Letters to the Editor

Vast majority of sled dog kennels responsibly run

By now most people in B.C. and around the world have heard about the tragic destruction of 100 dogs slaughtered in Whistler. Without question animal rights groups jumped to the forefront of the media to cast a dark cloud over all who own kennels and operate dog sled tours. It also hit the northern regions of Canada and Alaska where mushers own kennels and train their dogs for many dogsled races and races around the world.

The public outrage was evident and the B.C. Government immediately struck a task force, led by a Liberal MLA Terry Lake, and included representation from the BCSPCA and the UBCM. Mr. Lake’s credentials include a background as a veterinarian. The report of the Task Force was recently released with recommendations to the government.

In my experience, it is a rare moment when a government implements all recommendations from a task force. I am not an expert on the world of kennels, dog sledding or even a member of an SPCA. In fact, I don’t even currently own a dog nor do I have a ‘dog in this race.’

My interest in the sport derived long ago through my dad who had an interest in the Iditarod. With the advent of resource pages such as Facebook, live streaming, and websites, it has become easier to follow this sport which I liked from childhood. My passion was further heightened when my son worked for the 2007 Canada Winter Games, in Whitehorse and told me of the Yukon — run 1,000 miles between Whitehorse, Yukon and Fairbanks, Alaska.

He had the privilege of dog sledding with the MukTuk kennels, owned by Frank Turner, a world renowned, respected musher and kennel owner and spoke highly of having witnessed the care he gives his dogs.  Coincidently, I too came to live and work in the Yukon for nearly three years, which I now call ‘my second home.’ Having seen the YQ2008 and 2009 races in person, my voracious appetite to learn about the world of dog sledding and mushers has led me to learn, become educated  on all aspects of this sport and those involved.

This year, it came to my attention that within the West Kootenay itself, there is a kennel owner — Al Magaw from Salmo. Al operates the Spirit of the North Kennels (www.spiritofthenorthkennels.com). I must admit I had not heard of his kennels, but I was interested to learn. Mr. Magaw, to my knowledge, is the only experienced musher and sled dog owner in the region.

From countless sources, I have been told Al has a good reputation in his more than 30 years experience. He also runs sled dog tours from his operation. (A tour I plan to book this next winter.)

I have come to know Al via facebook, and it’s easy to see by his fan base around the world that he is committed. Al Magaw is the reason I am writing this letter.

He is a member of the newly created Professional Mushers Association of BC who have a clause in their mandate saying “a vet inspection and/or a peer inspection will be done annually or bi-annually.” He did not sit around and just wait for the task force to complete their findings and recommendations.

Mr. Magaw already felt he was doing a pretty good job with his, but he decided to set an example for all kennel owners. He contacted a local veterinarian and voluntarily arranged for an inspection of his kennel. Shortly before the task force released its report, the voluntary inspection of his kennel was completed. Some of the vet’s comments were:  “...these dogs live a wonderful life; …what beautiful dogs… I’m impressed with how healthy and active your 10 to 13 year old dogs are…” Upon completion of the inspection, Al Magaw received 100-per-cent marks for the operation of his kennel and the vet thanked him for the experience of her day there. When Al announced this in a mushing group I belong to, every member there could feel his humble joy. People around the world in our group were impressed with his actions and have shared this with their local kennel owners. Further, Al  has explained that in his lifetime of running a kennel and raising sled dogs, 99.9 per cent of all sled dog kennels would score the same as he, yet sadly, animal rights groups dominate the media and cast a false dark shadow over the whole issue.

I agree with Al, as I have also witnessed many acquaintances jump the gun and without educating themselves on the issue make wrongful assumptions. I took a ‘leap of faith’ and set out to see if what happened in Whistler was the norm — I chanced to come across an amazing kennel owner right in my ‘backyard’ of the West Kootenay in whom I personally have no vested interest but adamantly feel should be commended and his effort be brought to the attention of those following the issue mentioned above.

We in this region should be proud that Al Magaw and Spirit of the North Kennel loves his dogs and truly cares to be a ‘difference maker.’

Ev Voykin


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