Tag Archives: WAG

A WAG Tale

WAG celebrates its 40th birthday this year and the professional operation has seen dramatic changes since its humble beginnings in 1982. Known and loved throughout the community, Whistler Animals Galore Society, better know as WAG, was started in 1982 by Dorothy Sabey and Debbie Chow.

In 1986, the Whistler Question described WAG as ‘the barebones troubleshooting agency by which Sabey and her colleague, Debbie Chow, handle lost or stray pets.’ Initially WAG relied almost entirely on the hard work and generosity of these two women. They did receive a grant-in-aid each year from the municipality, however it was only $250 to cover all expenses including gas, telephones, and spaying animals. While awaiting adoption, dogs and cats were cared for in Dorothy and Debbie’s homes, and sometimes the pound held animals a week beyond the usual limits if their homes were already full.

A photo from the Whistler Question on the 7th of November 1991. ‘Lisa Smith and Kelly Baldwin visit the cats who are still awaiting homes. Last week WAG had 55 cats in the facility built for 15. This week the situation was a bit better but they still have their hands full’. Whistler Question Collection.

WAG continued to rely solely on volunteers until 1996, when a paid program coordinator was hired. Before this the future of WAG had looked uncertain as there were only four volunteers remaining and they were becoming burnt out. The new system did not fully get off the ground, however, before the coordinator quit two years later. David MacPhail spoke to the Pique about how WAG had been on the brink of closure again in 1998. “The coordinator had quit and I was the only one left on the board. I was basically left to turn off the lights and go home,” McPhail said.

At that time, WAG had no shelter, no volunteer program, little publicity and relied solely on foster homes for the animals in its care. The municipal budget used for medical assistance was also beginning to dry up. Trying to turn things around, Kristen Kadis was brought in as a new coordinator, and that year the first annual Dog Parade started as part of the Whistler Ski and Snowboard Festival.

Things sure did turn around. In August 2000, WAG was given the bulk of the shelter work from the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) in exchange for the use of space in the building. Prior to this, the pound was largely separate from WAG and operated by municipality animal control officers, predominately Kimberly Lord. Jody Stockfish, who was brought on as another WAG coordinator in 1999, said at the time, “Having a central facility, rather than the traditional fostering system, will make a huge difference to what WAG can achieve. It also gives WAG’s core of 15 to 20 regular volunteers easy access for cleaning and walking duties.” The work of WAG was also recognised by the municipality, who increased their grant-in-aid to $10,000. Then in 2001, after years of legal to-and-fro, WAG was awarded charitable status, making fundraising much easier.

The shelter that WAG initially worked out of (above) was better than nothing, but the comfort of volunteers and animals greatly improved when WAG got its new purpose built facility in the Public Works Yard. Whistler Question Collection.

While the having control of the shelter was a huge improvement, it was still cold, cramped, near impossible to separate all the animals, and a flood risk. Paul Fournier remembers when the shelter was threatened by rising water, while he was the WAG Chairman in the 1990s. “We had over 30 cats, and we had to find cages for these cats and move them up to a farm in Pemberton. I don’t know if you have ever heard an angry cat, but when you take 30 cats and you put them in cages and then you stuff them in the back of my cargo van, you’ve never heard a sound like that.”

Another regular WAG fundraiser was photos with Santa, often held on the Citta’s patio. Here Scott Barr and his dog Angus pose for their picture with Santa. Whistler Question Collection.

The new shelter officially opened in the Public Works Yard in 2005, and today we have a shelter to be envious of. While much has changed over the 40 years, WAG’s focus on animal welfare remains the same.

Must Love Dogs

When I moved to Whistler just over half a year ago, one of the first things I noticed was the abundance of dogs. OK, more like the abundance of big and beautiful dogs. It only makes sense with Whistler’s terrain perfectly suited for those long walks and free-running and hunting days.

Sewall Tapley and dogs, 1918. Philip Collection.

Sewall Tapley and dogs, 1918. Philip Collection.

This, of course, is nothing new. Dogs of all textures and sizes have been a huge part of Whistler since our earliest pioneers decided to settle here. Our archive holds a wealth of early photographs of dogs – some identified and others not.

Binkie on Alta Lake, 1941. Philip Collection.

Binkie on Alta Lake, 1941. Philip Collection.

From these early albumen and gelatin silver prints, it is clear that although considered as family pets, these pooches were more than just companions – they were hunters and guard dogs as well. During the early days of Alta Lake, the local dogs would have been efficient hunters and handy companions for shooing away bears for their owners.

Sam and Louise Betts on a snowy railway track, 1942. With them are dogs Tweed and Sparks. Philip Collection.

Sam and Louise Betts on a snowy railway track, 1942. With them are dogs Tweed and Sparks. Philip Collection.

Today in Whistler, dogs have it made. They are free to roam on some of the most gorgeous hiking trails in the country, spend a day at the doggie spa in Function Junction and – for the tourist dog – relax at one of the many pet-friendly hotels in the valley. Our spoiled furry friends even have their own section devoted to them at Rainbow Park.

Apart from the leisurely dog residents here in Whistler, our vast landscape is also home to highly trained rescue dogs. In 1978, professional patroller Bruce Watt trained Whistler’s first rescue dog. Bruce was enticed to do so after being caught and buried in a heavy avalanche that year. Bruce was then encouraged by Chris Stethem, the Safety Supervisor on Whistler Mountain at the time, to pursue an avalanche rescue dog training program. Bruce did just that, researching and perfecting his methods of training along the way. By 1982 the Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association (CARDA) had formed. You can learn more about CARDA and the history of rescue dogs here.

Myrtle Philip sitting with dog and puppies, ca. 1930. Philip Collection.

Myrtle Philip sitting with dog and puppies, ca. 1930. Philip Collection.

While it’s easy to admire the beauty of dogs surrounding us Whistlerites, it is important to understand these creatures as affectionate beings, in need of care and protection. With the recent influx of injured and homeless dogs brought into WAG, the local shelter is in need of donations and adoptions more than ever. This recent article in the Whistler Question Newspaper outlines some of the issues surrounding animal abuse and neglect happening around Whistler, bringing awareness to the fact that we need to teach respect for animals to kids from a very young age.

If you would like to help our local hounds by donating to WAG, click here.