The Ministry of Rural Affairs is considering proposals to allow sled dogs to be kept on chains of as little as two meters in length, provided the animals are allowed to run around in large enclosures or other spaces for at least half an hour, twice a day. While animal welfare campaigners want to see the practice of chaining sled dogs disappear completely, a section of the breeding community fears that such a move could put a damper on their activities.
Under current regulations, chains attached to sled dogs must allow the animals to move along the tether to a distance of at least 10 meters and a width of at least 2 meters. A draft amendment, currently being prepared by the Ministry of Rural Affairs, would enable exemptions for owners of sled dogs, allowing them to keep their animals on shorter chains.
However, animal rights campaigners say this would be detrimental to the dogs' welfare. Sled dog breeders are also divided on the need to introduce an exemption to the current regulations.
Pille Tees, from the Estonian Animal Welfare Association, said that allowing sled dogs to be kept on the end of a two-meter chain would be a step backwards, and does not take into account the welfare of the animals.
Tees said, that the Ministry of Rural Affairs was also taking expert advice on the issue. "On September 1, 2021, an expert from the (Estonian) University of Life Sciences gave their opinion and found that it makes sense to move towards an end to permanent chaining. Chaining could be used as a kind of temporary option, for example, to control the dog for a couple of hours for some reason."
According to Margus Haraku, member of the Executive Committee of the Estonian Kennel Union's (EKL) Nordic Sled Dog Trials Association, the petition "Aitab!" (Help!), which called for several amendments to the Animal Protection Act, prompted the Ministry of Rural Affairs to consider introducing an exemption a few years ago.
"The local community of sled dog breeders immediately understood from this, that if such amendments as the ones in the petition were to be implemented in regulations and in laws, then our activities could actually be stopped overnight. In fact, for two years before this, there has been talk of a complete ban."
Harak said, that there are many situations in which e the animals have to be tethered and cannot be allowed to roam freely in an enclosure. However, the amendment to the regulation refers to sled dogs being kept on short chains, with only hourly exemptions.
Yet, not all sled dog breeders are convinced of the need for exemptions to be introduced.
Jarmo Nikolai, board member of the Estonian Siberian Husky Breeders Association, believes exemptions for sled dogs are unnecessary and that even an outright ban on chaining would not put an end to sled dog breeding.
"There is certainly no need for an exemption to keep sled dogs permanently on a chain," said Nikolai. "The two-meter chain is widely used in Scandinavia and North America for historical reasons, but they are also moving more and more towards kennels. If you are already using dogs to make money, you should also be able to build enclosures (for them). I certainly don't agree that sled dog breeding will end because of a ban on chaining," Nikolai said.
Editor: Michael Cole