The Animals Farm in Lapland. How Ethical Reindeers and Huskies Farm Are?
One of the most attractive touristic activities in Lapland is to visit the farms, husky and/or reindeer. I have to say, dear reader, I am an animal lover, and I want to hug and pet any furry creature on Earth, therefore I was so eager to go to the farms like a little kid is eager to go open the presents on Christmas morning. My imagination was running wild, thinking how I am going to be surrounded by either huskies or reindeers and I am going to play with them for hours. Pff, I was in for a surprise because I was so wrong!
What I knew about reindeers
Reindeers – semi-wild animals which are spending the winters on the farms, helped by humans, and all summer are running around in the wildness of Lapland. They are easy to breed as long as they have enough space for walking and running, they love cold weather and snow to a certain height. I was aware that most of the Fins eat reindeer meat, so I was a bit confused about this, in the sense that, how can you eat your own pet!?!?!
How wrong was I
Pretty wrong! The reindeers are taken from wildness beginning of spring and the first selection is made, the animals are marked if they will be slaughtered or if they will end up in the farm to work for the touristic safari rides we all pay big bucks for. Once this selection is made, the calves are separated from their moms and a mark is made on one of their ears to differentiate them (apparently, that is the area where they don’t feel anything).
The farm I visited I have to say, that the owners look like they were taking really good care of their reindeers and I could see that most of them were able to walk in the forest and had a good supply of food at their disposal.
I have not eaten reindeer meat, and I can’t tell you anything about the taste or flavor. I find reindeers to be sweet animals as such unbelievable that someone can eat them, but as the owners explained to me, it’s mostly about the survival instinct, whereas the winter being so harsh and long, there is nothing else to eat, hence reindeers are the good option. Their skin is used for thermos-isolation clothing and their meat for food.
What I knew about the Huskies
Huskies are dogs which love to run in the cold conditions and they are very unhappy if it’s getting warm. I knew they are tall and have long fur and the most beautiful blue eyes. I was pretty ignorant with regards to what a husky farm means and how the dogs are treated.
How wrong was I
A lot! And this is where we all need to educate ourselves, dear reader. Why do I say that? Well, during my flight to Lapland, I heard people talking on the plane about some husky farmer in Canada which killed hundreds of dogs because he couldn’t afford to feed them. This is unacceptable I thought! He could just give them to adoption or find them new houses or…so many options came to my mind, why didn’t he think about those?!?!
So, I spent a few days and nights, reading and researching about this. And apparently, a big selection is made here as the weak puppies are just killed, the same way they do it with the old/retired dogs, which can’t handle the rides.
How would you know if the farm looks after their dogs well or not?
Dear reader, firstly, you need to see how transparent the farm’s marketing materials are and how open they are about their standards when you are questioning them.
If the farms are claiming to give for adoption the retired dogs, that would be something that you can see with your own eyes, since there must be paperwork available, or as any farm that is proud of their standards, will have pictures with the new owners.
Try also asking about the number of people taking care of the dogs during each season. You should be realistic, if there are 5 people and 400 dogs, that means each human will take care of 80 dogs, which is something that should trigger your attention. It’s impossible in those conditions for each dog to get the sufficient personal care, love and attention, not even counting the exercise they need to be in a good mental and physical shape.
What is the reaction when you ask about the end of life plan for the working dogs?
In most the farms, dogs are put down as soon as their useful life is over. Farmers can legally shoot their own dogs if the person is mentally prepared to do it. It’s the cheapest way too since a bullet costs somewhere around 40 cents and a pain-free euthanasia from a vet will be at least 10 times more.
If the farm has an adoption/sponsorship policy, this will be visible, and the owners will love to present this opportunity to you.
What type of housing is provided for the Huskies and is it clean and dry or in shambles and filth?
If you notice a high amount of poo lying around next to the dogs, that probably means that the yard is not been cleaned often enough. Look also at the dogs when you visit. If you notice that there are very few sick, on recovery or old dogs on a farm - or, indeed, if you go to a farm more than once and don't recognize many dogs from before - it might just be that the sick are considered too much trouble to keep around and that there is a very high turnover and life is not appreciated.
There is a lot of information on the internet about the ecological and economic impact of sled dog sports.
However, as with all things in life, there are some people who take extreme positions on both sides of the fence. There are dog owners who have been in the industry for 25 or 30 years and don't see a need to change their old-school practices (like some of those mentioned above). Conversely, there are animal rights activists who believe that sled dog sports should be totally banned, without question, who simply don't understand how much the dogs like the running.
The balance is somewhere in the middle, where any life matters and dogs are treated based on their intelligence and capacity to love and feel. They should be cared for and should be pain-free.
I honestly believe that, we should all be responsible towards these amazing beings and any reservations anyone might have about how much the dogs love to run is immediately answered as soon as you stand on the start line of a well-managed farm and watch the joy with which the dogs are pulling into their harnesses, literally jumping to go.
Don't believe the advocates who say that all sled dogs are poorly treated, but also have a careful look before booking something with any farm. Do your research, not to sponsor bad habits!
Enjoy your husky ride experience! May you have the good fortune to experience the joy of running dogs with a great and caring farm and ideally, of course, I hope that you have your (hopefully life-changing and truly memorable) sleigh-dog experience anywhere in the world!