Table of Contents
F.I.D.O.: Ken Beattie
Nunavik Dog Slaughters, Part II
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
Preserving Nature's Standard
by Janice Dougherty
Preserving and protecting the old and irreplaceable is a common enough interest for many people these days. Some preserve art treasures, some preserve open spaces or old growth forest, the rain forest. The re-discovery in Arkansas, USA, of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, thought extinct since 1944, has recently been in the press. While some people work for landmark or historical building preservation, some are working to preserve heirloom plant varieties or traditional livestock breeds (see the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy web site). The Inuit Sled Dog International was founded to try to help preserve the Inuit Sled Dog as a true working dog of the Arctic. Although this has clearly been a recurrent topic for The Fan Hitch, recent discussions seem to indicate that some points need to be clarified.
When Bill Carpenter and John McGrath began the recovery project in the early 1970s, the initial task was to identify, collect and increase the numbers of authentic, traditional dogs in order to re-establish a viable gene pool. How an individual animal was categorized, as a correct representative of the Inuit Sled Dog was through research of old accounts, old photos, seeking out traditional communities still working dogs as a source of potential breeding stock. (Currently Ken MacRury's 1991 master's thesis, The Inuit Dog: Its Provenance, Environment and History, is the "breed standard" with both history and physical description.)
Then the question was did these dogs breed true? These procedures are standard when it comes to preserving any breed or landrace of animal or plant. Some members of ISDI continue to make such efforts, in collecting new dogs, in pursuing historical research, etc. In addition, the group has sought out alliances and is collaborating with genetic researchers who are performing DNA analysis on early (primitive) dog breeds. Documenting the scientific and biological data is critical in firmly establishing the current ISD as a legitimate representative of their ancestors.
Among dog-interested people, we are not alone. A National Geographic program recounted efforts by a breeder of Israeli Canaan Dogs to continue to infuse her bloodlines with desert-bred Bedouin dogs who still function in their traditional roles, and have the traditional physical and behavioral attributes. As traditional lifestyles fade away, this becomes harder and harder to accomplish. Some years ago, a few Basenji fanciers decided that they needed new breeding stock to re-invigorate their cherished breed. Enthusiasts trekked to isolated communities in Africa, and brought back individuals who were, with AKC approval, added to the current gene pool. It is said that along with a new color (brindle) the African dogs produced a slightly tougher temperament, a none-the-less correct temperament for the breed. The New Guinea Singing Dog has been preserved from extinction largely through the efforts of one woman. She has also sought out the support of the scientific community, and started the Primitive and Aboriginal Dog Society. All these people, and many others with their own cherished breeds, have sought to preserve that which they found unique and valuable. Many of these breeds are "not for amateurs". Some attempt to go through Kennel Club recognition, some, like ISDI, are non-kennel club oriented. This does not mean we are opposed to kennel clubs. But far too often, kennel club affiliation results in breeders pressured to produce what "wins" under judges who care little to preserve the dog as it was originally developed, and who fund their breeding efforts by the sale of excess pups to the pet market, thus drifting ever further from what is "correct" to what is "marketable". This is not preservation. Politically, the ISDI has tried to stay in touch with the Inuit community in its efforts to reclaim their lands and maintain traditional culture and sense of continuity while adapting to technological pressures.
The world of dogs is wondrously rich in its variety. There are estimated to be over four hundred breeds or breed types of dog in the world. In the world of sled dog sports, more crosses of highly competitive for speed and easier to manage temperaments have been achieved through intensive selection by racing enthusiasts and winter sports people. We support winter dog sports and hope that their recognition leads to the preservation of land use trails and open spaces for all people. We encourage every dog sport enthusiast to find the breed or mix that suits them best. But preserving the original, understanding the correctness of each physical and behavioral trait, honoring as legitimate that which may not be convenient to modern whims, and documenting it all, is what we're all about. We welcome the support of those who agree with us, whether they own ISDs or not.