Table of Contents
Featured Inuit Dog Owner: Ove Nygaard
An Amazing Lead Dog: The Story of Tatra
A Mystic Reunion
Katan, the Greenland Pup
Oregon Dune Musher's Mail Run
High Arctic Mushing: Part II
Bibliography: Inuit Sled Dog Research
Video Review: Atanarjuat, The Fast Runner
Book Review: To a Lonely Land I Know
Running with the team Ockovsky photo
Katan of the Tinitegilaarg Settlement
by Lucien Ockovsky, Poprad, Slovak Republic
One evening in Tinitegilaarg after a long day on the trail, during my memorable dog sled expedition across the vastness that is Greenland, I watched the dogs belonging to my guide Tobias curl up in the snow, their tails over their muzzles. Above, the sight of the jagged mountains rising above the frozen landscape, and the light dancing on the glaciers filled me with a Thoreau-like peace and a contentment with my surroundings. I was amused by a little black pup adorned with a symmetrical silver star on his forehead, who came and sniffed at my boots before returning to the protection of two adult dogs.
On the last morning of the trip, we harnessed the dogs to make an early start down to the pack ice which would take us across to Tasiilag on Ammassalik Island, where I was to catch my plane home. Off in the distance icebergs cluttered the beautiful Sermilik Fjord, and beyond it, the craggy coastline rose in snow-covered majesty. I stopped to take a final few photographs before leaving this awe-inspiring place.
Overarching everything lay the enormous Greenland icecap, a frozen desert devoid of even the simplest life forms. In the middle distance, my camera lens captured a black speck against the shimmering white of snow and ice. I squinted to determine what was following in our sled tracks and saw the black pup I had played with the previous evening and remembered my concern when I had observed children playing with it, for youngsters can, unwittingly, be cruel to animals.
The pup caught up with us as we rested. He frisked from dog to dog, wagging a greeting and teasing them as if to say, "Hey, I'm loose and you're not!" When the team set off again, the pup took a position along side the lead dogs, bending with them as they leaned into their load. Gallantly, he kept up with us until we reached the top of the ridge and prepared to descend the glacier. There we halted to allow Tobias to bind the sled runners with nylon rope to serve as a brake. When we set off, the pup sat and watched us go. Somehow, he must have known his short legs could not keep up with us on the rapid descent. When I next looked back, he had disappeared. I imagined him plodding wearily back to the settlement, dreaming of someday being big enough to help haul a heavy sled. In the mean time, the children would hitch him to a puppy sled and he would take them for rides.
The exhilarating roller coaster ride to the foot of the glacier ended in a short, level section of terrain that immediately rose to another rock ridge. I dismounted so as not to damage the sled runners. To my surprise, as I did so, I discovered the black pup almost underfoot. How he had managed to keep up with us over that long sweep down the glacier I will never know. But there he was, smiling up at me, pink tongue lolling. I patted the pup's glossy head and ran a finger tip over his white star. Happy to be back with the big dogs, the pup went and stretched out on the snow. I asked Tobias if he knew whose pup it was. He gave me an understanding look, smiled and shook his head.
The pup had kept up with us for half the journey, and I wondered if he had the stamina to cover the long downhill portion that remained. We set off, I riding up front and Tobias at the back braking the sled. On one brutally steep section, the sled shot over a snow cliff. I was catapulted into a deep drift. When I fought myself upright, I saw no sign of Tobias, only the sled overturned and heard the whining of dogs coming from underneath it. I struggled to right it and free the trapped dogs. I looked up and saw a grinning Tobias standing on a snow ledge above me. At his feet, the black up looked down at me with a sparkle of amusement in his dark eyes.
"Tobias, what is 'black' in your language?"
"I think I'll name this little fella 'Katan'". I called and the pup came to me. He licked my face with his wet tongue.
Young Katan maintained a grueling pace for the rest of the four-hour journey down to King Oscar Sound and the settlement of Tasiilag. Near the end, we passed another musher. Katan, running loose, found himself on the other side of the strange team. I shouted, "Katan", but the pup had too much respect for the unknown dogs to come to me. The musher used his walrus hide whip to bunch his dogs together to allow Katan to regain the security of his "own" team.
On our arrival in Tasiilag, the dogs and Katan got a well-deserved rest. I had three hours before my plane left. I went to the police station and asked them to locate Katan's owner and give him a sum of money in payment. My friend John gave me a kennel crate and offered to take care of the vaccinations and transport to the airport.
Back with the team, I watched Katan lick the ice off his black paws to the amusement of a group of admiring children. Disappointment came in the form of a message from an airline official. My flight was to take me via Iceland and that country prohibits the import of animals, even in transit. The only way I could take Katan home with me was on a direct international flight, and the next one was in four days time. Impossible. With leaden heart I relinquished Katan and asked Tobias to take care of him and give him a place on his team when the pup was big enough.
My final image of Katan was when my friends gave me a ride to the airport and I looked back to see the inky-black pup with his white star taking a drink from a downpipe.
"Katan, my dear little Katan, I hate to leave you, but at least you will have a good master."
I shook hands with Tobias, exchanged addresses, and knew that I had made a good friend.