The Fan Hitch Volume 6, Number 1, December 2003

Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog

Table of Contents

Editorial: What's in a Name?
Fan Mail
Breaking Away: The Liberation of Ove Nygaard
What is the ISDI and the ISD?
A Holiday Miracle
Of Sheep and Sled Dogs
News Briefs
Qamutiit and How They're Loaded
The Truth Behind the Madrid Protocol
Media Review: Globe Trekker - Iceland and Greenland
Product Review: Ryobi TrimmerPlus®
Tip for the Trail: Bitches in Season
IMHO: Super Cars and Inuit Dogs

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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. 

PostScript is published intermittently as material becomes available. Online access is free at:  PostScript welcomes your letters, stories, comments and The editorial staff reserves the right to edit submissions used for publication.

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                                                                                Hamilton photo

Of Sheep and Sled Dogs

by Sue Hamilton

While wandering around the Scottish Highlands this past October, we had the pleasure of visiting a sheep farm and sheep dog training facility. The dogs owned by this shepherd were border collies - and not the neurotic, frenetic, hyperactive and out-of-control pet kind we sometimes hear about. These were real workin' dogs!  We had seen some video clips of sheep dog trials and demonstrations on TV, but watching these dogs up close and in person, being able to study all the nuances of their body language and the visual interactions between them and their flocks (not just sheep, but also a couple of Indian Runner "demonstrator" ducks)...well, it was simply an astounding performance; the ultimate example of predator and prey interactions modified to the needs of humans so that no blood was shed, yet sheep kept in fields and 3000-foot nearly vertical pastures could be managed "remotely" by the shepherd at the base of the mountains giving commands by whistle, hand signals and body gestures. 

The shepherd we were watching this day, a man who appeared to be in his late thirties, had seventeen of the black and white dogs, ranging in age from somewhere over ten-years-old to twelve and a half and six and a half-week-old puppies. Each dog had its own set of audible signals for the same commands so the dogs could be directed in their work as a group effort. Yet the dogs' instinct to herd was as ingrained and as basic as the beating of their hearts - even in the wee six and a half-week-old pup who, with a fierce and determined stare, crouched alone in front of the sheep-filled pen keeping his charges in place while the adults were released to go off on a break. Part of the demonstration included the twelve and a half -week-old pups herding the ducks between sets of overturned buckets, first waddling in pairs and then, with the buckets nearly touching, in single file into their wire pen. 

Our guide for our Highland tour had mentioned that the region supported foxes and some birds of prey and so I was wondering if and how the dogs were able to deal with them. So I asked the shepherd what was the most significant sheep predator of concern to him. His response, delivered without a moment's hesitation, caught his audience of about a dozen spectators by surprise. "The government," he said with a scowl on his face. I must have pushed one of his hot buttons, because with scarcely a pause, he proceeded to explain how there used to be some 60,000 sheep in the area and only about one-tenth of that remained; that sixty shepherds once managed the herds and the dogs, but now there were only three - and two of them were over sixty years-old. He described how someone who happened to see a sheep eating a flowering plant was so outraged that a complaint was made to a government agency who then banned sheep grazing from certain areas. The shepherd described the consequences of that decree - the grasses, previously kept well in check by the sheep, had quickly overgrown and choked out all the flowering plants. The decision makers failed to take into consideration the fact that the occasional flowering plant was worth the sacrifice in order for the sheep to keep the overall balance of the local flora. They, the sheep, an important part of the ecosystem, were being cut out of the picture. The shepherd went on to describe how big businesses, which had some control over vast tracts of land, were willingly accepting money from the government not to graze sheep. He also cited as an example of government's lack of support the Basque shepherds in Spain who had been directed to keep their flocks off the well established sheep trails because tourist hill trekkers were getting the soles of their shoes contaminated with sheep droppings, a possible source of E. coli contamination. With Highland hill climbing a very popular and alluring activity, this Scottish shepherd feared the same would soon happen in his country as well. 

Clearly the shepherd had a biased point of view. However, as we left the farm, the government's conduct was confirmed by our Scottish guide. My astonishment turned quickly into frustration and anger. In a region where items of Scottish wool were prominently available at every tourist venue and where haggis (made in part from the organs and intestines of sheep) is considered Scotland's national dish, the government appears to be shooting itself in the foot, maybe both. How on earth can they proudly talk up all their tartan-designed woolen articles and brag about their national culinary identity (part of every traditional Scottish breakfast) yet at the same time obstruct the existence of the very animals that provide the raw material for these other traditions?

                                                                      Nunavut Tourism photo

Thousands of miles to the west…

In the Nunavut hamlet of Qikiqtarjuaq there was outrage over an October polar bear hunt, described as "unsporting". Instead of a late winter or spring hunt when bears would have more room on the ice to roam, a European sport hunter got his twenty-five thousand dollars’ worth of bear on the very first day of the hunt in the Fall, at which time the bear's range was more restricted, increasing the likelihood of assuring a kill. But of particular interest was the fact that the tradition, and supposedly the only legal way, according to a 1973 agreement among circumpolar countries, of sport hunting bear only by dog team was eschewed in favor of using a boat. (Nunatsiaq News October 24, "Residents outraged by unsporting sport hunt") According to the article, the Ottawa based outfitter, in conjunction with the hamlet Hunters and Trappers Organization (HTO), agreed to this hunt (with more like it planned) despite the current law that states "no person ... shall hunt polar bear by means other than with a dog team or on foot." "It's just about money, that's all it is, and it's a shame that's what it's come down to. It's going to go out of control and it's going to lose the traditional element.... This is a slaughter," complained a Qikiqtarjuaq resident in the Nunatsiaq News article.

For sure, economics is a big factor in this case as sport hunting is a significant source of income for many Nunavut communities. But the attitude of a senior government employee in the Department of Sustainable Development who doesn't seem to get "the big picture" or take a holistic, if you will, view of hunting and traditional ways, may just be yet another nail in the coffin of the potentially looming demise of the Inuit Dog from Arctic Canada.

The quota of bears to be harvested (by Inuit or Inuit guided non-Aboriginal sport hunters) in any one year is dictated by the number of bears determined to be living. Whether or not it is successful, the "tag" for any particular hunt is considered used up. In theory, according to the government biologists who see nothing wrong with the fall hunt and by non-traditional means, why should it matter if the quotas-worth of bears are all taken in one day (sport hunters still pay the full fee whether it takes them one day or ten days to bag - or not - their bear) or it occurs over the entire season - whatever they choose that time period to be. If the bear population drops, the quota is proportionally decreased, presumably to manage the bears so as to keep them in the sustainable harvest equation and not be hunted into oblivion

Unfortunately, there is no such formula for the Inuit Sled Dog in order to assure that it doesn't become extinct, even though their use is supposed to be a part of the economic equation of sport hunting  and tourism as well. The polar bear is a symbol of the Canadian north, as seen in the form of license plates in Nunavut, having been retained even after the split from the original Northwest Territories, where the polar bear license plate originated. However, it was the Canadian Inuit Dog, not the polar bear, that was chosen as Nunavut's Official Mammal. Just as the Scottish government, through its legislation regarding sheep, seems to be at odds the essence of Scottish life and tradition, the Nunavut Government, by means of this hunting issue as an example, is pushing the Canadian Inuit Dog ever closer to the precipice of extinction. They'd better start viewing this breed as a national treasure before it's too late.

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