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The Fan Hitch, Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog International, is published four times a year. It is available at no cost online at: http://thefanhitch.org.
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The Inuit Sled Dog International
The Inuit Sled Dog International (ISDI) is a consortium of enthusiasts whose goal is the preservation of this ancient arctic breed in its purest form as a working dog. The ISDI's efforts are concentrated on restoring the pure Inuit Dog to its native habitat. The ISDI's coordinators welcome to your comments and questions.
The Hamiltons' cat colony sleeps in a heap
(clockwise from left) Scotty, L.D., Wink, Handsome
Relationships and Inclusion
by Mark Hamilton
There have been some significant changes in the colony of feral cats, four surviving littermates whom we had castrated and spayed, living on our property. A little more than a year ago one of the males, Stagger Lee (he had a gimpy rear leg), disappeared early in the month of September. Lee had been the social/emotional center of the colony. He was the first cat the others would greet upon returning after a hunt. He was the cat the other three wanted to be next to when they slept. He was the one who decided when the colony would depart for a day's adventures. His bad leg never deterred him; he went everywhere and did everything the rest of the colony did. After his loss his siblings spent the rest of the fall and then last winter staying close to their "home", our garage. They did not engage in any more multi-day walkabouts and their hunts were all conducted close to home.
Another change within the colony was that over the course of last winter, a large orange cat began visiting our garage. Our three ferals took no offense to the newcomer's presence, whose behavior was markedly different from that exhibited by previous stray or visitor cats. Typically stray or feral visitor cats behave like "thieves in the night" when they're here. They move with stealth, maintaining cover, trying to avoid detection by the colony and us. If the opportunity presents itself, they rush to the food bowl we put out in the garage to steal a quick meal before dashing back into the woods where they silently slip away.
But the orange cat didn't behave this way. He spent a lot of time here, out in the open, studying the others. He was careful about observing their boundaries so the colony wasn't upset by his presence. When he ate from their food bowl he did so in a calm and measured way. In short, he was deferential to the colony's territory and behaved in a non-threatening manner. Over the course of the winter the distance he had maintained from the others was slowly reduced. By spring he had been accepted by each of the three cats.
We realized the orange male had gained admission to the group, so we trapped him last spring, had him vaccinated for rabies and had him castrated. He even got bathed which eliminated his male-cat urine smell and made him even more acceptable to L.D., the only female. As he is large, long coated and orange we began calling him Scotty.
We've had the opportunity to observe the whole process from Scotty's arrival, to first contact, to tolerance, to tentative acceptance, to full inclusion. By this fall the cats were all sleeping in a big heap on a dog bed we put in the back of the dog truck when it's in the garage. Scotty is fully vested as a member of the colony.
From the very start it was Scotty's behavior that set him apart from the other stray and feral cats that occasionally come by here. Scotty had always looked for inclusion. He saw what the other cats had here and, rather than trying to take away some of it, he sought to be part of it. He invested time in building confidence between himself and the other cats, and the colony never treated him as a threat. In the past outsider cats had been run off, but Scotty was never run off, not even once. It was a remarkable display of relationship building and gaining entry.
On October 20th of this year the Qikiqtani Truth Commission presented the results of its work at the Qikiqtani Inuit Association annual general meeting. I have no way of knowing if you've read all the Commission's files yet, but the bottom line is that there was no "grand conspiracy" vis-à-vis the dogs or the Inuit themselves. In broad terms it was a catastrophic collision between cultures and plutocracy. For me it seems there are few things so injurious as suffering as a result of someone else's lack of understanding and respect of another's culture. Things could have been so much better.
Sometimes I'm a bit slow on the uptake. It was only late in this fall when it finally occurred to me that good behavior is good behavior, regardless of what species models it. Scotty's behavior in building relationships and gaining inclusion into our feral cat colony is in fact a pretty darn good example for humans as well.
No, this isn't an All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten* (or in my case, learned from my feral cats) moment for me. I'm not going to set about modeling my life on the behavior of a colony of feral cats. But I can't help but think I need to be mindful of Scotty's lesson. And I can't help but think about how events in history relating to the Inuit and their dogs might have been quite different if the parties involved at the time first had the opportunity to observe how Scotty gained the trust of and inclusion into our feral cat colony.
*All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, written by Robert Fulgham, was first published in 1990. It is now in its 15th printing.