Table of Contents
Featured Inuit Dog Owner: Dr. Lucien Ockovsky
The First Official ISDI Gathering
Nunavut Quest 2001 Diary
The Song of the Glacier
An Arctic "Fish Story"
Defining ISD Purity
Distemper in the North
Brucellosis in Arctic Marine Mammals: A threat to team dogs?
Poem: But, I must be dreaming, that's years ago...
Book Review: the latest Coppinger book
Janice Howls: Who Belongs in the ISDI?
Page from a Behaviour Notebook: Inuit Dog Stereotypes
Frankly Speaking: Zombies
Featured Inuit Dog Owner:
by Geneviève Montcombroux for The Fan Hitch on July 8, 2001
TFH Lucian, when did you first take an interest in dogs?
LO When I was a boy I loved to read books about polar exploration and learn about the dogs that pulled their sleds. I longed to be able to visit these remote parts of the world and see for myself the kind of life the people there lived and the dogs they used for travel and hunting.
TFH Do you remember the first dogs you had?
LO My first dog was a Russian Lajka hunting dog. He was a beautiful animal. He and I used to make long trips in the mountains during winter. Naturally, with only one dog, I didn't use a sled. Later, I acquired two young Greenland dogs from Denmark and four more from what is now the Czech Republic, so that I had a well-matched team of six. It was a lot of work training them and it really taught me how important it is to have a good lead dog. My best leader was one I raised myself from my first litter.
TFH What kind of a team do you have now?
LO I have two excellent leaders, both female, and seven males, two of which are neutered. I've been on four expeditions to East Greenland and I am convinced the dogs we have in Slovakia are more aggressive than those in Greenland.
TFH Of course, you go sledding regularly when you are at home to keep the dogs in good condition, don't you?
LO Yes, but it is not always easy. You see, our country is highly urbanized. No matter which direction I go, we have to cross roads, railroads, drainage ditches and so on. You can appreciate how much I depend on my lead dogs. If we are taking a route we've not gone before I occasionally stop the sled. The leaders turn their heads to look at me and I repeat my commands. They must understand, because when we set off again, they always take the correct trail. Once they've learnt the way, they never forget it and we rarely have problems.
TFH You have no lack of snow, I gather.
LO No, nature is kind to us in that regard. I remember one winter we had more snow than usual. It was piled high on either side of the road. My leader Asaytalik couldn't see the surrounding terrain and was getting confused. I yelled "Gee!" and she immediately leaped up the snow bank and we set off in the right direction. Once she could see around her, she recognized where she had to head. For this reason I hitch my two lead females to longer tug lines than the other dogs. Like that they are always a couple of meters out in front, with plenty of room to maneuver.
TFH Apart from roads and rail lines, what other hazards do you face? What about snowmobiles?
LO Until now, we have very few snowmobiles in Slovak Republic. But once when I was traversing a winding trail through the forest, we came across a team of horses hauling timber out of the woods. You have to realize that my Greenland dogs have a strong hunting instinct. In their natural habitat, they are used to hunt polar bear, caribou and muskox. Immediately, they started taking an interest in the horses and it took all the skill I had to keep my team under control. I don't think I'd have been very popular with the lumbermen if my dogs had attacked their team. They were probably not the kind of men who'd appreciate that to my dogs a horse is pretty much the same as a muskox. On another occasion I was sledding past a remote hunting lodge when two kopovs - Slovak hunting dogs - came rushing out to meet us. I stopped the team to try to figure out what the kopovs would do. They looked none too friendly, and since they were loose and my dogs were hitched, I knew they would have the advantage. So I shouted at my team to run. When they want to, my dogs can put on an incredible burst of speed. They must have sensed something in my voice, for they leaned into their harnesses and took of like an express train, the kopovs in hot pursuit. The kopovs caught up and snapped at my dogs, but the team didn't pay much attention. They were hell bent on running. The kopovs fell back, and when I next looked back, they were lying panting in the snow. Needless to say, I am very proud of my dogs.
TFH They certainly sound like a dream team.
LO Most of the time they are really well behaved, though they have a few annoying habits. Their worst one is if they come across frozen dog poop on the trail, or the droppings of any other animals, they slam on the breaks and devour it the way kids eat candy. It makes me really mad. I have no way of controlling that behavior.
TFH I can assure you yours is not the only team to do this. Do many mushers keep Greenland dogs in Slovakia?
LO When I got mine, I think I was the only person in the country to have Greenland dogs. Now there are two other breeders who keep them, which is good because we can exchange breeding stock and share experiences. My kennel is registered with the Fédération Canine Internationale under the name of Qimusseg.
TFH Tell us something about how you hitch your dogs.
LO I use a tandem hitch because most of the sledding trails are through treed country.
TFH You mentioned that the snow conditions are generally good.
LO I live in the southern part of the country close to the mountains. In winter the temperatures hover around minus ten degrees Celsius, though it often dips to minus twenty-five, with some forty centimeters of snow cover. These are ideal conditions for sledding and we frequently make round trips of fifty kilometers or more. Of course, in summer it is correspondingly hot, when the mercury climbs to thirty degrees Celsius above.
TFH It sounds like your dogs are an integrated part of your life.
LO They are. I am never happier than when I've finished work and I can be out with my dogs in the beautiful countryside.
TFH Lucian, thank you for telling us something about your dogs and your sledding. I am sure our other ISDI members are just dying to be able to make a trip to the Slovak Republic and come sledding with you, mad kopovs notwithstanding.