i was a sled dog blog
one person's journey advocating for sled dogs - rescued, retired, former, fired, or in need of help
one person's journey advocating for sled dogs - rescued, retired, former, fired, or in need of help
The sun has set.
That was the first thing I though of when I heard that Sun passed away.
Each of the 183 sleddies I've met holds a special spot in my heart and Sun was no exception.
I first met him in September 2013 when I went to Whistler to photograph survivors of the 2010 Whistler sled dog cull. I spent 3 full days at the kennels where the dogs were living - doing my best to learn the names of 43 new friends I'd made. Sure some of them were more on board with being my friend than others, but no matter how friendly, shy, scared or indifferent they were to me, each one was truly unique in personality and spirit.
I could feel Sun watching me a lot over those day. If I ever wandered from the group to photograph something that caught my eye, he followed me... at a distance... and then he'd bark... maybe at me... maybe alerting the others...? I liked how attentive and curious he was, but he never seemed to be curious enough to come too close for pets.
Sun's biological siblings were Sky + Moon, and though they may have had similar builds, Sun was golden brown and they were black. Sky + Moon got adopted together, and Sun got adopted later with a kennel mate named Silly.
I didn't see Sun again until November 2013 at a sleddie reunion and I was so stoked to see his transformation. He was loose, relaxed and ran around taking treats and getting pets from strangers - including me.
His retirement was charmed. He and Silly had two canine siblings who, being malamutes, looked more like sled dogs than the actual sled dogs of the family, which confused people. But his devoted humans used that opportunity to advocate and educate others about the plight of sled dogs.
I saw Sun a few more times over the years and even bumped into him and his siblings on the street a couple times, which was always exciting (for me!).
Sun came to participate in Part 1 of I Was A Sled Dog in June 2017.
The sun rises and the sun sets. And though I'm continually saddened by the passing of my sleddie friends, I remind myself that their leaving is part of life and I take comfort in the fact that there are some incredibly devoted adopters that have done all they can to ensure their special sleddies get to live loved and spoiled lives and have the opportunity, when it's time, to pass from this life with dignity, respect and surrounded by love.
Rest in peace and love, Sun.
please click on thumbnails to view captions of photos below
181 former sled dogs - images taken between March 2012 and April 2020
Click on the thumbnails above for a closer look at the dogs.
On National Dog Day (I'm posting a day late, but does that really matter for us dog-minded folk?), I'm hoping for a better understanding of our canine companions because there's no reason the first 181 dogs pictured above - former sled dogs that were bred to pull sleds for human entertainment and ego - should be treated with a lesser standard of care as well as being exempt from animal protections laws, than the two dogs pictured below.
Sled dogs are dogs and times gotta change.
For more information (including the names) of the dogs above and my almost decade-long project, please click HERE.
Mister Coco + Bella Boo ~ my two adoptees
Stuart ~ may you rest in peace having experienced unconditional love, soft beds, and the warmth of a home and family.
In 2017 Stuart came to my studio to participate in I Was A Sled Dog. His family had adopted another sleddie, Penny, just a few months earlier. He wasn't sure what was going on that day, but he was so chill, he just rolled with it, making himself comfy on the sleddie sofa.
I saw him a few more times group sleddie walks and he was always a gentle soul.
Hugs and thanks to his human family for adopting Stuart and sharing your love and lives with him, and to his sleddie family Penny + Trixie.
Here are a few photos from a walk in December 2018 as well as one from a 'Who Do You Love' photo session at my studio, February 2019.
a little gathering of some new sleddies friends and a couple old friends - including one of the first sleddie friends I made back in 2012, SHREKKIE!
I met Mossy + Kit on Monday eve, and tonight I met their kennel mates Vinnie + Jo who were reuniting after not seeing each other for a bit. Apparently Vinnie and Jo are siblings of Casey who came into care back in April.
I don’t have much history on this group, other than they’ve come from Whistler, but they remind me of so many sleddies I’ve met in the past.
We met at a beautiful spot outside of town in a fully fenced area so the dogs could run and explore and relax. Experienced sleddies Shrekkie + Jasper didn’t have to show these guys how to have fun - all six of them were sniffing and running, checking in with the humans for treats and pets, then back to playtime. And Mossy - who was on a long line for his safety - even found a dead mouse to roll in.
