Tag Archives: dog sledding

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.

RCMP sled dogs 1957-Natl-Archives-Cda-wikicommonsAnyone 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.

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.

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.

Iditarod Murder: Review

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, June 13/11.  The 2015 Iditarod starts Sat. March 7th.

Amazon link for Iditarod murder novel by Sue Henry
Click image or text for Amazon

A 1991 mystery novel by Sue HenryMurder on the Iditarod Trail is good.  Several murders: at first I thought she just wanted to use all the ways she’d thought of for murder in a dogteam race.  But actually all the murders are necessary for the plot line.  They’re inventive and the murder mystery part of the book is good – right to the end.

But what’s just as good is you, the reader, are going along with the teams every hard mile of the race.  You get put inside it, why and how people and their dogs do this sometimes year after year.  You also get some of the history and geography of Alaska – of the race itself, the gold-rush, the land and the peoples both aboriginal and white settlers.

Women mushers, animal activists and poodles

She takes on political controversies that have been part of the Itidarod for the past few decades.  Many male racers opposed women entering the competition. Henry discusses this through the plot line and a female musher who is a main character*.  She also discusses the animal welfare activists who have sought to shut down the race.  She photo of sled dog in snow by Magnus-Manskeaddresses the issue of the dogs’ health and safety throughout as background of the actual running and the protestors as possible murder suspects.

Henry has lived in Alaska for many years and clearly is a proponent and admirer of the Iditarod – the mushers and dogs, as well as the terrain and the history.  There’s nothing ‘preachy’ in her inclusion of the politics of the race; it’s presented as a natural part of her story.

This book is the first in what became a series of novels featuring the two main characters in it.  I look forward to reading the rest of her books.  They’ll be the closest I ever come to running the Iditarod myself.

* The statements made by men in the book about why women shouldn’t be running made me think of a 1980s tongue-in-cheek state ‘slogan’ I came across:  “Alaska, where women win the Iditarod and men mush Poodles”.  During that decade, women won several times and teams of Standard Poodles ran it respectably.