The film titled Sled Dogs shook viewers to the core after it revealed the truth behind the commercial sled dog industry. According to this documentary, the conditions the sled dogs are kept in are inhumane, and everything the public knows about the life of these dogs, such as the royal treatments they are provided with, and how they enjoy running hundreds of miles in extreme conditions, is a big lie.
On the contrary, the life of the sled dogs from Canada and Alaska is a real hell. The kennel owners push sick and injured dogs beyond their limits which very likely results in death.
Recently, after a group of animal advocates stumbled upon a mass grave of dogs, many animal organizations raised the question about what is really going on with these creatures behind closed doors.
The buried bodies and bones of the sled dogs were found last March near the Chocpaw dog kennel in Ontario, Canada. There have been rumors spreading around how this kennel would often order the killing of dogs that were not fit for sledding. The poor animals would end up dead after spending their entire life chained. The people who located the grave asked to stay anonymous, but The Dodo picked up the story about the Chocpaw kennel from an ex-employee named Chantal Dostaler. This woman recalls all the gruesome acts done to the animals during the five years she spent working there.
She decided to speak up after the stories about animal abuse and neglect in Canada and U.S reached the public.
“None of us think that the rumors are true when we get into it,” Dostaler told The Dodo. “The longer I stayed, the more secrets they taught me.”
Dostaler describes her stay at the kennel as the most horrific period of her life. The things she witnessed there hunt her even now. From being forced to bury dead dogs’ bodies after they were kept in freezers for months, to having to shoot a dog herself, this woman was ready to expose the cruelty.
Hope was one of the dogs who lived at the kennel. According to Dostaler, the dogs would spend their days chained outside no matter the weather conditions. This led for many dogs to experience different health issues and illnesses. During the last year of Dostaler’s stay at Chocpaw, Hope started feeling even worse. Dostaler told The Dodo how, “Hope’s overall personality changed. Her eyes were sunken in, she wasn’t eating or drinking … She showed signs of sickness and distress.”
Even it was more than obvious how the dog needed vet’s assistance, she never got one, as the employees were the only ones who would take care of the animals. They would often give them medicine without knowing what were the dogs really suffering from. Hope’s case was a bit different. Her condition got so severe that she had to be euthanized. And here comes the worst part. The owners refused to pay for Hope to be put down so they asked Dostaler to shoot her.
“When I shot Hope, it completely changed me,” Dostaler said. “I no longer saw this as a fair trade-off. The dogs work their whole lives, never go inside … and this is how they die?”
“I am committed to share my experience, which is ongoing as I fight for my rights, and that of the dogs, so no one else, human or dog, has to go through this,” she added. “I don’t want forgiveness — I want you to know this is legal in Ontario, Canada.”
In cases where dogs died either because of negligence, illness, mistreatment, or freezing, their bodies would be placed in freezers until the weather got warmer and the ground thawed.
Warning: Graphic image below.
The biggest issue is that the sled dogs don’t get the same protection as the rest of the animals under province’s law. The report presented by The Dodo last year says how the dog chaining, doping, and slaughter would go unnoticed since these dogs receive little to no legal protection.
Another issue is the small number of employees who are expected to take care of large groups of dogs.
When she first started working at Chocpaw, Dostaler remembers how she and a small group of employees would take care of around 400 dogs. She also recalls how she got very attached to each and every one of them and knew nearly every dog’s name. That is why she felt very bad when any of them would die or be killed after which she had to put the body in the freezer and dispose of it when spring was around the corner.
The freezer was kept in a secluded place and was under lock and key in case a tourist wandered at that part of the property. Dostaler started a personal blog where she writes of everything that was taking place at that kennel.
“When I grabbed the first dog and tried to pull him out [of the freezer] I accidentally pulled off his skin,” Dostaler wrote in her blog. “I eventually got this dog’s remains into the burial pit at which point one of my coworkers came over to the freezer and began to help me. I continued to vomit intermittently as we moved two dogs that were still frozen together into the burial pit.”
Most of the time, Dostaler and the rest of the workers were in charge of monitoring the health of the dogs who had tumors and cysts, despite lacking any medical training. All those dogs who weren’t treated properly would very soon die.
“There was a lot of pressure after the ‘Sled Dogs’ documentary to make sure the dogs looked healthy,” Dostaler said. “She [the kennel owner] was extra scared of being exposed so she got rid of all the dogs who may have looked sick. A very small number of the dogs who got shot were actually sick.”
Part of Levitt’s documentary Sled Dogs was filmed at Chocpaw.
“They take these young vulnerable kids who don’t have family and they tell them, ‘If you want us to pay you in full, you have to kill the dogs,’” Levitt told The Dodo. “They have to sit around in a circle and choose which dogs live and which dogs die.”
Dostaler claims that the sick and the old aren’t the only dogs who get killed. She shares with The Dodo the story of a female dog named Jill who had a litter of puppies in April 2017. However, those puppies weren’t planned, so they ended up being drowned.
Only one day after giving birth, Jill was again chained and left without her babies by her side.
“Some dogs do just live out their lives on the chain,” Dostaler said. “Imagine being a puppy 24/7 but living on a chain.”
Dostaler describes the dogs’ life as miserable. Everything they do is pulling tourist or being chained, an that’s it.
