It was March last year when a group of animal advocates went on a visit to Chocpaw Expeditions – a sled dog kennel in Ontario, Canada, to confirm whether rumors of a mass burial of dogs were true.

The group trekked the forest at night and reached the spot where they were told about. There was a mound of packed earth, so they started to dig and uncovered dozens of old dog collars. And then there were bones.

A buried dog photographed in Chocpaw’s mass grave uncovered in March 2018 |Advocates

The Dodo uncovered the story and talked with Chantal Dostaler, who was a former Chocpaw employee and worked at the kennel since 2013 to 2017 every winter season.

It all started with a rumor about mass killings of dogs that were not fit for sledding. The dogs were tossed to the graveyard after spending their whole lives tucked in chains.

“None of us think that the rumors are true when we get into it,” Dostaler told The Dodo. “The longer I stayed, the more secrets they taught me.”

A dog standing next to his plastic doghouse at Chocpaw in March 2018 |Advocates

Dostaler mentioned Hope, who just like every other sled dog, lived chained to her doghouse. When she’s not chained, she pulled a sled of paying customers through the snow. But Dostaler said by April 2017, Hope got sick and showed signs of distress.

Instead of calling for a veterinarian to tend to the sick dog, Dostaler was given a gun by the kennel owner to shoot her. They said it was “to save money.”

“When I shot Hope, it completely changed me,” continued Dostaler. “I no longer saw this as a trade-off. The dogs work their whole lives, never go inside… and this is how they die?”

Sled dogs at Chocpaw in the snow |Chantal Dostaler

Dostaler narrated how she was instructed to underfeed dogs, because they were cutting costs for dog food. There were some days where she’ll come out in the morning to feed them, only to find the dogs dead and frozen inside their plastic doghouses.

She even gave dogs medicines, even though she’s not a veterinarian and sometimes, she’d put dead dogs in freezers, only to bury them once the ground could be thawed.

Dog Tales Rescue and Sanctuary, which is a rescue and sanctuary for dogs in King City, Ontario, tried to help and hopes to take all the dogs for their adoption program, but Chocpaw’s owner Margaret Reid refused to give up the dogs.

“At this time, I will not comment on Chantal Dostaler’s online personal reflections, comments, hyperlinks, videos, and drawings provided within her informal blog,” Reid has told The Dodo. “What I will touch upon is why we will continue to refuse releasing our dogs to Dog Tales Rescue and Sanctuary.”

Reid believed the sanctuary and any other animal rescues don’t know anything about sled dogs and are “incapable of properly selecting appropriate homes for retired sled dogs.”

The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) failed to take action after last year’s reports came into view, because there were no laws that protect the sled dogs. However, they are now currently working on ways to help the poor animals.

The dog yard at Chocpaw Expeditions |Sled Dogs

“The Ontario SPCA has commissioned a team to work together to draft what we believe the future provincial animal welfare legislation should look like,” associate director of communications for OSPCA, Melissa Kosowan, told The Dodo. “This work will set the stage for new legislation, including stronger regulations prohibiting the use of animals in entertainment, providing for their protection as pets and farm animals and establishing their status as sentient beings under law.”

“I am committed to share my experience, which is ongoing as I fight for my rights, and that of the dogs, so no one else, human or dog, has to go through this,” she said. “I don’t want forgiveness – I want you to know this is legal in Ontario, Canada.”

Dostaler hopes the dog’s in Chocpaw will be freed from the life they never deserved and find a home, but until then, they will have to stay out in the cold, chained to their plastic doghouse, waiting.