In times of COVID-19, sled dogs in Lapland are everybody’s moral responsibility
Updated: Nov 20, 2020
The disruption of the tourism market in Lapland touches particularly the lives of thousands of sled dogs. Husky tours are popular among international tourists. Indeed, during the last years, dog sledding has been on top of the 10 things to do in Finnish Lapland. Huskies are not only one of the main tourism attractions, but they have also become an important branding element of Finland and Lapland in particular. Husky tours are not only very popular among tourists, but, for many, one of the reasons for visiting northern Finland.
The role of sled dogs in Lapland tourism
There are approximately 50 husky kennels with populations that can vary from a dozen to 500 dogs. The majority of sled dogs in Finnish Lapland are Alaskan huskies, which are a mix of different northern breeds chosen particularly for their pulling skills. The total number of huskies working in Finnish Lapland is estimated to be around 10.000 individuals. These animal workers generate millions of euros for the local economy and contribute to creating memorable experiences for thousands of tourists. Unfortunately, sled dogs cannot be laid off like human employees. Since animals need food, constant care and attention, the operating costs of a kennel cannot easily be reduced. If tourists do not come to Lapland, some dogs could, in worst-case scenario, be euthanized.
How could husky euthanasia impact Lapland tourism?
Although the huskies being euthanised will be directly affected by such decision, there will also be negative consequences for the brand of Lapland as a tourism destination. We do not need to look far to find examples of the consequences of brand damage caused by mass euthanasia. The case of Vancouver, where hundred sled dogs were culled due to a sudden drop of tourist demand after the Winter Olympics in 2010, is an example of what could happen if some companies would take this decision in Lapland. Ten years later, Vancouver is still remembered not only because of the Winter Olympics, but also because of the culling of huskies. Public concerns for animal welfare have not gone away, rather they have become more important in contemporary society. A recent study conducted at the University of Lapland shows that 83% of visitors to Lapland are concerned about the rights and treatment of animals in today’s society (picture below).
What are the responsibilities of companies, local authorities, animal protection agencies, tourists and other stakeholders? The difficult situation faced by husky kennels in Lapland is not just their dilemma. Although the kennels are responsible for their animals, we, as society, also bear a moral responsibility towards these animal workers. After all, the work done by sled dog does not only benefit the kennels, but also other tourism companies (revenues), local communities (employment), municipalities (taxes) and tourists (memorable experiences). That said, the questions remain: As a society, what are we going to do? How are we going to solve this challenging situation in a morally responsible way?
Answering these questions demands a dialogue among different stakeholders. Only so we will be able to work towards an ethical and responsible solution for the husky kennels in Lapland. Letting husky kennels alone dealing with this difficult situation would be totally irresponsible. And any decision taken by the kennels in a state of despair will not only be their responsibility, but also our ethical responsibility as a society.
To learn more about animal-based tourism in Finnish Lapland and studies focusing on animals and responsible tourism, please visit: www.animaltourismfinland.com