An Ontario couple were looking forward to a day of dog sledding Sunday, but what they say they found was a ‘heartbreaking’ scene of more than hundred dogs in paltry conditions.
Dylan Blake and Natasha Guerriero were taking advantage of a Groupon they received from Guerriero’s parents for Christmas. The deal was an introduction to dog sledding from Toronto Adventures Inc., offered through Windrift Kennels in Moonstone, Ont., north of Barrie. They say they discovered a disturbing scene.
“When we got in there, there were at least 10 dogs that you could see visibly, but if you walked farther, there were at least 50 dogs that were in the same kind of atmosphere, on chains with no space to eat, sleep or go to the washroom,” Guerriero told Global News on Monday.
“It didn’t look right.”
“It was hard to keep it in,” Blake said. “I remember looking at a dog in a hut and I was looking at it trying to make it come out and I was trying not to tear up. It was just heartbreaking, it really was.”
“They’re working dogs, we get it, but no dog should be put through that.”
The couple said they couldn’t “let it go” and wrote about it in a post on social media, accompanied by a number of videos they took throughout the experience. The post has been shared over 100,000 times and Guerriero said they have received concerned responses from people all over the world, including the U.K. and the U.S.
“I’m really happy that people got behind us because it’s not something that I want to pay and go see and take pictures when they’re treated like that,” she said.
The couple said that once they went deeper into the forest location, it became evident to them that the dogs were not living in humane conditions. Guerriero said that they got down on their knees to pet the dogs and when they got up, they were covered in feces. “It was that bad.”
“I just pictured them being my dogs. If this were them, I don’t know what I would do.”
At one point, Blake said he noticed a dog nursing a wound in his arm. According to Blake, they brought it to the attention of a staffer who told them a female dog had been in heat and two males got into a fight because of it. Blake said they were told one male got loose and began biting the other male, who was still chained up.
Guerriero said the incident sounded as though it happened a few days prior, but all three dogs were still in the same vicinity on Sunday, still growling at each other.
“They’re still in the same area and the same thing could happen again.”
Blake said that they didn’t share their experience to get the dog sledding business shut down, but to raise awareness as to how the dogs at the location were being treated.
“It was just horrific,” he said. “You need a nice, safe environment for them all to stay where they’re not afraid of humans, they aren’t defecating where they’re sleeping, and they’re not freezing in the night.”
Blake said puppies were also wandering freely and older dogs were locked outside in the elements on short chains and Blake warned of their exposure to larger animals living in the forest.
“You don’t know what type of animal is going to come. They can’t get away from bigger animals.”
When contacted by Global News, Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) spokesperson Melissa Kosowan said the society has been made aware of the concerns regarding the dog sled operation and it is following up accordingly.
“The society takes all reported concerns of animal cruelty seriously. We want to assure the public that the protection and care of the dogs is our top priority. As this is an ongoing investigation, the details we can provide are limited in order to maintain the integrity of the investigation.”
Kosowan said the OSPCA will provide regular updates regarding the welfare of the dogs as the investigation continues.
If anyone has any information, they can contact the OSPCA’s animal cruelty hotline at 310-7722.
Global News reached out to Toronto Adventures Inc., multiple times for comment but had not heard back by time of publication.
However, its website was updated Monday with the following message:
“Here at Toronto Adventures we take pride in ensuring that no animals are ever mistreated for the purposes of any of our events or the events of companies we subcontract. We ensure that any Dog Sledding companies that we hire for our programs are Certified and Regularly Inspected by the appropriate Ontario Government By-Law Enforcement Offices to ensure they abide by the guidelines set for the proper care and treatment of their dogs.
“We’ve been made aware that one of the dogs had a sore on his/her leg via a concerned participant in one of our events, we’ve contacted Windrift Kennels to make sure the dog is being appropriately taken care of. We will be requesting an additional inspection of the Windrift Kennels to assure that their dogs are healthy and being treated appropriately. We will be severing our relationship with Windrift Kennels if any dogs are found treated poorly.
“If you see any mistreatment of any animals at any of our events please let us know right away so we can solve the situation. It saddens us greatly as dog lovers to think of any animal suffering.”
Global News also reached out to Windrift Kennels and went to the location in search of comment, but did not receive a response.
Groupon told Global News they have pulled the promotion and anyone who has purchased the experience can get a full refund.
Blake and Guerriero said that the experience is not something they would ever do again.
“It’s heartbreaking and completely sickening and cruel,” Blake said. “We’re heartbroken and depressed because of the dogs. We care so much for them.”
They said they are glad that the situation is now out in the open and that the public has been made aware.
—With files from Caryn Lieberman