Table of Contents
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Featured Inuit Dog Owner: Tim Socha
Nunavut Quest 2001
Inuit Dogs in New Hampshire, Part I
Uummannaq: A Special Dog Sledge Expedition
Remembrances of a Spent Life: "Chimo"
Dog News from Iqaluit
The Homecoming, Part III
Fan Hitch Wins Writing Contest Recognition
Product Review: Seeing the Light
Media Review: The Last Husky
Tip for the Trail: A Do-it Yourself Alcohol Heater
IMHO: Looking Forward
Remembrances of a Spent Life.... "Chimo"
by John Umelik McGrath
When we moved to Goose Bay from Rankin Inlet in 1977, I preceded my wife Judy by a few months and left her to pack the baggage and look after various other unfinished business. One of these was the packing up and shipping of our sled dogs. I had become involved with these animals through an association with Bill Carpenter, who owned a veterinary clinic in Yellowknife. I knew little about sled dogs and, as I had been created President of The Canadian Eskimo Dog Association as part of Bills plan to save the Eskimo Dog [ed. note: as it was then called], I thought I should at least pay lip service to the position by keeping a few dogs and occasionally running them.
The first lead dog I had was an unmanageable Inuit dog named Chimo, from Cambridge Bay, which I brought with me from Rankin Inlet. I kept him in a pen near the house with the other dogs whom he bullied unmercifully. He was particularly hard on his own pups who had grown into strong young dogs. One night I went out to the pen when there was an exceptionally loud brouhaha coming from there and he had the pups cowering in fear from him - the very image of a boss dog. To quiet things down a little I chained him inside the pen. The next morning I went out to see the dogs and found Chimo hunched in a ball in the corner looking up at me and wagging his tail, but unable to move. I unchained him and uncoiled him to find that the skin on his right hind leg had been stripped off and was hanging down to his ankle. He had been attacked by his pups and had been unable to defend himself because of the chain on his neck.
There was a German lady in Happy Valley who ran a unofficial dog clinic as there was no vet living there and, even though I knew it to be useless, I went to see her. She shared my bleak diagnosis and I took Chimo back to the house. I dug a hole about 100 yards from the house and brought Chimo out and with my son Sean's help made him as comfortable as possible in the hole. I then shot him with a small .25 caliber pistol, to put him out of his pain. And mine. Then both Sean and I cried.
With the loss of Chimo, I decided that if I was going to run dogs I would do it right, so I wrote Harris Dunlop who was arguably the most knowledgeable dog musher in the world, and lived in the hills in upstate New York. In winter he would move his dogs by truck on a crushingly difficult circuit through northern Canada and Alaska. For at least one year he was World Champion dog musher, a title gained by a complex Grand Prix-type of scoring based upon races run and points accumulated.
Harris invited me to visit his dog ranch and the next time I was in Ottawa on government business I took some time off, rented a car and drove to Bakers Mills, New York to find him. Bakers Mills is a small community high in the hills of northern New York state, and well off the beaten track. Harris' ranch was at the end of a dirt road, which I found by stopping at likely houses and asking directions. As I neared his property, I could hear the familiar cry of the northern nightingale howling dogs. Harris and his wife were at home and greeted me graciously and we sat down to talk dogs.
For me to attempt to talk dogs with Harris Dunlap would be somewhat like me talking jazz with Barney Kessel or fishing with Lee Wolff (both of which I had done). I was so out of my depth that all I could do was smile admiringly and say " Uh Uh " every once in a while. All that evening and the next day (I was invited to stay overnight and gladly accepted) I listened while Harris took me on his rounds where, without reference to any sort of card or aide-memoire, he told me the genealogy of about one hundred and fifty breeding dogs which were chained up adjacent to fiberglass doghouses. He took me around and displayed and described the unique equipment he had developed for training and exercising the dogs and sheds for keeping the sleds and training carts which he used when there was no snow. He also had an extensive library of dog related stuff which he would delve into every once in a while to prove or make a point.
I broached the subject of my need for a lead dog and asked him what he could do for me. He said he would think it over and let me know in the morning. The rest of the evening passed in a pleasant buzz of conversation, and next morning he introduced me to Jasper. Jasper was an Alaskan village dog of uncertain background. He was smaller and sleeker than the Eskimo dogs I was used to and very shy. In all the time I had him I don't think I ever heard him howl or bark. When I approached him he shied away as though he expected to be slapped or beaten, although Harris had assured me that this was not so. He had been owned previously by a lady who had returned him to Harris for some reason which I do not recall. He asked me if I wanted to try him out, but I told him that his reputation was enough for me. I preferred to be seen as a sucker than as a doggy ignoramus. The price gave me pause for a moment, but I decided that it was either this or get out of the dog business, so I reached for the credit card and did it. I never regretted the purchase.
On my return to Goose Bay with Jasper, I chained him out with the other dogs and he immediately slipped the collar and dashed off into the woods. I stared stunned as I saw the tailed of my proud new purchase disappear over the fence. I spread the word around town and a couple of days later I had a call from Mud Lake, a small village about ten kilometers from Happy Valley, that my dog had wandered into their dump and would I care to have him back. I would. This time I took the collar in a couple of notches and left him with the others to become bonded to the kennel area, which he did in a couple of days.
Although not the largest of my dogs, he quickly established dominance over the others. His system was simple. If he had a problem with any of the dogs, he would grab the dog by the base of the ear and hold on until the other dog gave up. Then he would slowly release his grip. A couple of lessons like this and he never had any trouble with the other dogs again . They would still fight amongst themselves but they would avoid Jasper and he would pretend they did not exist. It would be difficult to describe the difference that Jasper made to my career as a dog driver to people unfamiliar with dogs. He responded to my commands with an alacrity and diligence that was nothing short of awe-inspiring, especially after the experiences with Chimo. On one occasion, I ran fifteen dogs and he kept them all in line and on course. It was at that time that I thought I was beginning to know something about dog driving, and I learned it all from Jasper, the Alaskan mongrel. A couple of years later as my kids started to leave home, I decided that my dog time was over and I distributed my dogs to interested Labrador dog drivers. I never sold dogs and Jasper was the only one I ever paid for. I was talking to Bill Carpenter in Yellowknife and he told me of a pal of his who was looking for a leader for recreational running and I thought that Jasper would fill the bill. He did and very well. I saw Jasper again when I was passing through Yellowknife on my way north to my new job in Cambridge Bay.