‘Teacher! What was the name of the dead sled dog?’
Open letter to Yukon education authorities, Yukon politicians and parents of Yukon school children:
On February 5th, I was informed by a colleague about an incident that took place in a Grade 6 classroom in Whitehorse the previous day.
My colleague, who moved to Whitehorse from the South within the last year, told me that his or her child was upset by the child’s teacher, during a lesson about the Yukon Quest, telling the class about an encounter involving a dead sled dog the previous weekend.
Apparently, the teacher and his or her partner (dog mushers themselves) were looking after another musher’s dog yard, and the teacher’s partner came across the dead dog when he or she went out to feed the dogs in the morning.
The teacher described the scene to the children, about the dog being found half out of his or her doghouse, the dog’s body partly covered by snow.
Why would a teacher fill his or her young students’ heads with this disturbing picture?
One of the questions asked by several children was, “what was the name of the dog?” The teacher reportedly did not know the dog’s name.
Other questions that come up are:
How did the dog die? Did the dog succumb to the bitter cold spell that had descended on the Yukon? Did the dog become strangled at the end of a chain? How old was this dog and what was his or her story?
What was done with the dog’s body? Was the dog treated respectfully in death, if not in life? Did any other parents complain to the teacher as my colleague did?
The teacher was not happy to be at the receiving end of the complaint by this parent I know who spoke up with concern about his or her child.
The teacher used the old “these are working dogs, not pets” line, which absolutely did not wash.
Since moving here, my colleague took the time and effort to learn about Yukon sled dog exploitation and cruelty, and made it perfectly clear to the offending teacher, that his or her family was against the Yukon Quest, and its promotion in the classroom.
The parents of this child did not appreciate their offspring being indoctrinated into ‘adopting a Yukon Quest musher,’ writing fan e-mails to mushers along the trail, or hearing Yukon Quest race announcements over the PA system during school days.
A few years ago, I called the (then) president of the Yukon Teachers’ Association to complain about the Quest being promoted to schoolchildren. I was told that I had to complain to the individual offending teacher, then (if not satisfied) to complain to the school principal, then to the Yukon Department of Education, THEN to the Yukon Teachers’ Association.
A year or so after this, I saw that the association was mentioned in a ‘thank you ad’ to Quest supporters, published in the Whitehorse Star newspaper.
The Quest is widely taught to Yukon students and exported over the internet to students Outside. (The teacher who co-ordinates the YesNet Student Quest school program is a longtime Quest volunteer and ex-board member).
Since then, I looked at the biographies of the governing party in the Yukon and saw that:
One member is a past president of the Quest; one is a local veterinarian who has been involved in the Quest, Iditarod and other races; the Speaker of the Yukon Legislature is an ex-chairman of the Quest; the minister of Education has been a Quest volunteer, and one government minister had been, until recently, part-owner of a family sled-dog tour operation near Whitehorse.
The current minister of Tourism and Culture Elaine Taylor, whose department is a big promoter of the Quest and dog-mushing industry, is (ironically) listed as having volunteered at Humane Society Yukon.
Local animal advocate Mike Grieco had had a letter — Quest kills — published in the Yukon News on March 9, 2007, in which he took the aforementioned politicians to task, asking them to justify their support for a race that kills and injures sled dogs.
No reply was ever received, which is apparently standard operating procedure by these politicians and by Quest officials themselves.
If Yukon society deems it acceptable that promotion of the Quest and the Yukon dog-mushing industry belongs in Yukon classrooms, our children should be taught the whole story, not just part of it.
They should learn about the culling of unwanted dogs and puppies who are ‘collateral damage’ from this race and from the mushing industry.
They should learn that very few of their mushing heroes have a lifelong commitment to their dogs. They should learn about the suffering and deaths of the dogs on the Quest trail and the real lives the dogs endure in their dog yards.
They should learn that their political leaders use sled dogs as a symbol to promote the Yukon without providing any legislated protection for the dogs.
They should know about the use of dogs for financial gain and ego satisfaction, whether the dogs belong to Quest mushers or sled dog tour operators.
Some of the politicians (territorial, municipal, and First Nations) should sit in at the back of the class and do some learning themselves.
The children in this class should know more of the story of this dog, be shown a picture (if one is available) of the dog when it was alive and be told its name.
This incident took place in Whitehorse Elementary School. Permission from my colleague and his or her brave and intelligent child was obtained before writing this letter.
Terry Cumming, SledDogWatchdog.com, Whitehorse
Pulling together in winter
During the recent cold snap, I was reminded of true northern hospitality — folks helping each other out in times of need.
My sincere thanks to: NAPA Auto Parts, Al Jackson, Terry Buckle, Gabe, Stuart and various members of Moving Parts Theatre, Grizzly Cabs, Jordan D’Avignon, and the mysterious Boxwood Cr. snow remover.