Yukon sled dog owners to set standards of care for animals

A group of sled dog owners in Yukon has decided to form a formal association, to ensure dogs are properly kept and cared for.

Long-time musher Frank Turner, who owns a kennel outside of Whitehorse, floated the idea earlier this year. He says dog owners at a meeting on Wednesday night agreed it was necessary.

He says about 20 people are already on board, including Tagish musher Michelle Phillips, who just ran the Iditarod.

"The mandate of this group will be to promote responsible care of sled dogs and set standards, so it's not airy-fairy — that it'll be very clear as to whether the standards are being met or not," Turner said.

"Those people that for whatever reasons that do not meet those standards, I think that there will be certainly some peer pressure — depending on what the activities are — but it'll make it harder for those people to participate in any organized events."

'Working for dogs'

Turner was motivated to get the ball rolling after hearing about the controversial documentary, Sled Dogs. Some mushers complained the film was unfairly critical of dog owners, and showed them in a bad light.

Turner said the Yukon association would assure the public that dogs are treated humanely. 

"They want to have something that you can see and know is working for dogs," he said.

Turner says the group would help mushers — individuals, or those who operate professional kennels — learn from each other about how to properly breed dogs, socialize them and care for them over their whole life.

"Anybody knows, if they have animals, that there's a mental and an emotional side of animals, just like people. And we need to be as attentive to that part of them as we are to the physical part," he said.

The group could also offer workshops and mentorship programs, and work towards an accreditation system for kennels — "basically, it would be a report card," Turner said.

The group plans to meet again in a few weeks to refine their plan.