I couldn’t help but notice that the Yukon News, for whatever reason, gave the Yukon Quest trail a wide berth in 2010. The total journalistic output consisted of:
Â¥ A couple of articles by Tom Patrick about 2010 Quest winner Hans Gatt, who was contemplating retiring from long-distance racing.
I dredged up a February 6th, 2007, Whitehorse Star story entitled Kinship With Dogs Keeps Gatt On The Trail in which Gatt was quoted, “It’s really hard to quit, because I really like the dogs. I love my dogs. That’s probably the hardest thing, facing the fact that if you quit, you’ve got to get rid of the dogs. You’ve got to sell some dogs.” Retire already, Gatt, and get out of the dog-breeding business, as well. Saskatchewan/Belgian musher Stefaan de Marie has his 2010 Quest team for sale online ($12,000), new pups for sale soon. The only difference between puppy mill operators and Quest mushers is that the former are not running their dogs 160 kilometres a day at 40 below in an event, which should be illegal.
Â¥ And a story by James Munson about the Quest still limping along financially despite receiving obscene amounts of public money for many years. It was encouraging to read that the Quest (as is the Iditarod) has been losing volunteers and sponsors. Never fear though, as Tourism Minister Elaine Taylor works tirelessly to help the exploiters (no surprise there, when the president of TIA Yukon runs a dog-tour business and the Quest executive director has a permanent seat on the board). On February 9th, I listened to an interview with Yukon tourism director Pierre Germain on the CBC Yukon morning radio show. Germain was flying a planeload of travel industry people up to Whitehorse, where part of the itinerary included a dog mushing tour and attending the Quest race finish banquet.
Was it mentioned at the banquet that another dog was killed?
The Yukon News ceded the trail to official and unofficial Quest media sponsors, who I refer to as the ‘media villains.’ The most egregious example is CBC Yukon/CBC North, which, every year, put on a full-court press to promote the race on radio, TV, and online. The other villains know full well who they are.
The gaping void from the loss of responsible and critical race reporting specifically pertains to Yukon News reporter Genesee Keevil not being on the trail. She had covered the Quest as trail reporter from 2006 to 2009, and could be depended upon to report all aspects of the race, including the numerous examples of bungling by the Quest organizers and officials, arrogant and unresponsive race veterinarians, details about the suffering and deaths of dogs, rampant dog culling, egotistical mushers putting their feet in their mouths.
To my mind, Keevil stands above any other sled-dog racing reporter in the world. She made a significant contribution to this sector where most other journalists abandon their ethics. I can imagine that she did not receive much in the way of appreciation or thanks from the rabid Yukon dog-mushing community and its supporters, or from the largely apathetic Yukon public. If the dogs could read I am sure they would give thanks to her.
Back to the dysfunctional crew from CBC, who, around Quest time every year, act like somebody put some mind-altering substance in their lattes. Almost every year the name of at least one CBC reporter appears in the Quest volunteer “thank you” newspaper ad.
In the online story about the dead dog, CBC made sure to put in bold letters that the owner of the dead dog was “very caring,” as quoted by Quest race marshal Hans Oettli. The eight-year old dog, according to head Quest veterinarian Kathleen McGill, had a previous unknown heart disease, but due to “his active lifestyle, he probably lived longer than if he was not a sled dog.” Apparently, the “well fleshed, well-muscled” dog Bags was sliced up on the trail to determine the cause of his sudden death.
On CBC Northbeat, McGill described injuries for the multitude of dropped dogs as being mostly of the tender feet variety, but the ever resourceful mushers were breeding dogs for good feet. What happens to the dogs who aren’t born with good feet?
And it is not as if CBC is totally in the dark about the callous disregard by mushers, including Quest racers, towards their dogs.
In June, 2006, CBC’s Nancy Thomson made the following statement during an interview with a representative of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies about the alleged massacre of 74 dogs by a dog hoarder outside of Dawson:
“Now this raises the question, one last question here, and that is the Yukon is a large dog mushing community and kennels usually entail several scores of dogs. It’s a fact that it does occur within a community. I don’t think it’s something that’s discussed a lot, but mushers do cull animals, and is that provided for with any legislation that you’re aware of?”
Immediately prior to the 2007 Quest race, Quest veteran musher Frank Turner told CBC reporter Rebecca Zandbergen, “The Quest should admit that culling is part of the competitive racing world and take measures to discourage it. I mean one of the things that the Quest could do on the entry form is do a declaration Ã to participate in the Quest you declare that you do not practice culling of dogs.”
Three years later, the Quest still lacks a culling policy. In 2007, race marshal Mike McCowan, “Would not say whether culling is a common practice,” and told Zandbergen that it was, “Not the Quest’s business” what mushers did in their dog yards.
The story seemed out of place amongst all the CBC Radio morning show Quest hoopla, so my belief is that it was something Turner urgently wanted to be put out to the public. That’s where the story died.
Toward the end of the 2008 race, CBC’s Sandi Coleman interviewed race veterinarian Vern Starks about the disqualification of a musher for, “Failing to provide the dog care expected of Yukon Quest mushers.” Starks refused to divulge the details (not that Quest fanatic Coleman pushed him very hard).
As final comment, I remind Yukoners that Yukon schoolchildren continue to be coerced into becoming little Quest disciples, another issue about which the Department of Education remains tight-lipped as to its justification.
It is also fair to ask whether Yukon MP Larry Bagnell (a longtime fan of the Quest), had any part in lobbying Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl for $262,320 (Bagnell usually likes to take credit for federal money lavished upon the Yukon). The money would be better spent improving the Third-World conditions for dogs on Yukon First Nations lands, especially the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, which has a terrible record of caring for its domestic animals (I noticed Kwanlin Dun is a new Quest sponsor).