs are being well served.

Please adopt a retired sled dog if you get a chance — safe travels, no more dead dogs.

Terry Cumming, Sled Dog Watchdog Coalition, Whitehorse

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