New provincial outdoor dog rules cause financial hardship for some winter tourism businesses

New provincial animal welfare regulations regarding outdoor dogs are causing financial hardship for sled dog owners in Ontario.

Three years ago, the Ontario SPCA lost the power to enforce animal welfare laws and the provincial government took over. With this, the government introduced the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act, also known as PAWS, in 2019.

In April 2022, the government gave owners of outdoor dogs until July 1 to comply with new rules, which deal with outdoor kennels, access to food and water, confinement and attach it.

Jacob Betker is the owner of Abitibi Sled Dogs, located between Timmins and Iroquois Falls in northeastern Ontario. He currently has 14 dogs under his care.

He was delighted to officially launch his guided dog sledding tours this winter, but with the new rules he said he was forced to unexpectedly and rapidly modernize his operations.

Suddenly, he says, his start-up costs went up by about $15,000. Betker said that as a result of the new regulations, he was forced to build and implement a pen system, which was costly. Now the dogs live in pairs in isolated enclosures measuring 3.5 meters by 6 meters.

It’s not even that much that I have an opposition to animal welfare legislation specifically for sled dogs. I actually welcome it.— Jacob Betker, owner of Abitibi Sled Dogs

« Working full time in the summer trying to get the business started and then getting a whole bunch of equipment and all kinds of stuff and then having a renovation project piled on top of that was extremely difficult in terms of cost, time, It cost me a lot financially and physically,” he said.

Betker said he didn’t know how much the changes affected the dogs. At the start of the transition, he says, there were some “quarrels” between dogs but things have since seemed to calm down.

« It’s not even that much that I have an opposition to animal welfare legislation specifically for sled dogs. In fact, I welcome it, » he said, « c It’s just that we thought it would be something the government would work together, but they obviously chose not to. »

Betker’s dog sledding startup isn’t the only winter tourism company feeling the financial pressures of new provincial outdoor dog regulations.

Leah and Brad Fetterley pose at North Ridge Ranch in Huntsville, Ontario. (Submitted by Leah Fetterley)

« A considerable sum of money »

North Ridge Ranch in Huntsville has been in operation since 2001 and currently has 68 Alaskan Huskies.

Co-owner Leah Fetterley said upgrading their operations was extremely expensive, especially considering how financially difficult the previous two winter seasons were due to COVID-19 restrictions.

« We probably spent over $30,000 to $40,000 remodeling our kennel last summer, » Fetterley said.

« Moving from a connected environment to an offline environment required us to spend a considerable amount of money on fencing and just on general setup, » she said.

Fetterley said that in the first year of the pandemic and the resulting lockdowns and restrictions, the business was only able to operate for a month. She said the company is still feeling the financial loss.

« Certainly, we all hope to have a very good winter. »

In an email to CBC News, the province said the Ministry of the Solicitor General has regulations in place to ensure the welfare, health and safety of outdoor dogs. The updated standards are based on stakeholder and public feedback as well as expert advice from those in the field of veterinary care, animal advocacy and animal shelters.

« These new standards of care address long-standing concerns about dogs being kept outdoors and promote animal welfare while taking into account the level of burden placed on their owner. Many areas of the updated standards enable flexibility in how to meet the requirement, rather than prescribing a particular tool or method to be used, so owners can choose the most appropriate solution for their personal circumstances,” the statement read.


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