The Fan Hitch Volume 4, Number 3, May 2002

Newsletter of the Inuit Sled Dog

Table of Contents

Featured Inuit Dog Owner: Chuck Weiss
Research Paper 1: Survey of Diseases and Accidents
When to Start Working Dogs
A Day in the Woods
Future or Death
Reality Check: Reproduction or the Real Deal
Behaviour: Qiniliq Learns His Place
High Arctic Mushing: Part III
Book Review: Igloo Dwellers Were My Church
Janice Howls: All Along the Watch Tower
IMHO: Friends and Allies

Navigating This Site

Index of articles by subject

Index of back issues by volume number

Search The Fan Hitch

Articles to download and print

Ordering Ken MacRury's Thesis

Our comprehensive list of resources

Talk to The Fan Hitch

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ISDI home page

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. 

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 The future                                                                Montcombroux photo

The Future or the Demise of the ISD?

by Geneviève Montcombroux

As I watch my young dogs playing and older ones lounging in the sunshine, I'm overcome with a certain anguish tinged with sadness. How long will the Inuit Sled Dog survive as a breed? Or am I looking at some of the last pure specimens?

Why should it be so important that a breed be kept pure? The simple answer is that the breed's defining characteristics become lost when it is contaminated. A purebred dog will react and behave in a predictable manner. It has been studied and observed and we know what to expect. Its health, strengths, and weaknesses are known and recorded. This cannot be said for a crossbred animal.

Who then is committed to preserving the purebred ISD? Everyone, since all ISDI members support this goal. One might, therefore, assume that the breed's future is secure. But is it? How many of us are systematically breeding in order to disperse the gene pool? It may be overly dramatic to suggest that the future of the ISD is threatened with a slow death. To breed for one's own team is convenient but what does that do to keep the ISD's strength in numbers? Small groups of pure specimens will eventually create what we might call a genetic bottleneck, where the gene pool is fragmented into isolated small groups. Inbreeding will begin. If this happens, the breed will take a step backward. We need breeders committed to the task of developing the breed and spreading its genetic potential.

How can this be accomplished? One can begin with a database of the available dogs. This is already in place and is updated regularly. 

Another step is education and promotion of the breed in order to interest new mushers. Some ISDI members are already taking part in presentations at fairs, winter festivals, dog events and schools. Others have a business based on the ISD. This is good but we must ask ourselves if it is enough. It may take a hundred demonstrations to convert one person to the ISD. 

Every owner should make a point of spreading the knowledge about the Inuit sled dog by offering it, not waiting to be asked. And finally, members have to make the commitment to breed and judiciously place the dogs. While I recognize that not everyone's situation permits the establishment of a breeding program, others ought to get out of their comfortable rut and help the breed.

For my own modest contribution, I've acquired distinct lines with the intention of reinforcing the existing gene pool. When these dogs are bred, it is in the hope that they will in turn be bred not just to add a few dogs to a musher's kennel but to be placed with others who will also breed. And when a musher accepts the commitment of breeding he or she ought to consult the database for the most sound mating.

If all the pups are placed in a small recreational team or as individual skijoring/hiking companions, it spells the end of the line, especially since they are often spayed or neutered in such an environment. At least half of every litter should be destined for breeders. 

Where can it take place? Eyes turn to the Canadian North. Surely this is the place where the breed can be maintained? In the origins, there were more ISDs than people in the Arctic. The dog was indispensable. It no longer is. Inuit life has changed so completely that the old practices and values have been largely forgotten. 

With the emergence of Nunavut Territory, a renewal of pride has swept through the North, though one wonders how deep this is. The cultural society website of the Inuit Tapirisat Katamani makes scarcely a mention of the dogs! It tells of life, of culture and traditions, but makes only a passing reference to the dogs that were so essential to their traditional lives. As for transport, it shows a picture of an ATV and states "Some Inuit travelled by dog team and others travelled by ATV and snowmobile." This is the one and only reference to the role of the dogs. 

For a while, my hopes were raised when I saw the interest among the Inuit, particularly young people, in the Nunavut Quest and the Nunavik races. However, the prevalent attitude is that any dog will do as long as it can pull, and the faster the better. Since the pure ISD is definitely a freighter dog, and therefore on the slow side, crossbreeds are going to win. As we have seen happen in other races, the Inuit will deliberately introduce the faster Alaskan Husky and breed it with the ISD, until the time when they will dispense altogether with the ISD. 

Years ago, I knew mushers who were enthusiastic about the ISD and were going to enter long distance races, especially the tough ones where a freighter should have had the advantage. They lasted two seasons and I helped place their ISD teams when they switched to Alaskan Huskies. 

The older Inuit who are still keeping a team are not fussy about the breeding habits of their dogs. If all their dogs are pure, they are happy. If a stray breeds a female and the offspring are good workers, they are just as happy. 

Nunavut may have adopted the qimmiq as a symbol and proudly call it the Canadian Inuit Dog. But for most Inuit a qimmiq is merely a "husky" - a sled dog, any dog. The future of the breed in the North rests in the hands of a very few dedicated Inuit, like the one who is an ISDI member, and other northerners - people who leave the North when their careers take them elsewhere. 

In the non-arctic regions of North America there is a great interest in recreational mushing and other activities with sled dogs. There is a potential market for the ISD providing we promote the ISD more aggressively. In other countries with ISDI members, the numbers are small and they face the same problems as the southern regions of North America. Only Greenland has a large enough reservoir of pure ISDs, since the government has put rules and regulations in place to prevent the importation of other breeds above the 60th parallel. It also encourages the Inuit to live a more traditional lifestyle.

One other area of importance is to expand our scientific knowledge of the breed. We have already made a start through DNA research, but without significant funds and the reliance on the unpaid services of enthusiastic experts, this endeavor is likely to be slow in yielding results.

What is the true role of the Inuit Sled Dog International in all this? The mission statement of the Inuit Sled Dog International reads: "The ISDI has for its goal the preservation of this ancient arctic breed in its purest form as a working dog." Preservation here does not mean the same as preserving specimens in a jar of formaldehyde. It means preserving the breed through expansion and development. This brings me back to the belief that we cannot preserve without a concerted breeding program. Either we try to fulfill this mission statement or we change it to meet the reality. In my heart I pray that we can change the reality to meet the mission statement.

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