In This Issue....In the News: Must-visit Websites
BAS Vignette: Memories of a Non-Doggy Man
"For a successful technology, reality must take precedence
over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled."
Richard P. Feynman (1918-1988)
American Nobel Laureate (Physics, 1965)
"Patron Saint" of Tuva
Those of you who insist on blaming humankind for climate change need look no further. The buck stops right here. We figure the warm up began the winter of 1996/1997 because in late August of '96 we returned from Pond Inlet with our first three Inuit Dogs, plus the sixteen pups carried internally by two of those dogs. (Prior to their arrival, we had only Alaskan Malamutes.) Yep, our new reality meant no more non-stop winter sledding conditions. We used to take for granted that we could run the dogs any and every weekend we wanted to (back then we were working stiffs and could only mush on weekends). But that all changed, and even now that we've been retired since 2002 and can run dogs on our favorite trails on weekdays (leaving the crowded weekend trails to the hikers and cross country skiers and their loose dogs), the extra days haven't necessarily provided us with more opportunity to mush. Either it's too warm and humid, too much snow for the cart but not enough snow for the sled or too icy – conditions not even marginal. Oh, we've had some memorable adventures on the trail, that's for sure. But these past twelve running seasons have been even more memorable for all the curve balls Mother Nature has thrown at us. This is our new realty and we’ve had to learn to adapt, to grab every opportunity offered to us and be thankful for it.
In the Canadian North, when it comes to dog team travel, for example, working with, around and sometimes in spite of the weather is hardly anything new. Inuit have been doing that for millennia. Part of their survival success story has been a superb adaptability to both harsh climate and, more recently over the past century, to social, political and economic changes. Just as my new reality means being retired and having more time to spend with my dogs – no complaints there, although not as much mushing as I would like – the new reality of the North is that very few Inuit still exclusively practice the hunter-gatherer lifestyle of their ancestors. And some Inuit elders have been heard to say that today's Inuit Dog is not the same as their ancestors' dogs that were worked hard almost every day doing what the dogs evolved to do over the previous four thousand years. This change in usage, along with a precipitous crash in the population of the traditional Inuit Sled Dog, the unabated influx of non-indigenous breeds contaminating indigenous working dogs with foreign genes and diseases, has created a new reality for today’s Inuit Sled Dogs and for those who seek to preserve them.
The way I see it, the elders' perceived change in their primitive breed has certainly not resulted in the same alteration commonly acknowledged in more domestic breeds that can no longer perform useful and essential work, although their fanciers seem to think or pretend they still do. Their reality is a focus on breeding programs based on written standards – not by actually proving how well the dogs' original jobs can still be accomplished – dog show awards and promoting dogs as pets.
While the reality of some breeds seems to be a reliance on two pieces of paper, one bearing a multigenerational pedigree and the other a registration number, to proclaim itself pure, the ISD as aboriginal dog of the North is without doubt still subject to the same forces of nature their ancestors faced, which favorably influence performance and all the other qualities that distinguish this breed. This, along with proper phenotype selection by their breeders, will keep the breed's identity properly defined as the true traditional working Inuit Sled Dog. As the proverb goes "The proof of the pudding is in the eating. True value or quality of something can only be judged when it is put to use or tried and tested." The daily life and death struggle to survive has been replaced with the new reality of being used less as a means of hunting and gathering and now more for recreation, tourism and harvesting country food as a preferred taste over southern protein sources purchased at great expense from the co-op or Northern Store. However, this has surely not doomed the Inuit Dog to the same status of those other aforementioned breeds.
The challenge of the northern ISD owners' new reality is to have an even keener, more critical eye for the identification and selection of dogs that possess and reproduce both correct phenotype and superior function (the total package, not just the ability to pull). This extra diligence will help the new reality compensate for the change from the old reality. Such a breeding program would not be too dissimilar from what Carpenter and McGrath undertook in the 1970s with the their recovery project.
Meeting this challenge will assure the future of the traditional Inuit Sled Dog in the circumpolar North.
Smooth ice and narrow leads.