Ethics and Responsibility
Today it is a serious topic without beautiful pictures of happy dogs in the snow and sunshine, northern lights or what Lapland makes so special.
Because unfortunately Lapland – or more precisely the sled dog scene – also has dark sides. Many tourists who have always wanted to do a sled dog tour and especially those who have only recently had it on their bucket list since it has been “in” are not aware of all the pain connected with this business. Therefore, a little bit of clarification should take place today to create awareness and perhaps give one or the other sled dog a better life.
How do I get on it now? Two occasions are currently very present. On the one hand, Länsstyrelsen, the authority which is responsible for the controls of the sled dog kennels, has confiscated several dozen dogs in recent months due to violation of animal welfare regulations. Not for the first time, but currently it is growing again and affects well over 100 dogs. Who should all of them adopt? I don’t know it. On the other hand, our Rafiki is just undergoing a surgery because of a cruciate ligament fracture, where the veterinarian’s clear statement was that most owners rather take the decision to put the dog to sleep than to pay an expensive surgery with an uncertain outcome.
But now one step at a time. In contrast to Finland and Norway, Sweden has a very strict animal welfare law.
First, in Sweden it is prohibited to keep dogs on a chain. You can think this is positive or negative. In Norway, we ourselves got to know a perfect example of chain keeping, which in my opinion showed no disadvantages with regard to movement or social contacts and also has other advantages. However, we also got to know the opposite, too short chains (which were quickly extended before an announced kennel check, which was only possible because two thirds of the dogs were on tour) and no free run at all. Since the concrete design of chain keeping is often not sufficiently checked (can be?) and many kennels in the area of mass tourism only look at profit, a ban on chain posture seems quite positive.
The regulations in Sweden are also very extensive in terms of kennel design. The kennel (in this sense not the complete kennel but the kennel where 2 or more dogs live) must be relatively large, there must be isolated dog huts with straw, wood chips or a similar surface or a dog stable, the dogs must have permanent access to fresh water in summer, they have to get free run daily, etc. Even if you might argue about some details of the regulations the approaches in the sense of animal welfare are definitely positive. Furthermore, there is a duty in Sweden to register every dog with the Jordbruksverket and also apply for a permit for the kennel if you have more than ten adult dogs or are working with dogs (one is enough). But here we also come to a fundamental problem. I know very few musher beside us, that have registered their dogs, so that it is probably not known how many sled dogs there are at all. However, it is even worse that very many – unfortunately also many immigrated mushers – do not register their kennel, which is why it is of course difficult for Länsstyrelsen to control them if they are not even known. Now you could object, if nobody complains, there is probably nothing to complain about. But isn’t that too easy? Does every neighbor know what exactly the regulations look like? And why shouldn’t everyone have to stick to the regulations?
There is a similar problem with the big kennels that do not have so many dogs themselves and only take up mushers with their own dogs for the season, often of course with too little space for all dogs and avoiding the responsibility, to care for the dogs that make money in winter even in summer.
It gets even worse when you know that there are kennels in Scandinavia that “produce” puppies specifically for the winter so that their guests have something to cuddle with and take great Instagram photos. Not only is it better to have puppies in spring/summer, the worst thing is that these “photo puppies” are sometimes not even raised any further. There are cases where they are simply „eliminated“ after the season.
This doesn’t just happen to puppies, but especially to old and sick dogs or those who perhaps don’t work as hard or are no longer wanted for whatever reason. Unfortunately, in all three countries it is legal to euthanize or shoot dogs that you no longer want without medical reasons, as long as the dog is not tortured during the killing. Can you imagine that? As long as the dog is cute enough to take photos or pulls the sleigh on which paying tourists sit/stand, they are allowed to live, but when they only cost money, they get rid of them! What kind of world do we live in? Is business really more important than life?
Of course, we have often heard that sled dog tours are so expensive. Yes, they are not cheap. And I also come from an environment where many may never be able to afford such a vacation. It’s a shame, for those who are really interested in it. Nevertheless, you have to be aware of how many weeks a year a sled dog earns money and how many months a year it costs more or less only money, be it food, water, the equipment of the kennel, veterinarian, electricity, etc. Don’t forget one to one and a half years until the sweet puppy starts working and the years as a pensionist, which can be five years. Roughly speaking, a dog may earn money a quarter of the year in two thirds of his life, it costs the rest of the time. But does that justify us to make it an object of a “cheap holiday”? Definitely not! Our dogs are our family and they shall get whatever it needs. We would like our guests to participate in this life with our dogs. Yes, that costs. And we understand everyone who cannot afford it. It is also completely ok for us if someone goes “to the competitors”, because we don’t have this competitive thinking. But we just want to ask everyone who wants to do a sled dog tour – regardless of whether a few hours or several days – have a look at where you book, ask questions, about everything! Think about: Ten “Flagship Oldies” cannot be right if you have 300 running dogs, unless there is a plausible and practicable re-homing program. Even if you book through tour operators – which is totally fine – insist on more information. Because unfortunately not all tour operators think and ask enough themselves neither.
And now we let’s talk about Rafiki. This crazy sweet dog was actually scheduled to run at the Metsjövidda Fjällrace. Unfortunately he was injured at Christmas. Fortunately, not on tour with guests, so neither a guest has to blame him/herself, nor do we have to ask ourselves whether it is really good to let guests drive dogs. No, it’s banal, he simply jumped down from the hut – like he did 100 times every day. And probably landed badly. At first we thought it would go away after a few days, because apart from a slight limp on the first day, he immediately went back to running and jumping like a madman and showed no pain whatsoever when we examined him. However, when he was standing, you could see that he wasn’t putting his foot down properly. When things didn’t get better after a week, we went to the vet and the test was done under anesthesia: the cruciate ligament was broken and needed surgery. Not many vets carry out this surgery, but there is a specialist who is “only” 200km away from us. Well, we’re in Lapland, so it’s not that far. We then went there for a preliminary examination in the second week of January. The vet explained to me how the operation would go and that there was no guarantee for working (sled) dogs that they would be able to work again. Many dog owners (especially from hunting dogs) therefore prefer to have their dogs euthanized rather than spend almost SEK 50,000 on a surgery with an uncertain prognosis. That’s just the way it is in Sweden. Hello? So we’re back on topic. Rafiki is three years old, an absolute “happy dog” and he should be put down because he now costs money and maybe doesn’t earn any more? Yes, of course these costs, which don’t even include rehabilitation, tear a big hole in our budget. But we know that after such an operation a dog can walk and run normally and is not in pain. It must not matter at all whether he pulls a sleigh again later or not. We didn’t doubt for a second that Rafiki would get the surgery and of course we hope that he recovers well because he’s already going crazy when the others go on tour and he can’t come with them. And if not? Then he’ll just become a cuddle dog! Apart from the fact that he is also a perfect photo model 😉 At this point we would also like to take the opportunity to thank some of our dear guests who supported us with a contribution to Rafiki’s operation, THANK YOU 🙏
And finally: every musher is responsible for his dogs, but if tourists also question more critically how the dogs live, at some point it may no longer be possible to offer mass tourism at the expense of the dogs. I wish so and I know that we have fellow mushers who feel the same way and guests who support us. But we’re not there yet. Therefore: don’t look away! Ask questions! Act!