From the Editor
Featured Inuit Dog Owner: Igor Dragoslavic
In the News
Evolutionary Changes in Domesticated Dogs:
The Broken Covenant of the Wild, Part 4
An Examination of Traditional Knowledge:
The Case of the Inuit Sled Dog, Part 1
Greenland Dogs of the Eiger Glacier
Boss Dogs and Lead Dogs
Tip: Pack Your Parka
IMHO: Two "New" Dogs
|Featured Inuit Dog Owner….
Igor and Avalak enjoy the igloo that Igor built.
Photo: Dragana Dragoslavic
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
The Story of Avalak
The seeds of Avalak's fate were germinating a long time ago and far away from his arctic birthplace, with as much geographical and cultural distance between him and his destiny as can be imagined. In a small town in the Balkans, two young boys, the best friends, loved getting together on cold winter days. They had a ritual where they would open their favorite book which they called the "Bible"– an illustrated book of dog breeds. The pages with the northern dog breeds saw much more wear than the rest.
I loved all the dogs from those pages: the Samoyed, the Siberian Husky, the Alaskan Malamute, the Greenland Dog, but most of all the Canadian "Eskimo" Dog. (I must note that even as a child I was confused by trying to figure out the difference between the Greenland Dog and the Canadian "Eskimo" Dog.) In this book the Canadian "Eskimo" Dog was described as a self-reliant dog that relates only to its pack mates, somewhat capable of accepting its owner, but outright dangerous to anyone else. Even as a gullible child I knew such a statement was likely to be as factual as the description of the wolf's behavior in Little Red Riding Hood.
At that time, I could only dream of acquiring an Inuit Sled Dog. The closest I was able to get to this ideal, was by making my own dog harnesses (modelled after local horse harnesses) and have my poor dogs, a wolf-like mutt and an Irish Setter, reluctantly pull me around on a toboggan. Then I'd illustrate a dog sledding scene, depicting the dogs pulling a qamutiq. These were "carvings" cut with scissors from my mom's bathing sponges, shaped to looking like whalebone or walrus tusk Inuit carvings.
Later, as a young adult, I finally had the means to get real sled dogs. My partner at the time was in adamant opposition of the Canadian "Eskimo" Dog, basing her opinion on the negative portrayal of the breed in a film dramatization. I had to settle for the more mainstream Siberian Huskies. I found a pair of pups in Denmark, and brought them to Yugoslavia where, to my knowledge, they became the first of any sled dogs in the country.
Those pups were great! We had an awesome time, until war broke out in the early nineties. My family had to move to Canada, along with one of the huskies, while the other one remained with my parents in the “old country”.
For someone who loves sled dogs, could there be a better place than Canada? Here I befriended an older lady who was a Siberian Husky breeder. She was more than happy to lend me her dogs for sledding. Gradually, many other Siberian Husky owners asked me to exercise their dogs as well. Eventually so many dogs came, I was often able to form about four teams for my sledding trips.
In this situation I was able to compare a lot of Siberian Huskies. Some were great workers, while others had no interest in pulling at all. No matter, they were nice pets either way, and I wouldn't have loved them less. But I was shocked to see that the owners who would have their dogs bred, were not paying the slightest attention to the dogs' working ability. Their only guide was the "cuteness" factor, the colour of the coat, the eyes and the pattern of the facial masks. I also noticed that success in the show ring was directly related to dog's working ability – or rather, inability.
The attainment of my agile, smart, hard working Siberian Husky was purely a result of beginner's luck. Later, as I got smarter, I bred her to the hardest working male I could find. Not surprisingly, the one pup I kept turned out as an exceptionally gifted worker. With the passing of my female and later her pup, I lost all hope in ever finding such well-rounded and adept workers.
After being dog-less for five years, I gave in to the pressure from my new wife to get a dog. Finding a breed that would best suit my interests and active outdoor lifestyle was the main question at hand. Following some soul searching, my boyhood love surfaced as the only choice: the Canadian "Eskimo" Dog. Of course, I wanted to be sure that the pup was pure, so it could grow in to a proper representative of its breed. While I was fully aware of the inadequacies of the Canadian Kennel Club's registration system, a CED's pedigree was the closest thing to a guarantee I could imagine at the time. Thankfully, the Inuit Sled Dog International website helped me reach my "epiphany" in realizing that it's not registration papers or written pedigrees that maintain this breed; it's the Arctic that created the breed, and only the harsh arctic conditions of life and work can continue to select for the ISD's superior qualities!
Avalak prefers to be really outside!
Photo: Igor Dragoslavic
I will fast-forward through the numerous calls I had to make before finding an Inuk hunter who was willing to go through all the trouble of sending one of his pups to me down in Southern Ontario. Upon Avalak's arrival, the connection between the pup and me was immediate. It was a perfect match, even though we were a very unlikely pair - a completely inexperienced Inuit Sled Dog owner with a dog plucked right out of a traditional Inuit Sled Dog team; straight from the vast unspoiled tundra into a small back yard in a southern city suburb.
One might have expected the odds to work against us, but early on it became apparent that we were heading for success. In one instance, I was excitedly explaining Avalak's breed characteristics to a close friend of mine. He was smirking as I told my story and concluded at the end, "Do you realize that you've found the dog version of yourself?" My other friend (the one from the childhood dog-book admiring days) commented that I really should have been called Avalak (meaning "the one that left his kin and went far away") and the pup should have gotten my name.
Most importantly, Avalak has settled in without any problems. He is a well-adjusted, well-behaved, well-socialized and content dog. The exact ingredients for getting things to work out as well as they did are still not entirely known to me. It was evident though, that he had a need to know his place in the pack order, especially in this atypical ISD environment. It is important to give him an assertive pack leader, and in return he eagerly fills his role, by wanting to please. A sufficient dose of exercise is also one of the main elements of having a trouble free ISD. I take him with me almost daily on long bicycle rides. When the summer heat prevents Avalak from running too hard, we hang out by a nearby swimming hole, where he can cool off frequently after the heated games with other dogs. Near the end of last winter, Avalak was getting old enough to be tested in the harness. He loved it, and was taking the "work" very seriously. We are impatiently anticipating the onset of this winter, and the opportunity for more sledding. A few friends of ours have already offered their Siberian Huskies to help us form a team.
Despite our success, I do not believe a city is a suitable place for an ISD. Our proper functioning is directly related to the ability to spend enough time in the small and ever shrinking pockets of wilderness in the area. We are completely devoted to the pursuit of an active outdoor lifestyle. A sufficient amount of time can only be found with a fair amount of creativity and flexibility. Even the simplest errands, such as getting groceries, often need to be adjusted in order to allow for a quick trip to the dog park. Leisure activities are only put into consideration if they are practical for the dog to participate. The battle with dog hair is never ending: in the car, on our clothing, and even in between keys of the keyboard I am writing this with!
Enjoying some dryland exercise.
Photo: Dragana Dragoslavic
Avalak is now more than a year old and has been with us most of that time. We are well past having any worries about how well he can settle in with us and fit into his new home in the urban south. The only problem – for which Avalak is partly to blame – is my gradual realization that I am not suited to the southern urban environment. Avalak's constant presence increasingly sends my thoughts drifting north to the treeline and beyond.