Recently we had friends over for dinner. Before they arrived, we put each dog into their crate, with a pressed bone. The bones kept them from getting too excited when the guests arrived, although each was happy to surrender their bones briefly to come and say hello- hello to the cat ladies from Sydney! But while everyone came in, and dinner was prepared (ah, well, the take away containers were opened) and consumed, the puppies were happy to sit in their crates with their tasty treats. Once we had eaten dinner and cleaned up, there was plenty of time for cuddles and pats. While we chatted about politicians, elections, the media and how crappy the world was getting, huskies lay on laps and feet and soaked us all in happy vibes. It was a lovely evening.
For most of our guests, it was the first time they were meeting the puppies, so there were lots of photos, some of which went straight to Facebook and Instagram. One of the photos, of the dogs in their crates, raised some questions. A year or two back I would have asked the same questions. J and I regularly debate the best place to keep the crates - I would dearly like them to look less like cages! I have learnt to accept the necessity - the dogs really do love their crates, and it makes it possible to have them inside without being underfoot when I'm cooking or eating or preparing their food.
So I understand that people may be concerned about the crates - people always ask if that's where the dogs sleep, and take note that the dogs will "put themselves to bed" in the crates, when they feel like it. But I was surprised how hurt I felt when I saw one comment that was made.
D was quick to reassure, and nothing further was said, but I was so shocked. Our dogs, who we cosset like children, unhappy? Our rescue dogs taken from bad homes, pounds and shelters, needing to be rescued? Sitting there gnawing away on their bones, were they miserable? Wasn't it obvious that we take every care?
Of course, D's friend didn't know anything about us or our puppies. His concern was pretty natural and commendable. With all working animals, people want to know that they are well treated, properly housed and fed.
At times in the past, working animals haven't been properly treated, and this is where institutions like RSPCA and Mush with PRIDE have come from. Mush with PRIDE sets out guidelines about many things relating to sled dogs, including how to house them. These guidelines are interpreted differently, in ways I find fascinating, in different countries.
In Alaska, large kennels are usually set out with individual dog houses in big rows.
The dogs are staked out at each dog house, which is filled with straw and supplied with water. Each dog has a their own space, marked out by the limits of their chains. Some kennels include yards, with different stands and "play" equipment. Some have giant steel wheels that the dogs can climb inside and run. Like giant hamster wheels. All kennels have specialised areas for whelping puppies and retiring elderly dogs.
One of the dog yards that I am absolutely entranced by and regularly follow through their online updates is Canadian musher Karen Ramstead. Recently, Karen's blog has included instructions on making the dog houses they use AND beautiful aerial photos taken by drone.
Quite apart from the fact that we were lucky enough to meet Karen when she visited Australia last year (she is the nicest celebrity I have ever met), I find her blog really fascinating. The thought and care put into her dog yard exemplify the ideals of Mush with PRIDE (she's a member of course) - the sloping roofs for the Canadian winter, the use of the natural features of the area to provide dogs with shelter, the removal of the older dogs to a separate area for peace and quiet - are really lovely.
In Australia, I've been lucky enough to visit the Snofall Siberian kennel, and to regularly see the yards of several other breeders and racers. I'm not sure why, but the immediate and obvious difference is that almost everyone here uses runs, rather than permanent stake out. Not just for our geriatric dogs or puppies, but for all our dogs. J and I regularly talk about the day we can get our own place, and how much land we hope we can afford - based on the measurements of our current dog pen and our guesstimates of how many pens we might need.
One of the few Australian breeding and racing kennels to publicise their set up is Idigadog. They are justifiably proud of having custom-built facilities that allow them to keep their dogs in a really convenient, healthy, safe and happy environment. (Thankyou L for permission to use your photos. )
Regardless of whether our sled dog friends have one dog or twenty, and regardless of whether they have amazing custom built facilities or an ordinary back yard, all of the dogs are incredibly well looked after. Most of these people have close ties to rescue groups like SHCV Rescue or NVSDR and are truly passionate about animal rights. Of course, I would encourage anyone thinking about buying a puppy or taking in a rehomed dog to look at the spaces the dogs are living in, because there are puppy farmers and unethical breeders out there.
But if you can see happy, healthy dogs, even if they are confined in crates or pens for part of their day, then please ask why the owners are using these facilities, rather than assume the worst.
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