It’s a sight that never gets old. There’s something incredibly special in being witness to a former sled dog running and playing and showing off that extra prance-y bounce they exhibit when not tethered to anything. It’s one of the many reasons I keep doing this.
Vinnie + Jo represent sleddies #182 + #183 that I’ve photographed.
I’m not sure what the future holds for the sled dog tour company Kit, Mossy, Vinnie + Jo came from. If they’ll continue to operate with Covid continuing to lurk about or if they'll be seeking homes for more dogs. And I wonder what the future holds for other sled dog tour operations, long distance racing kennels and operations that rely on the commercialization of their sled dogs. But I will keep featuring them as long as I can. I will keep sharing their faces and names to prove their existence. For as this project is just a small representation of former sled dogs in a small area of the west coast of Canada, I can’t help but imagine what this project would look like if I travelled across the country, the continent, the world - photographing former sled dogs. What that pool of diversity would be like. The stories from rescues and shelters, fosters and adopters. Proving existence to even more names and faces.
For now, I will continue to stick close to home and keep sharing the stories to help educate, advocate and remind people that sled dogs are dogs - just as deserving of love, care and compassion as the dogs we share our homes with.
Thank you to all the fosters and adopters who helped make this gathering happen.
If you're interested in adopting Kit, Mossy, Vinnie or Jo, please visit www.victoriahumanesociety.com
Update- June 30/20: Vinnie has since been adopted and Jo has a pending adoption!
As former sled dogs in the Whistler, BC area, sleddies Kit + her brother Mossy have been given the chance at retirement and are new into care with Victoria Humane Society.
The two came to my house for about an hour the other evening (with Kit's foster brother Jasper) for a wee photo session and they were so gentle and lovely, albeit a little stressed from all the recent changes after coming into care. Mossy (short for Maserati) - who is basically blind - sniffed, pooped, had some treats (very gently) and then ended up laying down and falling asleep. And Kit (as in the car from Knight Rider - are you seeing the litter theme?), stopped looking for an escape route long enough to chill for a spell. Neither gave any mind to the camera, which is odd, because they're so photogenic and give amazing head tilts and ear lifts!
At 8(ish) years old, these two will need time to decompress and continue their introduction to life inside a home and all the newness that entails while learning that they can have ALL the comforts they desire - at their own pace. And although they're buddies, the won't need to be adopted together.
After years working for humans, it's time for humans to work for them.
Thank you to Jillian + Deb for bringing these lovelies over and Jasper for being such a awesome fella - sorry about the squeaky sounds.
Mossy is #180 + Kit is #181 in my collection of former sled dog photos. You can view the full gallery here.
Because of the dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased.
ChiChi retired life was full of joy. A life full of doing the things that made her happy - mostly running… off leash… and sometimes being gone longer than was comfortable for her human. As a former sled dog one could argue that running was in her blood, and that may be so, but it didn’t mean that she had to do it at the will of humans. She ran on her own terms… and napped on her own terms. And was always present when the treats came out.
She blinked for more photos than almost any other sleddie I’ve photographed. Her brother Jeff, did the same.
As she got older she ran less, but still loved her outings - especially to her favourite place, Fleming Beach, where there were lots of things to sniff - dogs, wildlife, the ocean breeze.
She was adopted at 8 years old, a senior in the eyes of the shelter so she was 50% off. But that meant nothing to Chich… the last (almost) 8 years she lived with Shannon made up for whatever labels and expectations other people had for her in those first 8 years.
She was the happiest dog in the world.
She was the tiny wonder.
She reunited me with an old human friend, and she and her human helped grow a community of retired sled dog adopters here on the west coast of Canada. From that first reunion of nine dogs in September 2013, to over fifty dogs in following reunions. She made friends with all the other dogs while allowing her sister Lola (RIP) the space she needed. She welcomed a wee, wild puppy, Tica into the home.
She was an ambassador.
She was my muse.
She lived just past her 16th birthday, and was able to pass with dignity and in peace in Shannon’s lap.
There are many, many more photos throughout my archives, but it's been a hard week on many levels so I'm sharing an odd little collection of some I've shared before, some I haven’t.
Rest in peace and love tiny wonder.
