The Fan Hitch Volume 7, Number 3, June 2005

Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog

Table of Contents

Editorial: Coming Together
F.I.D.O.: Ken Beattie
Nunavik Dog Slaughters, Part II
Fan Mail
In the News
Behavior Notebook: Life in the Pack
Book Review: Soldiers & Sled Dogs
Janice Howls: Preserving Nature's Standard
 IMHO: Tough Dogs, Tough Owners

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Editor: Sue Hamilton
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Book Review.....

Soldiers & Sled Dogs: 
A History of Military Dog Mushing

by Charles L. Dean

reviewed by Sue Hamilton

When a review copy of this book arrived courtesy of the publisher, I quickly thumbed through the table of contents to see how much ground was covered  regarding the military use of Inuit Sled Dogs in war and peace. Alas, I was at first disappointed to see that there seemed to be not much more than a chapter on the Sirius Patrol, much of which was discussed in Peter Schmidt Mikkelson's F.I.D.O. and Palle Norit's overview on the Sirius Patrol way, both in the Volume 7, number 1 December 2004 issue of The Fan Hitch. Nevertheless, the book arrived at a perfect hiatus from the rigors of putting out another issue of The Fan Hitch, so I was only too happy for a literary diversion. I didn't get too far past the front cover before I was very glad for having invested my time. Alaskan Malamute enthusiasts who tire of my harping on the current state of that breed will be thrilled to have something to crow about as author Charles L. Dean, himself a long time musher, goes into much detail about their use by the U.S. military, particularly by Admiral Richard Byrd in Antarctica. I was doing a little crowing, too, as Dean went into considerable detail regarding Chinook Kennel's (all of our malamutes went back heavily to their stock) involvement and Milton and Eva "Short" Seeley, and contemporaries such as Scotty Allen, Ed Moody, Dick Moulton.

The truth is that much of the U.S. military's needs were met because of the relationship the Seeleys had with Byrd, although not only were Alaskan Malamutes supplied, but also Siberian Huskies and a few Greenland Dogs as well. Dean offers food for thought that may yield some clues regarding an issue previously covered in The Fan Hitch, that of how supposedly pure Greenland Dogs came to have blue eyes. Having read the book cover to cover and thoroughly enjoying it, I sought contact with Dean and was fortunate to have been put in touch with him courtesy of the publisher. This afforded me the opportunity to open a dialog and to ask him what happened to all those U.S. dogs - Alaskan Malamutes and some blue-eyed Siberian Huskies - shipped over to Greenland. Dean told me that as late as the 1950s, dogs were left behind, offered, along with sleds and related equipment, to Greenlanders in need of them. It is not absolutely clear where these dogs ultimately might have ended up or to what extent their genes were spread. Surely we have seen evidence since this happened that there are still some fine pure Inuit Dogs in Greenland. But one has to wonder the extent to which these outsider dogs may have contributed to the appearance of blue eyes in what some erroneously believe to be pure Greenland Dogs. This is mere speculation, and does not address the question of why blue eyes seem to have taken so long to show up in dogs originating in Greenland. Why were blue eyes not mentioned sooner?

Soldiers & Sled Dogs is indeed that kind of thought provoking book, aside from being most enlightening and very well written. There is lots of material packed into the book on sled construction and training and the "conflict" between the military way and the mushers' way of all aspects of the sled dog program. Especially fascinating is the chapter on how the dog delivery by parachute program was developed.  Readers who "get into" this book will find that it whets the appetite for more about how sled dogs in general supported military efforts all over the world.

Inuit Dog enthusiasts in particular have good reason to suspect that our breed played even a greater role than Dean described. For example, nothing was mentioned about New Hampshire's Clark family's (fierce competitors of the Seeleys) contribution of their Inuit Dogs to the war effort. (See The Fan Hitch Volume 3, Number 3 June 2001 "Inuit Dogs in New Hampshire Part II" ). Many of their dogs, and dogs of other backgrounds they gathered from other parts of North America were taken across the Atlantic during World War II. What became of them is something of a mystery. Fortunately for those of us who crave to know more, Dean has retained a healthy interest in the wartime use of sled dogs in the European theater and continues his quest for details. There is one tantalizing clue, a photo, hanging as part of a museum display at the top of the Cairngorm ski lift in Scotland, showing some nicely dressed ladies and some men in military uniform and standing proudly out in front a very robust looking Inuit Dog.

We can only hope that Charles Dean's interest and pursuit of more details will result in a sequel to Soldiers & Sled Dogs, one in which the role of the Inuit Dog will receive more attention. The Fan Hitch readers can actually help that happen. Seriously! If you have any information on the use of sled dogs, Inuit Dogs or otherwise, or have military sled dog photographs you are able and willing to share, please contact me (see contact information in The Fan Hitch masthead) and I will be as happy to pass along the details as Dean will be to receive them.

Soldiers & Sled Dogs: A History of Military Mushing by Charles L. Dean; 2005; 129 pages with lots of photos and drawings; University of Nebraska Press, ISBN 0-8032-1728-5; list price $24.95 USD.

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