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
Frankly Speaking: Zombies
by Sue Hamilton
September 1982. On our first trip to Churchill, Manitoba, Canada we were befriended by a wonderful Cree lady. It was our first venture into the north and it was very obvious to her (and looking back, we can see why) that we were starry-eyed "newbies" in need of a guiding hand in order for us to develop the right perspective of the region. Lilly M. said that we shouldn't be going to the (in)famous dump to see the polar bears, that polar bears were meant to be seen in their more natural state, not "on the dole seeking an easy handout".
You should know that she worked for Parks Canada and, with her colleagues, was responsible for the safety of dummies like us who scraped up the money to go to Churchill to see the bears, even if it meant the ones at the dump. I am embarrassed to admit that, yes, we did go to the dump... in a borrowed station wagon... with three bald tires.... and a back window that wouldn't roll up (not that glass would have stopped a bear)... and a car horn that didn't work... to stare at, from a distance too close to admit and amidst burning garbage, a filthy gray sow with three cubs of the year. That we couldn't afford a ride into bear country in the safety of a tundra buggy was no excuse for our stupidity and brazen arrogance. Fortunately, (according to our parents anyway) we survived to ultimately embrace Lilly's counsel, and even to convey her wisdom to others.
Lilly told us something else: "The day you stop learning is the day you die." It might have been a saying handed down to her by her grandmother or it might have been Cree philosophy, or both. This we did take to heart. Applied to the owning, breeding and working of dogs, we expect to live forever. There is always something new to be discovered about sled dogs, especially Inuit Dogs.
Mark and I have owned working sled dogs for nearly thirty years now. Having suffered through that early learning curve, we decided it would be a good idea to see if we could assist others in benefiting from our mistakes, by avoiding them - to keep them from "going to see the dump bears", as it were. (Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.). It hasn't been easy and not always successful. For a long time I believed that the failure of the counseled owner/potential owner was a reflection of the failure of the teacher (that would be me) to get a point across. My friends have more or less convinced me that is not the case. Like genetics, the ability to learn takes the combined effort of teacher and student. In an old Alaskan Malamute Club Newsletter, ISDI enthusiast Janice Dougherty gave several reasons why the teacher isn't completely responsible for the failure of his/her students:
"Why the general public does not listen to dog savvy people regarding dog management:
They think they know enough.
When a breeder/counselor/trainer advises a certain plan of action, even if that help is solicited and paid for by the client, they won't comply or alter their pre-conceived notions if there is a conflict between these notions and the assistance. Thus, when a situation becomes untenable and failure is apparent, the breeder/counselor/trainer is often the LAST person that the client will call for help/feedback/opinion/assistance. They'd rather dump the dog than admit their failure, especially to someone who "told them so".
The mythology is what they want, and cling to. Reality is more than unappreciated, it is a major disappointment, because (see item "a")."
And thus the meaning of this rant: there are a group of people out there who fail to or do not wish to or don't think there is anything left to learn. According to Lilly, they've died but haven't gone horizontal yet - Zombies.
Have I learned anything else since September 1982? I have learned to accept that others are entitled to make the same stupid mistakes I did. They have the right to ignore sound advice. They have the right to be self righteous. I have also learned that as a steward of the ISD, I have the right, the obligation to make judgment calls in the best interest of the breed. The Inuit Sled Dog International (ISDI) has made remarkable strides since its birth in 1997. Yet the Inuit Sled Dog's future is still as uncertain as ever. This is not to presume that the ISDI could affect a positive turnaround in the fortunes of the breed in such a short time or even that the ISDI should be the singular entity responsible for this. But we do have a role to play.
The ISDI's mission to preserve the ISD in its pure form and for its original purpose remains unchanged. In pursuit of this goal, the ISDI faces unique challenges. On the one hand, our group has no formal structure and no paid membership. No one who ascribes to the ISDI philosophy is asked to physically sign a code of ethics. People have come together, or have been welcomed to partake in this "loose confederation", for want of a better description, because we share the same philosophy, goals and passion for the Inuit Sled Dog and are genuinely concerned for its continued existence. But because ISDI lacks a formal structure (a characteristic that participants of the July 2001 ISDI Gathering agreed should remain unchanged), we also have no formal way expel anyone who is discovered to not share in one way or another our raison d'κtre.
Another challenge is our current inability to scientifically identify truly pure Inuit Dogs. And while we pursue this endeavor through the hard work of geneticists in North America and Europe, we not only must be extraordinarily conscientious when selecting breed stock, but also be extraordinarily careful when welcoming new folks into our sphere where they will eventually have access to genetic material for them to possibly reproduce and disseminate. We must be absolutely certain that there will be no willful compromising where the future of the pure breed is concerned and, more important, we need to feel certain that should the worst be discovered (for instance that two generations back there was contamination of what was believed to be pure stock), the correct course of action is taken. We need to be certain of this, not only of the new "members" we welcome into our circle, but of those of us already within.
Folks new to the Inuit Sled Dog who have sought more information about the breed, may have been taken aback in the nature of communication from enthusiasts, while seeking to learn more. (We're not exactly the US Marine Corps with their tough boot camp, looking for a few good men/women.) It is important for these people to understand, however, that the ISDI approach is one of caution, not suspicion. There is just so much at stake here and the price of failure is so awfully great. When an ISDI mentor talks about the difficulties of owning this breed, it is not done in order to project the impression that a newcomer is not up to the task. Even folks who are unable to put together the perfect environment for the ISD can be highly successful owners and a tremendous credit to the breed. People seeking more than just a casual curiosity about ISD ownership need to know that to a true ISDI enthusiast, the placement of every puppy or adult dog, may represent not just a sale, but a potential contribution to the future success of the Inuit Sled Dog, through expansion of the gene pool or merely by how the breed is represented to the next interested party.
Having encountered the magnificent white bear hunting for its food at the floe edge, we now understand how right Lilly was about not wanting us to see the undignified ones at the dump. Having a keen appreciation of the raw power, stamina and beauty of the working Inuit Dog, ISDI enthusiasts remain tenaciously committed to the breed's continued existence in the way we feel it should be. To meet this goal, we seek of newcomers as we should demand of ourselves not only high standards of conduct but also the willingness and open-mindedness to keep learning all we can - every day.
.... in loving memory of Lilly McAuley.