A dog is stuffed into a backpack and worn by the pet parent as he base-jumps off a cliff. A dog is hooked up to a sling line and is dangling precariously, thousands of feet above a mountain’s jagged edge, as the owner pulls him over a crevasse. Here’s the kicker, this isn’t a rescue operation, this is for the owner’s pleasure! Should dogs be forced to participate in extreme sports? Dogs and people are social animals, but risking your own life is different than risking someone else’s. I recently saw a dog in tow on a rock-climbing expedition, hooked up to a line and in the backpack of a rock climber as he scaled a sheer rock face. Another time, I watched a hang gliding dog, and even a hang gliding service dog. Is this moral, ethical or healthy for a dog? Where does society draw the line and what constitutes as unnecessary, abusive or cruel? Do nonhuman animals have rights? These are the questions we must explore.
Heck, I am all for extreme sports! I have competed in sports for most of my life. I am a two time North American Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gold medal winner, played collegiate sports (lacrosse and wrestling), have trained for triathlons and even tried out for the Winter Olympics in men’s mogul skiing event. Cliff jumping, skydiving, rock climbing, rappelling, and mountaineering are all activities I enjoy in Los Angeles. Dare I mention I love opening up my motorcycle WOT on the highway with no helmet. I love the adrenaline rush and thrill that comes with pushing oneself to the limit and the passion and dedication that comes along with that, but I wouldn’t take my five-year-old niece or any other sentient being along for the ride! It is one thing to risk my existence and an entirely different scenario to risk someone else’s.
Countless sports take place all over the world that are not in the pet’s or animal’s best interests, this includes but is not limited to, the Iditarod, dog racing, horse racing/polo, some extreme dog agility sports and other extreme sports where the welfare of the animal does not come first and foremost. I do not support dog or animal sports in the name of “tradition.”
There are countless articles in newspapers that highlight stories where a dog’s welfare is not paramount. One such report that recently made headlines was in Colorado where a moron hiker abandoned his injured dog on a mountain. Luckily for this dog, other good-hearted hikers found him and carried him to safety.
Is dog “ownership” a right or a privilege? I argue the latter. Who has the best interest at heart for the dog and if you are not skilled at ethology, how well can a guardian/dog lover tell if a dog is enjoying himself or more importantly if it is safe for their pet? Perhaps a better question, is it stressful for the animal?
I cannot help but cringe when I see a dog tethered to a person’s back as they climb up a mountain face or when a dog is whale-eyed, ears back, clearly stressed, as his guardian hang glides off a cliff, hundreds of feet up in the air. We are the ones with the large prefrontal cortex and the ability to reason, let’s use them both.
Call me old fashioned if you will, but I’m not convinced extreme sports are in the best interest of the dog. I love extreme sports, but dogs should not be subject to peoples’ extremities. Just because a dog will go anywhere a person takes him doesn’t mean they should, it is healthy or good for them. Regardless of what a guardian thinks or says, in most of these pictures and scenarios the dogs do not look relaxed, stress-free or happy, at least from a behavioral perspective and probably from a cortisol one as well. What’s your opinion?