Table of Contents
The Bigger Picture
Featured Inuit Dog Owner:
On Thin Ice
Of Dogs and Men
Poem: Brave Little Heart
Fan Hitch Contributor Receives Writing Award
The Thule 2000
In My Humble Opinion:
The Nunavut Quest 2000
Ihe ISDVMA Meeting
How did you find yourself in Iqaluit? Did you intend to stay as long as you have?
I grew up in Northern Ontario and always loved winters. We never had pets in my house but my mother did go to school by dog team and my uncle had a team of dogs he used on his trap line. So I remember growing up hearing about sled dogs. As a child in school, I recall watching the National Film Board [of Canada] documentaries and being fascinated about the arctic and the Inuit: the lifestyle, the winter, the dogs, the traveling. My career is in outdoor education. I’ve always worked with people in the outdoors. When I began leading winter trips I came in contact with dogs. I worked with a number of Siberians, malamutes and mixed breeds, while I was with Outward Bound in Northern Ontario, although I was not as interested in the dogs as I was in the travel activities. Around 1980, the fellow in charge of the dog program purchased some Canadian Inuit Dogs from Churchill. As I always had an interest in the Arctic, I became fascinated with this particular breed. Then my partner Matty went to Baffin Island to do a ski trip with dog team support. She fell in love with the arctic and when she came back from her journey she suggested we move up there. Matty and I went to Baffin Island a couple of times and traveled around with dogs. The region looked like it had some potential for us with tourism and we thought we’d enjoy living there and enjoy the whole cultural experience. We purchased some ISDs from an outpost camp and began building our own team. We put together an expedition to circumnavigate Baffin Island. It took 4 months. Part of the expedition involved interviewing elders in the communities where we traveled regarding their life and their relationship with the Inuit dog. The information we collected gave us incredible insight into the breed and the relationship between the Inuit dog and the Inuit people. After that adventure, we moved to Iqaluit in 1990.
How many dogs do you typically keep?
Right now we have 40 dogs. The number of dogs we keep is completely dictated by our business. In our peak months of March, April and May, we could use more dogs. Matty and I, with the help of our two teenage children look after the dogs and guide all of our trips. At times there are some Iqaluit residents who are keen to learn how to run dogs and will help us out.
Of the 40 dogs, how many are males/females?
We have 3 breeding females and 1 neutered female. We also castrate male dogs. We have 8 castrated males. We find that it makes them less aggressive and they are also able to maintain their weight better on long expeditions.
Is this the way you practice population control?
No, it has to with pulling power. Males are 20-25% heavier, bigger and therefore they contribute more pulling power. That’s why we have as many males as we do. We need power!
What does it take to feed your dogs? How much time do you put into this activity?
I fed the dogs today and it took me 30 minutes to distribute 80 pounds of dog food. We buy frozen meat in 40 pound blocks from Montreal. We use about 20,000 pounds a year. The food comes up on the sea lift cargo ship in early October. We prefer a mix of beef, seal, pork liver and chicken fat. We also feed kibble, which we get from Pet Product Plus in Montana. We use Endurance, Excel (30% protein/20% fat). They also make a special formula for us with a higher fat content (28%). We generally feed meat one day, nothing the next day, then kibble the third day, and then we repeat that cycle. When we’re on expeditions, we feed the dogs every day. They get one and three-quarter pounds of kibble with a quarter pound of lard. In the summer months (July and August), we feed the dogs kibble twice a week.
So you don’t go out and hunt food?
No. We used to buy seal and walrus, but it ended up being more expensive and time consuming to butcher and put up than what we’re doing now.
Your sledding equipment, what man-made materials do you use?
We use Inuit style sleds (qomatiq). I make all the sleds. We use plastic on the bottom of the runners. Matty makes the collars, harnesses, traces, whips, etc. All are made of synthetic material (nylon). Patterns are adapted from Inuit designs. We do have a set of sealskin harnesses and traces, which we use once in a while for the fun of it.
Any secret you have for fitting harnesses? Which measurements are important?
A tight fit over the head and very close on the sternum. It needs to fit fairly tight around the neck so that it is right on the dog’s chest and doesn’t interfere with the movement of the legs. The Inuit Dogs, especially up here, have such thick coats that we seldom have a problem with chafing.
At what age do you start dogs in harness? How long is your running season?
We’ll start running puppies at around 6 months. They can pull at that age. The best time for us to have a litter of pups is in April so they can grow up through the summer when it’s warmer. We’ll start running them in September when we begin exercising the big dogs. At this time the big dogs are kind of fat and slow and the pace is not so quick. Since we are running with a wheeled cart and on roads, we use a tandem hitch and this makes it easier for the puppies to stay in place. When we move over to the sled and the fan hitch, we sometimes do a short section of tandem lines between the sled and the fan hitch where we hook up the pups. We’ll run them this way for about a month until we feel the puppies have it figured out. After that they go in with the pack on their own trace. So, if we have puppies born in April, by the time we begin our winter trips in February, they’re ready to go out on the 5 and 7 day excursions. By the time they are a year old they may have done anywhere between 500 and 1000 kilometers.
We start running the dogs in early September on the roads (put in by the military a long time ago) using a 4-wheel dune buggy, which drags 3 or 4 tires behind it. On the roads we run the dogs in tandem and then switch to the fan hitch once we run on snow. The dogs have no problem whatsoever going from one style hitch to another. We start running the dogs on snow at the end of October and go through late June. The month of June we run only on the sea ice of Frobisher Bay.
