Sled Dogs

It was sled dogs that kept the Inuit alive by giving them the mobility to hunt across vast expanses of the Arctic. It was sled dogs that kept stranded hunters alive by sharing with them the warmth of their bodies and fur. Sometimes, an individual sled dog gave his or her life to provide meat for starving hunters.

sled dogs The_book_of_dogs_1919_L-A-Fuertes-Natl-Geog-Soc-wikicommonsSled dogs kept the Inuit culture alive during the early to middle years of the 20th century when government and churches were trying to settle them in villages. With their dogs, Inuit could continue their nomadic lifestyle, hunting far away from mission posts and government-decreed settlements. Without their dogs, and before snowmobiles, they couldn’t.

So sled dogs paid the price for those colonization policies too. According to testimony to a 2010 Commission of Inquiry, the RCMP, on government orders, “culled” thousands of dogs between the 1950s and 1980s. Have dog, will travel – don’t have dog, won’t.

Anyone living in the north before the 1940s had most contact with the southern world thanks to sled dogs and their mushers. The mail came by dog team, supplies came by dog team. Without Huskies, the north would have been pretty uninhabitable for any people, especially non-indigenous people.RCMP sled dogs 1957-Natl-Archives-Cda-wikicommons

Honouring Balto and all sled dogs

Dog teams prevented an outbreak of diphtheria in Nome, Alaska in 1925. A disease almost eradicated in the south got a toehold with Inuit children who had no immunity to it. Teams of dogs ran in relay Balto's statue in NYC Central Parkto get a supply of vaccination serum to Nome. The annual Iditarod race over that same harsh terrain commemorates their life-saving run. The dog who led the final team, bringing the serum into the town of Nome, was Balto. He is immortalized in a statue in New York City’s Central Park. Balto represents the hundreds of dogs, and their men, who risked themselves in order to save children. (See my Dogs in War for more on Balto and other working dogs.)

Now, we have the chance to honour another hundred sled dogs who gave their lives for us. They were sacrificed to commerce and the 2010 Winter Olympics in Whistler, British Columbia. The B.C. government has created a Task Force to investigate the April 2010 killing of dogs working for a dog sled tour company. The Winter Olympics meant a lot of visitors to Whistler looking for things to do. So they needed a lot of dogs. After the tourists departed, they didn’t need so many.

The only pension plan for many working animals, whether sled dogs or race horses, is a bullet in the head. I hope this inquiry looks at the conditions of working animals and their retirement and that it demands improvements in both. But I hope it does not penalize people who truly love the animals with whom they work. I believe that the man at the centre of the investigation found himself between the hard place of his dogs and the rock of commercial tourism. I hope he will not be another casualty of this horrible event. And I hope these dogs are remembered as the ones whose deaths changed our view of working animals from “means of production” to valued “workers”.

“Endurance, Fidelity, Intelligence”

These words – endurance, fidelity, intelligence – are inscribed on Balto’s statue. They apply to him, the other Nome serum run dogs, all sled dogs, all dogs. We should be so lucky as to have the same said about us.

YQ_Start_Whitehorse_2005-Magnol-wikicommons-cropFrom my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Feb. 6, 2011, in honour of the dogs and mushers running the 1,000 mile Yukon Quest right now. You can follow their progress with the site’s “Live Race Tracking” link. I’m cheering for Rémy Leduc and his dogs from Glenwood, New Brunswick.

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0 thoughts on “Sled Dogs”

  1. Many more pets could be reunited with their families if owners knew how to look for them, or had help to do so.

    Professional advice for finding lost pets from:

    Missing Pet Partnership,, “is a national, nonprofit organization dedicated to reuniting lost companion animals with their owners/guardians. Our website offers behavior-based lost pet recovery tips and referrals to lost pet services. We operate the first-ever volunteer lost pet search-and-rescue team (in Seattle, WA) that offers cutting edge lost pet recovery techniques like pet detectives with search dogs, lost dog protests, window tagging to market lost dogs in a community, and motion activated wildlife cameras with feeding stations to detect and capture displaced cats.” Think LOST, not stray.

    Recovery Tips – Prevention – see

    How Missing Animal Response is part of the No Kill equation, (, under “Shelter Operations”:

    “Missing Animal Response: A Paradigm Shift to Reduce Shelter Kill Rates”

    1. Yes, it seems there are lots of sites already available. It’s the knowing where to look. Maybe the way we should be thinking about it is like architects do when designing walkways around buildings – leave it until you see where people are naturally inclined to walk, then do your paving. So where do people think to look when they’ve lost or found an animal? I think notices on poles, ads in local papers and, probably now, local Facebook pages. But if you don’t belong to FB, you wouldn’t think of it. I looked at the Quinte lost dogs FB page that Paul suggested – pretty good. Is a new FB page needed? There’s already the St. Thomas blog & FB page. There’s 2, I think, St. T. dog park FB pages. Possibles? But the page administrators would have to be willing to add this, and it still restricts itself to those on FB and on line at all. And that’s not everybody. My feeling is local – I would think local sites before thinking province- or nation-wide lost pet sites. My very first thought would be my city pound, but I’m becoming increasingly uncertain of whether that would be of any help whatsoever unless I camped out there and saw every animal they brought in.

  2. If I can do it, it must be pretty easy! (“Fans of TNR in St. Thomas” page)

    Tony from Animal Aide suggests using the website “It is a new service trying to match up lost and found pets.”

    I’ve looked at, but to be effective, you need to have the municipal shelter and/or other local rescue groups subscribe to it. It was developed in Calgary & is growing in popularity all over North America, possibly around the world too.

    Petlynx/Shelterlynx has several advantages that make it more effective at matching up lost pets. People posting lost/found info input the description of the animal by colour, prompted by separate boxes or fields for each area of the animal, so it doesn’t rely on people knowing breeds of dogs, cats, birds, etc. It also finds matches automatically & then sends emails.

    Rescue groups signed up with it register pets at adoption, and info is transferable (unlike some other sites). If a registered pet goes missing, it’s very easy to quickly change its status to “Lost”.

    Statistics collected are available to registered groups.

    If St. Thomas Animal Control takes in animals from surrounding areas, perhaps other municipalities would be able to contribute to the cost.

    The more animals registered with such a system BEFORE they go missing, the more animals could be potentially reunited with their families.

    1. Hi, I guess this is being thought about by a lot of us. I talked to someone just recently about such a site for our area. I haven’t gone any further with it, since I know nothing about setting up Facebook pages, but I’ll check out the link. How hard can it be? 😉 Thanks, and nice to hear from you again.

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