The devastating reality was that sooner or later, every dog who didn’t fit the sledding criteria was shot. Many could be saved and given for adoption, but the kennel refused to find them forever homes. The summer of 2017 was the time when Dostaler witnessed her first cull.
“Chocpaw has its own adoption program where people do a short interview then they come take whatever dog in the spring,” Dostaler said. “We had dogs who were sick, had seizures and had lumps, and Dog Tales Animal Sanctuary offered to take every single one from Chocpaw. But rather than take help, there was a cull.”
“Because it would be too expensive to ‘humanely’ euthanize the dogs, the employer hired someone to come and shoot them,” Dostaler wrote in her blog about the cull. “This was very traumatic for me. I can remember the sounds of the dogs, who I loved, being shot, hearing them being dumped into a big burial pit and then being instructed to bury them myself. For the next days following, we had to go check the pit and make sure no animals had tried to dig up the dead dogs.”
By the time the employees would go and take a dog to be shoot, they would hear a gunshot and knew one died.
Dostaler’s story disturbed many animal lovers. After she shared it with The Dodo, they reached to the kennels owner Margaret Reid and asked her about the situation at her kennel. However, she didn’t want to comment Dostaler’s accusations.
“At this time I will not comment on Chantal Dostaler’s online personal reflections, comments, hyperlinks, videos and drawings provided within her informal blog,” Reid told The Dodo. “What I will touch upon is why we will continue to refuse releasing our dogs to Dog Tales Rescue and Sanctuary.”
When asked why she refused help from animal shelters and animal organizations, she said how they wouldn’t know how to take proper care of the sled dogs.
“There are often small suggestions we can make to help the dog adjust faster and smoother if they are having any problems [getting used to their new home],” Reid said. This is information no rescue organization or humane society can provide.”
Cassandra Ferrante, a Dog Tales employee, says how this way of perceiving things by the kennel owners resulted in many adoptable dogs not being given a forever home.
“I have emailed the adoption coordinator [from Chocpaw] several times to take in the 60 ‘adoptable’ dogs,” Ferrante told The Dodo. “They ignored our help. A few animal activists spoke with workers from Chocpaw again offering the help of Dog Tales. They [Chocpaw] said we make profit off of our dogs. We are a nonprofit and we charge $375 per adoption. This covers the bare minimum of the medical care and training these dogs will need.”
Reid also said how being indoors may disturb the dogs as they are spending their entire life outside.
“No rescue organization or humane society has any knowledge of the amazing dogs they are,” Reid continued. “Part of our adoption program is to give people a place where they can call or email with any questions they have regarding their new dog. There are often small suggestions we can make to help the dog adjust faster and smoother if they are having any problems.”
Dog Tales, is an animal rescue organization located in King City, Ontario. This sanctuary has helped hundreds of dogs find a forever home since 2014. The place specializes in medical care, and training and rehabilitation for the dogs before they are put for adoption. But the Chocpaw owner believes they don’t need the help Dog Tales has to offer.
“Chocpaw enforces the standard of care in these forms; health and welfare management, nutrition and feed management, accommodation and housing, husbandry practices, transportation, and euthanasia,” Reid said. “None of our dogs need saving because they are loved and cared for 365 days of the year.”
Dostaler was fired from the company in 2017 after she refused to host a six-day canoe trip for some children.
“I was in a really big state of trauma when I was fired,“ Dostaler said. “I would not have stayed there so long if it wasn’t for the dogs I formed relationships with.”
Everything Dostaler witnessed and experienced left her disturbed and she now suffers from post-traumatic disorder. She finds it hard to speak of all the gruesome things these dogs suffer but she believes what she has to say would prevent people from visiting dog-sled attractions.
“The culls I was part of … all those dogs could have been adopted out,” Dostaler said. “They would have lived a healthy life.”
Recently, Dostaler filed multiple reports about Chocpaw at the Ontario SPCA, but little was done so far as the laws of animal rights don’t apply to the sled-dogs. This organization, however, is doing its best to change the laws and help these animals whose lives hang in the balance.
“The Ontario SPCA has commissioned a team to work together to draft what we believe the future provincial animal welfare legislation should look like,” Melissa Kosowan, associate director of communications for the OSPCA, told The Dodo. “This work will set the stage for new legislation, including stronger regulations prohibiting the use of animals in entertainment, providing for their protection as pets and farm animals and establishing their status as sentient beings under law.”
Dostaler hopes her testimony and the reports she made would force Chocpaw to surrender all its dogs to animal shelters and animal organizations.
“I would tell people the dogs have their own summer vacation and they just relaxed on the off-season,” Dostaler said. “That was all bullshit. The way these dogs live … it’s not worth the fun that anyone could possibly have while dog sledding. If they knew the truth, would they take part? No … These poor people have no idea what they were supporting.”
A dog named Pike, who was part of Chocpaw and was featured in the Sled Dogs documentary got adopted and now lives with a family. Unfortunately, very few of the dogs are given this chance.
“A family came in and they wanted a dog that was brindle covered,” Dostaler said. “We showed them dogs and [they] fell in love with Pike. So they came in, and we let their dogs out and all of them were just sniffing around. It was just luck that he got along with them. I’m really happy it happened that way. I kept in contact with them too. I’m so happy he got out — but not all dogs get to.”
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