At what age do you retire dogs?
It depends on the dog. Generally we try to use them for as long as we can. The prime age is between 3 and 7 years. Because we run a long winter program, and expect our dogs to work hard, by the time they’re 8, they’re showing signs of slowing down. If we can find a home for a dog whose slowing down, we will get rid of it. They’ve still got more pulling years in them, especially for recreational teams where they only go out a couple of times on the weekend.
What do you feel are some of the fundamentatal differences between keeping ISDs above the tree line as compared to below?
Well, I’ve done both. I had Inuit Dogs in Northern Ontario before moving to the Arctic. The Arctic is their environment. This is their home, and they belong here. They rise to their full potential in the Arctic, whether crossing leads [the cracks in the sea ice], running in a blizzard, warning you of approaching polar bears or being warm in -40C temperatures. This is their home. They are happy, they are in their element here. Being able to run them spread out in a fan hitch in a wide-open area is very rewarding for the dogs and for me.
The folks I know below the tree line who are serious recreational mushers and who put many miles on their dogs have also come to appreciate how much better the ISD is as a freighting dog than, say, the Alaskan Malamute.
There is an increasing demand from “southerners” who want to purchase Inuit Dogs. Southern mushers are finding out that the Inuit dog is a real freighting dog that can pull very heavy loads, maybe not very fast, but they will pull all day.
We understand that Iqaluit is in the process of formulating new dog laws. How do you expect this to impact on those of you who keep teams?
The town has not yet come out with the final word on the by-laws. We’re still in the midst of the issue. I’m not sure what the impact will be. Unfortunately it has become a bit of a cultural issue. The Inuit want to keep the dogs in and around the town and the white people would like them moved away. As Iqaluit grows it is attracting more white people who come from a different background. There is increasing pressure to define what Iqaluit is going to look like in the future. The dog issue is just one of many issues to be addressed in this regard, snowmobiles in town is another. Presently our dogs are about 300 meters from our house, staked out in the tidal ice.
So most teams are kept on a picket line. What happens when you have a bitch in heat? Are you afraid a roaming dog will breed her?
No. Pens are used to prevent bitches in heat from accidental breedings.
Is maintaining the genetic purity as well as the genetic diversity of the pure Inuit dog a problem in the north?
It was in the past. Before 50-70 years ago, there were no other dogs other than the Inuit Dog in the north so the Inuit didn’t have to pen their females in heat. When southern people moved to the north, some brought their pet dogs which were of different breeds. These inter-bred with the Inuit Dogs. Today there is a much more concerted effort to control breeding so there is a resurgence of pure bred Inuit Dogs.
I spoke with Lee Narroway, writer and former sled dog racer form southern Canada, who did a story on the “Baffin Quest”, the first “race” using traditional fan hitch teams. She expressed concern to me that, in the desire to win, dogs may be bred just for the race and, even if maintained pure, may be selected for traits that would give their owners a winning advantage, thus changing the breed. What do you think?
It depends on how they continue to organize the event. If the dogs are required to pull a lot of weight, then a strong freight dog will continue to be needed.
What are the challenges of keeping dogs in a place with no veterinary service?
None. The dogs are healthy and if fed properly, well exercised and treated with respect and discipline, they will live a healthy life. They look after their own little wounds from the occasional dogfight. So we don’t need a vet. We vaccinate the dogs ourselves. Every once in a while we’ll have an accident where a dog may get run over or get hit by a sled and break a leg, and then we’ll have to put it down. There’s not much else you can do, as this is a working dog.
Do the dogs suffer from biting insects?
There are not that many bugs up here and there is usually a good wind blowing to keep away what bugs there are. So this is not a problem for us and we don’t do anything about it.
Tell us about your upcoming expedition, retracing Peary’s route to the north pole. Why are you doing this?
To put it simply, I love traveling with dogs in the Arctic. That is why I live up here. I’m very fortunate to have been able to have my passion also be my livelihood. I spend my winter taking guests out on dog sledding trips. In 1990 I circumnavigated Baffin Island and in 1998 I went to the Magnetic Pole. So obviously the North Pole is next. But there is more than just going the Pole. I will retrace the route Commander Peary took in 1909. His claim on the Pole has always been contested, especially the distances he claims to have covered on his final dash above the 88 degree of latitude. If we are successful, or come close to repeating what Peary did, I think it is going to shed light on Peary’s claim. It will also bring more glory to the Inuit Dog.
Are you going to be supported along the way or will this be unsupported?
We will have one or two support drops. Peary had 5 parties of 3 to 4 men, each with their own dog team supporting him to 88 degrees.
I am going with my good friend and expert dog driver, Paul Crowley. We leave March 1st from northern Ellesmere Island. We will each drive a team of 6 or 7 dogs. Our sleds will weigh about 500 pounds each. We hope to reach the Pole by April 6th; the same date Peary made it there. You can follow our expedition progress at: <http://www.northwinds-arctic.com>
We’re about at the end of my list of interview questions. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Yesterday Matty and I took 1500 pounds of supplies, divided between two sleds with 14 dogs pulling each sled, to our cabin across Frobisher Bay, traveling over 20 miles of rough sea ice each way. The temperature was below -30C with a 40 kilometer per hour wind blowing steadily all day. The teams were pulling side by side, urging each other on, and setting a fast pace. What a day! Days like yesterday remind me of the true nature and purpose of the Inuit Dog.