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Ghosts and Memories of Dogs Past
by Geneviève Montcombroux
It's early morning, time for kennel chores. I stand in front of a pen as a wave of nostalgia rolls over me.
There have been so many Inuit dogs in that now empty pen. They still hold a piece of my heart. I can still see Oolala, a black dog and a born clown, the one who unfailingly pooped in the bucket. Other dogs have occasionally attempted the feat but with less success. But Oolala who danced at the end of his tug line when sledding, delighted in sniffing out deer trails and flushing grouse, never missed the bucket.
A gray shadow flits in front of my eyes. Arnavik (Arnavik = good dog in Inuktitut) was a leader, a boss and a most attentive mother. She kept strict order in the pack and never tolerated another dog in front of her on the sled. She led with uncanny skill, and thanks to her we'd avoid thin ice on beaver ponds. Arnavik could at will get out of her pen, turn the doorknob and enter the house, which is what she did one winter night to wake me up when the woodstove chimney was about to catch fire. How did she know? A thousand of years of instinct about bears ran in her veins. She'd accompany me berry picking, and always reached the bushes before I did so as to eat a few berries from the lower branches while waiting for me to catch up. One day she prevented me from moving onto a side trail. When I laughed, she growled and held her ground between me and the trail. I realized at once she sensed a bear. I trusted her and beat a retreat. She followed moments later. I'm pretty sure black bears would run away rather than confront a human with a dog, but I wasn't about to test the theory.
Arnavik lived twelve years. I didn't think I'd ever find another female quite like her. But ten years ago an almost identical gray female was born to Arnavik's granddaughter. It soon became apparent that, like her ancestor, Ditmerci (Tsimmersit = the free mischievous spirit of the tundra) was a leader, a strict boss and a devoted mother. She still orders her eight-year-old "pups" around. The sturdy males meekly obey.
And then there was Cousteau (Angayuk = the brother who talks), the in-your-face black male, so strong he could pull a fully loaded sled by himself, not that he had to. He just didn't wait for the rest of his team. And talk he did! With a uniquely deep and mellow voice, which entertained me throughout the twelve years of his life. I still hear his voice. I shake myself. It can't be. But yes it is in the rambunctious six-year-old Louloup, Cousteau's great-grandson. All Cousteau's offspring share the dense black coat and black and white speckled socks. Today, somewhere on the wild arctic coast and in Nunavik, Cousteau's descendants are howling too. I wonder, do they sing with his same baritone voice?
These are just a few of the many dogs who have left us with tender memories, even if at the time they sometimes drove us crazy with their antics. They marked our lives forever with their indelible love.
Geneviève Montcombroux is a writer and a doll maker currently living with twenty-one Canadian Inuit sled dogs. Her book, The Canadian Inuit Dog: Canada's Heritage, second edition, is still available from Amazon.com or genevievemontcombroux.com