WARNING: Disturbing images are contained in this story
Last week, the Ontario SPCA (OSPCA) announced charges against the owner of Hidden Meadow Farm, the kennel that provides dog sledding and trail rides at Deerhurst Resort.
In the release, they said, “On June 8, 2016, the Ontario SPCA received calls concerning care of animals in a kennel. Ontario SPCA officers attended and found 42 Alaskan Husky and Malamute-type sled dogs at the location. A veterinarian examination revealed large, open wounds that had been left untreated for days; numerous older, healed, partially healed and infected wounds; limping with an obviously swollen, painful leg; fever; and broken, infected teeth.”
The subsequent charges were:
- Permitting an animal to be in distress
- Failing to provide adequate and appropriate medical attention
- Failing to provide the care necessary for an animal’s general welfare
- Failing to confine an animal to a pen or other enclosed structure or area that must not contain one or more other animals that may pose a danger to the animal
Prior to the incident, there had allegedly been a fight between four dogs resulting in injuries to two and the death of a third. The kennel’s owner, Shani Ride, says the injured dogs “were in isolated kennels, they were on penicillin and they were getting their wounds cleaned twice a day. I have nothing against the SPCA. They were doing their job. When they come out to a call, they have to check everything. They walked around and looked at the rest of the dogs and found two more.”
The OSPCA told Ride that the four dogs had to have veterinary care, but she refused. “I said, ‘I’m not going to do that, I’m already treating them and I feel my treatment was fine. I’ve dealt with these injuries before. Taking all four of those dogs to the vet was going to cost me in the thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, I love these animals but this is a business. I said if you feel my care isn’t proper for them, I will have them euthanized. Businesswise, it doesn’t make sense for me to put thousands of dollars into these dogs when the unfortunate reality is that a new sled dog would cost me $200.”
OSPCA officers gave Ride the option of surrendering the dogs instead, which she did. Of the two injured dogs, one, Teddy, was taken immediately and had a four-hour surgery. The other, Thistle, they returned for a week and a half later, says Ride, and was almost healed, but “they took him and did surgery which in my opinion delayed the healing process.”
Of the other two dogs, only one ended up being surrendered – Elvis, who had a lump bigger than a golf ball under his knee, but Ride says he had it when she bought him and he’d never shown lameness because of it. The fourth dog, Frost, had an infected ear that had healed by the time officers returned.
The charges came later, says Ride. “They came back and charged me with animal cruelty, which really upsets me because I feel I was trapped. I won’t surrender my dogs again.” She invited this writer to stop by and see the dogs. The photos below show the dogs as they were at that time: most in kennels by twos, and two dogs chained outside the kennel area, one nearby and one just up the hill in a forested area where there were also other single shelters and chains. There were no kennel staff present.
Matt Todd, the former owner of the kennel who sold the operation eight years ago to Ride, said that he filed a complaint about treatment of the animals in May of 2014. After he received a tip from a friend who was concerned about the animals, he says he went to the kennel and, based on what he saw, called police. He also lodged a complaint with Deerhurst.
“(The OPP) said they would contact the SPCA. We left it up to them,” says Todd. “There was neglect over time. I’d heard some stories… rumours go around and you take them with a grain of salt. But once I observed it, I said, ‘this isn’t cool.’”
He took photos of the dogs, some who were emaciated, some who were chained to stakes, and one of a deceased dog in a wheelbarrow.
Ride says she remembers the day as being busy. “(The dead dog) was Swift – it was pretty much the same situation, which makes it sound like it happens all the time. This was in the old kennels. They were in pretty bad shape. Dogs got out, she got killed. It was in the middle of a busy day so they took her out of the kennel and they wheeled her into the bushes where they couldn’t see her and then we went over in the evening and took her and buried her.”
But Todd disagrees with those actions. “(They) just put the dog in a wheelbarrow with an old door on top and stuffed it at the side of the woods. That’s someone saying, ‘oh, well, I’ll just deal with it later.’ It hadn’t just passed away. I’ve lost a few dogs… and the first thing I did was bury it behind a tree. You do the dog the decency, you don’t put it in a barrow and leave it for later.”
Ride, who says she hasn’t seen the photos, also said that it’s normal for sled dogs to be skinny after a sledding season. “My vet has been involved with my dogs for years and there have been times when she has said the dogs are looking a little skinny, let’s look at some different feeding options.”
But Todd disagrees with that, too. “Just like any human, if you were training for a race that’s true to some extent. But there’s a difference. I’ll agree that the Alaskan husky is basically a cross between a greyhound and a husky. Sure my dogs would lose weight over the winter, but there’s a difference between seeing a few ribs and seeing ribs, hips, and joints. When I was there, some dogs looked healthy and some didn’t. I took a picture of the one that looked the worst.”
Todd also said that while he’s had dogs fight, they’ve never come away with more than a few puncture wounds and none have fought to the death. He currently owns four sled dogs, two of which he took back from Ride’s kennel – one seven years ago that was in good health and one last winter that was in rougher shape and had a tooth hanging by a piece of skin.
Today, Deerhurst Resort general manager Jesse Hamilton said in a written statement that the resort has “suspended the Dog Sled Program run through Hidden Meadow Farm. As part of our ongoing commitment to the care of all animals on our property, we have also proactively decided to temporarily close the stable operations today, which are also operated by Hidden Meadow Farm, so we can conduct a review and are requesting added guidance from the OSPCA – even though no issues have been raised regarding that operation.”
Ride says she understands their business situation. “Deerhurst has done the right thing. I have no concerns, the SPCA was at the farm two or three days ago and had no concerns. And if Deerhurst wants them to come back in, that’s fine.
I am not the only person this has happened to,” she added. “It happens. If you had two dogs and you came home from work and they had fought and one of them had died, everybody would be going, ‘oh, that’s so terrible, I’m so sorry.’ But this happened at a kennel so I’m a monster – that’s what upsets me.”
Ride says she doesn’t agree with the charges against her and will be hiring a lawyer. She will answer to her charges August 23 in Bracebridge court.
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