The Whistler, B.C. company that is responsible for the death of 100 sled dogs has tainted the entire industry and practically destroyed the reputation of the Canmore dog sled company operating under the same name Howling Dog Tours.
Rich Bittner and his wife Dana used to own 50% of the company in Whistler. They sold their portion in 2004 and have not had anything to do with the company since that time. After completion of the sale the company operated under a different name but the legal name remained as Howling Dog Tours Whistler, Inc. It’s only been recently that this name has been used in reports and media and has caused a storm of attention to be cast on the Canmore business.
To get facts straight is as simple as going to the website http://www.adventureswhistler.com/media where the bookings were made for the Whistler dog sled rides and read this statement, “Howling Dog Tours Whistler Inc. is entirely separate and distinct from Howling Dog Tours Ltd. based in Canmore, Alberta. The two companies are not related.”
Since the media coverage there has been public outrage against the situation, people are reacting without knowing any facts. A teacher in Calgary has used the Whistler dog sledding incident to teach her classroom about the impacts of media. She explains how media has not done it’s job of reporting unbiased facts, but instead has used emotionally charged language to grab public attention. This has resulted in people coming to the conclusion that the entire dog sledding industry is evil. You can read her article published in the local Canmore Leader here: http://eedition.canmoreleader.com/doc/Canmore-Leader#10
I know nothing of what went on in Whistler other than a hundred dogs are dead, and that is sad. What I felt I could do was get some facts from the business that was being impacted where I live in Canmore. It is a small town and I had never heard anything bad about this company, I can practically see their office from where I live. I saw Rich the owner of Howling Dog Tours Canmore speak briefly on the news and then after reading the Calgary teachers article today, I thought to myself, I’m going to go over there and get the real story.
Rich and his wife have run their company successfully for over 16 years, it has been hit hard by this incident. He has come to the point of having to consider legal action against the slanderous comments that have been posted on the internet and in particular social media sites. People are so misinformed about the facts that they have written statements naming Rich and his wife as the people who killed the dogs. He has received emails and calls from around the world, some of them including death threats. He has taken the time to respond to each and every email and make phone calls back to people even when they were condemning him.
No one has bothered to do any research or fact checking before making statements and jumping on the media frenzy band wagon. Rich has been overwhelmed with various media people coming to talk to him, but no one has taken the time to dig deep into how he has run his business and takes care of his dogs. What came clear to me while speaking to Rich was not only his passion for the dogs but his extreme knowledge of the breeds and their uses for different types of sledding. He pointed to several pictures of his dogs that are on the walls of his office and described their individual personalities and traits.
He has used the same local veterinarian for 16 years. He has an excellent relationship with her. He can call her up at any hour if he has an issue with a dog. He has spent as much as $8000 on a single dog that has been ill and thousands of dollars on their care over the years. Only dogs that are suffering are put down and it is always done in a humane way by a veterinarian. He has no puppies, and hasn’t had any for years because he doesn’t need to. He continuously gets requests to take in sled dogs from a variety of situations including other business that have shut down.
He explained to me that people don’t understand there is a huge difference between operating a dog sled company in Whistler and operating in Kananaskis Country or within Banff National Park. In operating in either one of these locations you are under a very strict set of regulations that are governed either by the Provincial Parks Of Alberta or by Parks Canada. Every aspect of operating the dog sled tours is monitored and regulated from how many dogs can enter the park on a daily basis, right down to the removal of their feces. The SPCA has to be granted complete access to the dogs at anytime.
Rich stated that he can understand how this subject would create a lot of response from the public. People love animals and will go to great lengths to protect them, but we need to start thinking about how we are so easily influenced by the media an more importantly social media. He said he appreciates the social platforms that allow people to make comments and constructive criticisms. Those are things that can be a great tool for a business. You can look at ways to make improvements. He can put out individual fires by emailing back people who have contacted him, but when people are allowed to make slanderous unsubstantiated claims or remarks on the internet and it goes viral, there is little he can do. Here is a letter to editor that was recently printed in the Rocky Mountain Outlook, another local paper. http://www.rmoutlook.com/article/20110217/RMO0904/302179969/-1/rmo0904/howling-dog-tours-unfairly-targeted
The power of social media is overwhelming when you think of it. Something can now go viral on the internet within a matter of minutes. A person can be made famous or taken down in a heartbeat. We need to start using this awesome platform to our advantage, to do good and make the changes in the world that we want to see, instead of jumping into what ever current hype that has been created by it.