Table of Contents
Featured Inuit Dog Owner: Ken MacRury, Part 2
Page from the Behaviour Notebook: Death and Transfiguration
The Qitdlarssuaq Chronicles, Part 4
ISDI letter to the Editor of Mushing Magazine
Inuit Dog Thesis International Sales
Update: Traveling Dog Exhibit
Product Review: The Original Zipper Rescue Kit®
Janice Howls: PETAphiles
IMHO: Means, Motive and Opportunity
Index to The Fan Hitch, Volume 5
Navigating This Site
Means, Motive and Opportunity
by Mark Hamilton
Have I ever mentioned before that at one time we had a couple of parrots? Yeah, we did. You know, to this day I don't remember a lot of forethought going into our decision to have those birds either. We originally had a dove, replaced upon its death by a cockatiel, and then all of a sudden there was a 3'x2'x5' birdcage and a pair of Eclectus parrots in our dining room. Eclectus are pretty much in the same body size range as the Amazon parrots, however they have larger beaks, much larger.
For me one of the fascinations of parrots is that, unlike other pets, they can be taught to speak our language. We endeavored to train our pair to speak a variety of words and phrases, and exercised a great deal of caution, in the form of self restraint, to prevent their picking up some of our more "salty" words and expressions. A parrot's "talking" can extend beyond just uttering a word or two. For instance, one day I was drawn into the den by an indistinguishable and unknown voice. It was Walter babbling along, imitating the sound of the voices he heard on our answering machine. On another occasion Walter had a complete conversation with us. We'd been away for a number of hours, as we opened the back door Walter called out, "Hello". Our response was something along the lines of, "Hi, Walter" to which he replied, "How are you". "Fine, thanks". Finally, as we walked into the dining room, Walter said, "Give us a kiss". All in all, it was a remarkable performance. Now keep in mind that it was exactly that, a performance. Walter had no understanding of what he'd just said, with very few exceptions that is typical for birds that "talk". He was just "parroting" the words we'd taught him, and on that particular occasion it happened that they came out in an appropriate order.
I'll admit here that on some occasions I've also been guilty of "parroting" someone else's words. I remember that early in our "Malamute years", when someone would ask me the purpose of our breeding program, I'd respond that we were trying to "improve the breed". I don't remember whose words those were, but they seemed appropriate to me when I heard them and they became my standard response. I believe the AKC has used a similar phrase to describing some breeders in the hobby, so maybe that was the source. In retrospect, I see how thoughtless that particular response was. In addition to thoughtless, I'm also willing to categorize it as meaningless, arrogant and inappropriate.
Later, when our focus shifted strictly to having working Malamutes, my stock response changed to something a little more informative, "We only have a litter when we need new dogs for our teams". Today, I'm still fairly comfortable with this response, and I really hate to admit I ever used the other one.
Why am I embarrassed about the improve-the-breed response? For me, the Alaskan Malamute is supposed to be, first and foremost, a working freight dog, the same general description we apply to the ISD. Breeders within the AKC/CKC/UKC/(you name it) model have, over the last sixty or so years, transformed it into something else. Today it is a dog capable of living in the house as the family pet, going on family excursions to the park, pulling the owners around on their mountain bikes and going into the show ring. It has been bred away from working sled dog/arctic survival characteristics so that it can serve in these new functions. The simple truth is that it had to be that way. Puppies that were not going to be used as working freight dogs had to be suitable for sale to people who would be keeping them as pets. Further, the majority of breeders were "working" their dogs in the show ring, not under survival circumstances in harness up in the arctic. Supply follows demand, and the result is today's Alaskan Malamute. The problem, to my mind, is what I just described does not constitute improving the breed. While it does represent changing the breed, change is not necessarily improvement. Does anyone remember New Coke®?
While the "Cinderella story-line" is appealing to the young and inexperienced, the truth is that the course of an individual's life is largely shaped by random events, learning and luck. Generally, somewhere along the way, one of the things each of us learns is that there are three kinds of luck: the bit that's good, the bit that's bad, and a preponderance which is mediocre. Just the same, goals, objectives and purposes are molded based by our experiences, our learning and our luck. So when someone sets out to "improve" their favorite breed of dog there is no guarantee that everyone (or anyone) else will view their actions as representing improvement. An example of this might be someone delving deeply into the genetics of coat color so that they could produce litters of blue-coated Alaskan Malamutes.
The ISD community can avoid the pitfalls our friends in the Alaskan Malamute world have discovered, by learning from what we observe. Thankfully, there is essentially no pet market clamoring for ISD puppies. Similarly, there are virtually no "show dog" venues for dogs identified as Inuit Sled Dogs. Our dogs can and should continue to be bred to the working, freighting sled dog model, and we should be assiduous about working to maintain their arctic survival characteristics.
In his F.I.D.O. interview, Ken MacRury expresses his belief that the time is coming when, in the Canadian Arctic, there will be a revival of interest in having dog teams pulled by genuine Inuit Sled Dogs. The Canadian Inuit Sled Dogs now in more southern locations in North America and Greenland Inuit Sled Dogs (found in both Greenland and parts of Europe) are the most likely sources for the dogs that would ultimately repopulate the Canadian Arctic. ISDI members have the means (we have the dogs now), the motive (we love our dogs and are constantly looking for things to do with them) and, if Ken is right, the opportunity is coming our way. It seems to me that having the dogs to help with that effort is a substantial goal. A goal we should work toward. Are we ready to accept this challenge?