15 animal rights activists arrested at Canmore-area sled dog protests

Animal rights activists staged protests at two Canmore-area sled dog kennels on Saturday.

Canmore RCMP arrested 15 people in connection with the protests, which included alleged break-ins at the Mad Dogs & Englishmen and Howling Dog Tours kennels, both southeast of Canmore.

Fourteen adults and one youth have each been charged with break and enter to commit mischief.

"The intent of the whole action here was to document and show the cruelty behind the sled dog industry," said Max Mah, an organizer with Liberation Lockdown in Alberta. The organization is a subgroup of Direct Action Everywhere Alberta, which is connected the international animal activism group Direct Action Everywhere.

Mah, from Edmonton, spoke with CBC Saturday by telephone from the Canmore RCMP detachment while members of his group were processed by police.

Mah was not among those who were arrested. During the protest, he said he was with the group of picketers standing at the side of the Trans-Canada Highway, just before the turn for the service road that leads to the kennels.

In a news release, Canmore RCMP said officers were called to the Mad Dog & Englishmen kennels at about 8 a.m. on Saturday. Mounties arriving on scene found about 30 people on the property, including some who had snuck into the area where the dogs live, police allege.

Liberation Lockdown group members entered both companies' kennels, Mah said.

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The Direct Action Everywhere Facebook page live streamed protests at both sites.

In one of the videos, protesters are seen petting the dogs, as well as documenting the animals' living conditions.

The group has complained to the Alberta SPCA before about the dogs' living conditions, particularly focusing on how the dogs are chained when they are in the kennels, said Mah.

But he called the SPCA "toothless" and said it has no traction. 

In an emailed statement, the Alberta SPCA confirmed it has received complaints about the sled dog industry, but said no wrongdoing was found. The agency also declined to name the businesses that were the subject of the complaints, saying it only identifies people or organizations in the event charges have been laid. 

"In situations this year where the Alberta SPCA has received complaints about the conditions of dogs used in the sled dog industry, our Peace Officers have not found there to be distress as defined by the Animal Protection Act," the agency said.

It is disturbing that a group of people has to resort to criminal activity that lead to the health and wellness of our dogs being threatened. - Rich Bitter, owner of Howling Dog Tours

Rich Bittner, owner of Howling Dog Tours, said in an email that the health and well-being of the dogs is "paramount" to the company. 

"It is disturbing that a group of people has to resort to criminal activity that lead to the health and wellness of our dogs being threatened," he said.

He added that the SPCA and provincial government provide regular inspections to Howling Dog Tours, and that they have a veterinary team that performs health checks on each dog on the premises.

"Howling Dog Tours not only meets all regulatory requirements, but exceeds them in many ways," Bittner said.

"It is unfortunate that a group of people, who know that no laws are being broken, can protest this way to push their values."

RCMP said all of the accused have been released and are set to appear in the Canmore Provincial Court on Jan. 15, 2020.

Members of Liberation Lockdown were previously involved in turkey farm protest near Fort Macleod in southern Alberta in September.