#1 Sledder day out, November 2013
#2 Thetis Lake walk, January 2014 (captured on film and the cover of Dogs with their Eyes Closed, Retired Sled Dog edition)
#3-9 Documentary day, February 2014 (pictured with Lion + Nordique, also this is the day Shannon tried to teach ChiChi to sit for a treat!)
#10-13 East Sooke walk, April 2014
#14 ChiChi's 10th birthday, May 2014
#15-17 Esquimalt Lagoon, June 2014
#18-23 Reunion #3, June 2014 (the pool photos are 4 direct succession images showing her settle in to the pool)
#24-26 Canadog Day, July 2014 (the day she was reunited with her brother, Jeff)
#27 UVic dog park gathering, November 2014 (captured on film)
#28 Fleming Beach, April 2020
April 2012, at the shetler
Dandelion. Dandi. Lion.
As his name changed, so did he… until he passed away on Friday.
I met Lion as Dandelion in 2013 when I visited the kennels in Whistler. I remember hearing his name and it made me think of the cute yellow flower, that were taking over my yard.
And his ear... that partially floppy ear.
I saw Lion again in November of that year, and then on various walks. He got off-leash time, but it was always a bit of a guess how long it’d take for David to get him back on leash when it was time to go.
At one reunion, the group photos just show Lion walking back and forth in front of the group, in each photo.
His human, David, adopted he and Nordique (who passed away last week) from the shelter. He brought them home and then allowed them the space to be dogs. They lived close to ChiChi so they would go on weekly walks, the three sleddies leading the way around the neighbourhood.
Lion was diagnosed with bone cancer recently and then lost his brother, Nordique earlier this month, which left Lion very confused and sad.
My heart breaks for his family and friends, and the sleddie community.
Here are some photos of the time I got to spend with Lion…
Thank you David and Alina for loving this gentle soul.
#1-3: Whistler kennels, September 2013. He was kennelled with Kawasaki in the evenings.
#4-6: Sledder day out, November 2013
#7: Documentary day, pictured with his buddy ChiChi
#8-9: Mt Finlayson hike, August 2014
#10-14: Reunion #3, June 2014
#15-16: Francis King walk, December 2018
Nordique passed away.
I first met Nordique in Whistler in 2013 - he was more on the shy side, mostly sticking to his area in Sonny's Acre's at the kennels. We didn't have a lot of interactions and I got confused between he and his hockey team named litter mate, Jet (it came down to the chest markings). But like all the sleddies I've met, he's always in my mind.
Working on what's turned out to be a long-term project means I am constantly pouring over images of other people's dogs. And in doing so, I'm transported to all the times I've interacted with that dog and the feelings that come along with those events.
I'd heard Nordique wasn't well, and considering that most of the Whistler dogs who survived the 2010 cull are getting up there in age, it's not surprising.
But every one of their deaths, like their lives, is important to me.
Nordique was adopted into a home with his buddy Lion (formerly Dandelion) and the two became inseparable, each helping the other in their new lives.
Their adopter, David, gave them the space they needed to breathe, and as the intrepid duo dug up his back yard, he joked about them digging his grave.
They got to be dogs.
When David brought a new human into their lives, she fell under the sleddie spell and seemed to instantly understand, and love them.
They came out on group walks, reunions and had weekly walkies with their old mate, ChiChi, who lived nearby. At the reunions, the dogs got to be off leash and run around as much or as little as they wanted. Come group photo time, it was hard to coax some dogs to come back to their humans because they were having too much fun. I remember one reunion, in July 2015, where in the photo David can be seen heading away from the group... to gather his boys.
I will always remember how Nordique would put his paw on David's leg when he was unsure about something... it was so touching because even within his fear, he found a way to communicate. He seemed to like ear scratches and gentle loves from those he trusted.
Thank you to his family for the love and care they provided to him.
Rest in peace and love Nordique.
Here are a few photos from the times I got to hang with him... there are more in my archives.
#1+2: Whistler, September 2013, pre-adoption
#3-10: Fleming Beach, February 2014
#11+12: Scafe Hill walk, February 2014
#13-15: Mt Finlayson hike, August 2014
#16: Reunion #5, July 2015
#17: I Was A Sled Dog photo session, August, 2017
#18-20: Francis King Walk, December 2018
Nordique also participated in I Was A Sled Dog, part 1 - you can visit his profile HERE.