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

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Articles to download and print

Ordering Ken MacRury's Thesis

Our comprehensive list of resources

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ISDI home page

Editor's/Publisher's Statement
Editor: Sue Hamilton
Webmaster: Mark Hamilton
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The Fan Hitch, Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog.
Reality check:

                80# Canadian Inuit Dog                      20# American Eskimo Dog

Replica or the Real Deal

by Sue Hamilton

Some people don't mind owning a replica of, say, a 1963 Ferrari GTO. The rarity and the purchase price are reasons enough for being happy with a "look-alike" in the garage instead of one of the dozen or so hand assembled originals. I put quotation marks around "look-alike" because there are folks, like my husband Mark, for instance, who have the eye to recognize a fiberglass facsimile coming, going and side view. And even I think I can hear the difference between something that ought to have twenty-four humming valves and the high pitched whine of a dozen cylinders instead of the blat of eight.  But those willing to endure the knowing glances of the well informed may also have decided that, aside from scarcity and financial investment, the time, effort and dollars applied to the upkeep of the real deal may be more than one would want to put up with.  Even someone mechanically inclined may decide to seek more balance between life under the hood and well, anything else! 

Closer to home, Mark's "toy car" is a 1966 hybrid Triumph, GT-6 crossed with a rag topped Spitfire.  For lack of time, it hasn't been out and about very much over the past two years and, being a proper British car with Lucas (the "Lords of Darkness") innards, it doesn't get used when it rains anyway. Mark decided to buy this particular car partly based on its mixed heritage - he was not duty bound to period and exacting restoration. Being relatively (and I use that term with some trepidation) cheap to purchase and restore, we both mostly enjoy ripping along country lanes courtesy of the GT's six cylinders and the airiness of the Spitfire's drop top. The moral obligation of perfect reproduction, as in all original parts, is a feature we need not fret over.

Diff'rent strokes for diff'rent folks.

And so it is with the owning of sled dogs. Some mushers are mostly concerned with speed, not pure breed. Some people like the looks (such as those of the Alaskan malamute) of a real freighting dog and fancy that they have a real freighting dog or, thankfully and mercifully, they have made the conscious decision to reject the hassles associated with owning an Inuit dog. 

There are many of us who fit the description of the dog that caught the bus and who now has to deal with the quarry. For any number of reasons and circumstances, issues surrounding Inuit Dog ownership may impact some more than others. It may be an especially tough transition for those of us whose northern breed experience is basically that of the Alaskan malamute, who lost patience with their performance while growing accustomed to their less intense behavior. I know it sure has been tough sledding for us. Hell, the first time we put our Pond Inlet Dogs in harness, it occurred to us that, aside from the fact that they'd never been hitched in tandem, which turned out not a problem, they didn't know any commands in English, which did! Furthermore, dogs used to receiving some of their commands and corrections delivered from the end of a seal skin whip were going to have to learn compliance in the "southern way", lest we be sent directly to jail by someone who, well, don't get me started down THAT trail! The practical application of the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Having been mushing down the wrong trails with malamutes for twenty-five years and being the sort of people with a strong sense of history and the need to preserve heritage, we agreed we had no desire to "dumb down" the wickedly smart, eminently powerful, potentially explosive Inuit Sled Dog just to make them safe in situations we were so used to with our mals.  If we truly desired the endurance, the general good health, the courage and heart and drive of an Inuit Sled Dog, we had to commit to the entire package - the noise, the occasional fighting, the high intensity to everything, that "exaggerated response to all stimuli" (to quote Bill Carpenter). We feel there is no middle ground. You're either in for the ride of your life, or do everyone a favor and stay out or get out.

This may well mean a change from the dog-sledding lifestyle or other activities we were previously accustomed to. This revelation may come on suddenly sharp as if falling through the ice at minus twenty-five or more slowly, like the increasing throb of an ingrown toenail. However we become aware of them, these materializing changes serve as challenges, reminders, re-evaluations of our commitment to the breed. Whoops. It's the revenge of the learning curve!

I'm not just pontificating here.  A couple of Fan Hitch issues ago, I was poking fun of a friend for yelling at two of our males whom she thought were fighting when it was merely a reinforcement of their social order.  A few months ago we took those two to the vet to be castrated, with the understanding that already matured to 5.5 and 2.5 years of age, hormone removal may be too late to help put an end to what became "hair, teeth and eyes all over the place". The boys are now living apart and we hope that they can reach the point where they are civil enough in each other's presence to work in harness on the same team. So, in the meantime, we now have no spare pens and are spending time on dog activities relating to re-acclimatizing the two warriors instead of doing the fun doggie stuff. Surely more Inuit Dog surprises await us in the coming years. We can only hope we will rise to those occasions.  We must.

Living with Inuit dogs need not be like always waiting for the other shoe to drop or always looking over your shoulder or cringing every time the phone rings. Yes, they are a huge responsibility, but as successful owners will tell you, the breed is well worth the extra effort. Yeah, they're different, but they're still sled dogs. And because the breed seems relatively new to the majority of the southern world of dog sledding, organizers of sled dog events must be educated about the breed as well.  One would expect that dog sledding events are first constructed around the needs and idiosyncrasies of the dogs. No one should ever forget that without the dogs, there would be no events to hold! Not all sled dogs are created equal. Organizers have to choose whether or not they will "go with" the lowest common denominator with respect to performance or try to accommodate the inherent breed differences. This is nothing new.  The back and forth about having racing classes for pure breed dogs as well as Alaskan huskies has been bantered seemingly forever. And what about the needs of those “sled dogs” with no double coat?  The "needs" of the Inuit dog are just another wrinkle, no more no less. They have to be taken into account as well. The learning curve strikes again. 

Having said all this, I haven't heard of many people who have had ISDs that have decided to revert to a previously owned breed. Other than some folks who dump them because they are too slow to competitively race, I can think of two, one based on their needs as an outfitter, the other based on lousy judgment despite lengthy mentoring.

One of the ISDI's functions is to help introduce the breed to seriously interested inquirers and, through our mentoring system, prepare future owners for the joys and challenges of the breed. The goal is to flatten out that darned learning curve - no surprises, no unintended consequences, nobody gets hurt, no dogs get passed around and around.  This is not an easy thing, even with the best of plans and intentions. New owners must be prepared to enter into their relationships with Inuit dogs keeping romantic notions and visions of “saving the breed” well in check while maintaining eyes wide open to the real world. They must possess a determination to succeed that exceeds the determination of the dogs they plan to own.  And the rest of us ISD people have to be adaptable and well prepared for life's little adjustments, whatever they may be, resulting from owning a primitive breed in a domesticated dog society.

Be careful what you wish for.  You may get it!

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