The Fan Hitch Volume 1, Number 1, July 1998

Newsletter of the Inuit Sled Dog

Table of Contents

From the Editor
Why We Got into Inuit Dogs
Know the Dog, the Land and its People
Confessions of a Malamute Breeder
Giving Credit Where it is Due
Poem: Lost and Found
IMHO: El Nino, et al.

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Editor's/Publisher's Statement
              Editor: Sue Hamilton
              Webmaster: Mark Hamilton
The Fan Hitch Website and Publications of the Inuit Sled Dog– the quarterly Journal (retired in 2018) and PostScript – are dedicated to the aboriginal landrace traditional Inuit Sled Dog as well as related Inuit culture and traditions. 

PostScript is published intermittently as material becomes available. Online access is free at:  PostScript welcomes your letters, stories, comments and The editorial staff reserves the right to edit submissions used for publication.

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Confessions of a Malamute Breeder

by Sue Hamilton

It seemed logical enough.  These Inuit Sled Dogs are the modern ancestors of the Alaskan Malamute, the breed, the only breed, we owned since 1972.  From that beginning, our principal involvement with malamutes was recreational mushing and presenting programs on responsible pet ownership.  We became deeply involved with the study of canid behavior, having kept beagle/coyote crosses and a couple of Eastern Gray Wolves, part of our state university's behavioral research program, all now long since departed.  We traveled from one end of the Canadian Arctic to the other to learn more about the roots of our breed, the people, the land and the dogs of the polar region.  We whelped several malamute litters, 11 I think, and did the dog show thing up until about 10 years ago when we finally admitted to ourselves we never enjoyed it one bit, even when we won.  In 1994, we became "born again" after our first sledge adventure, a 5 day exploration of the floe edge in the North Baffin,  behind a team of 14 Inuit Dogs, realizing these were the dogs we had wanted all along!  Sure, they  had the endurance and drive lost to our malamutes, but they couldn't be that much different, could they?

Yes they could and yes they are!  But as profound as some of those differences are, learning what they are, and how to deal with them was not THE  most important lessons we learned since returning from the Arctic in 1996 with our 3 four year olds. These dogs were taken from a working team after the end of the sledge season and what would have been just about the end of their [working] career up North, if you get my meaning.
We were just four days back from Canada with our new dogs when one of the two pregnant bitches went into whelp.  Although we didn't know when they were bred, we suspected pups would be due soon.  All of our malamute litters were born in the house, in the unfinished basement, under a heat lamp to keep the pups at the doctor recommended 85 degrees Fahrenheit.  We felt these northern mothers would not be used to the indoors and certainly not to cats, and therefore would be better off raising their pups out of doors in specially prepared dog houses.

So far, so good.  Amaruq commences to have her puppies.  We start out with a hands-off approach, as is the custom up north.  She is not even panting, despite the warm late summer weather.  She is not even restless or having contractions in between pups and barely during their actual passage into this world.  And after the third pup, much time has passed yet she continues to look "not finished" and inordinately calm.  We begin to fret.  No restlessness, no panting, no contractions, no more pups heading out.  We convinced ourselves she must be experiencing uterine inertia. The vet must be consulted!  Doses of oxytocin and calcium to stimulate contractions appears to have no effect on her.  She eventually has a pup, then another, without any apparent "warning".  There are five bitch pups suckling from the most engorged mammary glands I have ever seen on any nursing bitch!   Many hours pass since the most recent arrival.  We can tell there is probably one more left to come. More oxytocin has no effect whatsoever. I decide do call up to Amaruq's former owner for some whelping history.  Unfortunately, the phone call won't go through.  Unknown to me, the weather is bad and the dogs, confined to a fenced enclosure behind the house during the summer, have damaged some of the wires, exposing them to the elements and rendering them useless.   I phone another friend in the hamlet who agrees to go out in the driving sleet/rain, down a steep road on a three wheeler with poor front brakes, to find Amaruq's former owner. Mark has taken Amaruq to the vet for radiographs which confirm one more pup to come, intravenous oxytocin and an OB exam.  The bitch who, not 6 days ago was oblivious to the wealth of modern veterinary medicine at her disposal, was now whining from the severe, but unproductive, contractions induced by intravenous drugs.  It was late Saturday afternoon and there was a serious discussion going on between Mark and the vet about the merits of "going in" to save the last pup and when would be the best time to perform this Cesarean, now or sometime Saturday evening, after most everyone has settled down in front of their TVs.  At home the phone rings.  It is Amaruq's former owner.  I am breathless as I describe what is going on and what we have done so far.  "Leave her be!"  the voice so far away pleads. "She sometimes takes two days to whelp."  TWO DAYS.  This is unheard of down here.  This is a leap of  faith.  One we have to make.  I drive like a maniac to the vet clinic, bursting through the door, echoing the words of wisdom.  "Touch not this bitch with your scalpel.  No more drugs.  We are taking her home!"

At 7 PM that night, a healthy, vigorous and female number 6 slithered onto the newspaper "in spite of our best medical efforts to intervene on her behalf". The deliriously good news is conveyed to one mightily relieved veterinarian and Amaruq's former family.

Veterinary medicine has enabled our beloved pets to live longer, healthier, more comfortable lives.  There are vaccines against common, potentially deadly diseases.  There are treatments and agents to relieve the suffering of endocrine diseases, cancer and arthritis.  There are procedures to surgically correct defective hearts, repair ruptured vertebral disks, make nice of cosmetic defects and to save puppies that don't want to be born.  There are sophisticated test to determine the optimal time to breed.  But we now understand that veterinary medicine is a double-edged sword.  Some of the very skills and indeed the professional compassion to "do good" for our canines, can be considered responsible for ultimately doing them harm, at least for those pure breeds on whom we have bestowed the mantle of carrying on the line.  Although the veterinary profession, for whom I carry the utmost respect and admiration, should not be viewed as the only entity responsible for what some may feel to be the demise of strength and vigor of certain pure breeds, Amaruq's southern whelping experience served as a powerful wake up call for me.  While preoccupied and concerned for her and her pups' best interest, we momentarily lost sight of what might be in the best interest of the breed.

The lesson we have learned and the one we hope others learn by our example and not by their own experience is that we must never, EVER forget that what makes the Inuit Sled Dog the incredibly tough, healthy beast it is renown to be, is its ability for only the best specimens to survive in one of the most punishing environments on the planet and without the technology so many other dogs cannot live without.   I grew up and will always live in a culture that cannot stand by and watch a beloved dog suffer without putting in every effort at my disposal to restore that animal to good health, even if it is no longer able to work.  However, it is clear that I must develop a new, more stringent set of criteria in selecting ISD breed stock.  As I live in a climate that cannot begin to approach the conditions that have shaped their qualities, I must take extra special precautions to recognize those traits that  Arctic conditions would weed out, and make certain that the traits are not incorporated into the gene pool.
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