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
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.
Welcome to the retired life Camino, Casey, Millie and Splash!
I have so much to say about this arrival - things that go much deeper than the images - so I'm going to ask you to not just look at the dogs as 'cute'...which they undoubtedly are...
As you click through the gallery, I'd like you to stop along the way and look at the dogs as individuals... and as sentient beings who made a big journey this day.
They left what they knew, to be shuttled in cars of people they didn't know. They went on a 95-minute ferry ride and ended up somewhere they'd never been.
Along the way they were curious, nervous, scared. Some gave kisses, watched out windows, wanted to meet new people along the way. They sniffed, wagged tails, leaned in for pats, took treats.
When they arrived, they met more new people, then were separated and taken into new home environments.
And through it all, the humans had to keep their distance from the other humans so they zig-zagged and ping-ponged around. doing their best to be calm, yet quick in the transfer so as to limit stress on the new arrivals. The dogs got fitted for new collars and harnesses and had ID tags and GPS trackers attached. They chatted with a volunteer who's very experienced in fostering former sled dogs so they could be provided with background information on what may appear to be odd behaviours. There was a group photo op, then the humans grabbed a big bag of food, and headed out to their respective homes for their new fosters to sleep off the day... and they did.
I followed one dog, Splash, across town to her foster home to end this part of her day's journey.
What I've learned from following the post-sled pulling days of sled dogs is that they are individuals with their own likes, dislikes and personalities. They are resilient, adaptable and ready to be more a part of this world, than they had the chance to. That no matter where they've come from, what they've lived, they will try.
This crew arrived with only some verbal history and one-page vet records, so they'll live in foster homes to learn the sights, sounds and smells of all that is new. And the foster homes help them along the way and will report on what they've learned, because adoption is the goal here. They will visit the vet for checkups and receive any extra care necessary. In this group, some have poor teeth, one has a lump that needs looking at, and two haven't been spayed. VHS will make sure these get attended to, and likely put out a call to their supporters to help with donations... something that's not taken lightly, and even harder to do at a time when financial pressures are high for many people.
It's time for the retirement leg of their journey to begin.
And from April 17, 2020 onwards, these four will finally be protected under the same animal protection laws as the pets we share our homes with.
Thank you to the volunteers Kim and Bobbie who helped get them into care, and to Debra for sharing her wealth of sleddie fostering knowledge to the new foster homes. And extra thanks to the foster homes who are waiting in the wings to help, taking in dogs who may be adults - seniors even - but may act like puppies learning the ropes of potty training and living in a house.
Amidst the COVID-19 global pandemic, things have not slowed down for rescues like VHS. In addition to all the other animals they're helping (they also brought in two more dogs, a cat and a bunny who went to foster homes and the executive director's own dog was called upon to do an emergency blood donation last night), they know the need is great for the dog sled tour operators who are scaling down. Not only is it the end of their touring season and the usual time of year when the 'herd gets thinned' in a number of different ways, but there is also an uncertain future to face, which means even more sled dogs will be in need of patient, caring homes. The work will continue as the love begins.
If you're interested in adopting, please contact The Victoria Humane Society directly through their website or facebook page.
Coming up in the next issue of Wunderdog Magazine... I Was A Sled Dog!
~ with photos and words by me and a cover for our girl ChiChi!
I get incredibly invested in my subjects and am very protective of how my sleddie images are used, what they're associated with and in what context, so I haven't really put this project out any farther than this website and corresponding social media pages. I've spent a lot of time musing and poring over dog publications over the years, but something didn't sit right or maybe I wasn't ready. There is an emotional toll that comes along with this work and although it's not about me, it had to feel 'right' to me. So when I happened upon Wunderdog on Instagram one day, within minutes of looking through their site I felt a kinship and decided that if I was going to reach out to a publication, this was it... and it was time.
The timing on this is also important as April 21 + 23, 2020 marks 10 years since the Whistler sled dog cull.
And with the world in a global pandemic and travel at a standstill, now, more than ever, it's important that these stories are shared.
The annual post-long-distance race dump of sled dogs to northern rescues is underway and operations who rely on tourist dollars to exist are now left without tourists. With no customers, no spectators and sponsors for the races, will happen to the dogs?
What usually happens after a season, will continue, but probably on a larger scale. There will be culls that we will never hear about. Dogs will be given away, sold, or abandoned. And some will end up with rescues and shelters who will then be tasked with getting medical needs met. From the basics like spays and neuters to any number of untreated physical issues- and they will have to foot the bill.
And then the dogs will need homes.
Those lucky enough to adopt a sleddie will need the support of other adopters of former sled dogs to understand that although it could take seven hours to seven days to seven years even for a former sled dog to learn new routines, new worlds and ultimately, how to be its real dog self, it's possible and we humans owe it to our canine companions to be there for them and help them along this next part of their life's journey.
Wunderdog Magazine is out of the UK and unfortunately isn't sold here (in Victoria, BC), so if you'd like to purchase a copy, I've ordered a few to help save on shipping costs. With the exchange it will be about $20(ish) CAD and I'll deliver within the Greater Victoria area.
I'm also going to be doing a draw (or two) so stay tuned!
Check out Wunderdog Magazine here!: www.wunderdogmagazine.com
Today I wanted to send my condolences out to the family of Lola.
Although Lola was never a sled dog, if you had to bet which of Shannon's dogs was a former sled dog, chances are, you would've picked Lola. She was bigger, fluffier and with her all-white coat she was what we envisioned a sled dog to look like.
Lola was an only dog until Shannon adopted ChiChi in 2012. I had gone to middle-school with Shannon and we lost touch over the years. Then in December 2012 as I was photographing pets with Santa at our local shelter, a familiar face came in with two dogs. I had started focussing on sleddies by this time so I recognized ChiChi right away, and then was happily surprised to see she was with someone I knew, Shannon!
I was then introduced to sweet, sensitive Lola Granola.
Lola didn't come on all sleddie adventures, but she had her circle of familiar sleddie and non-sleddie friends and this smaller group had some fun adventures together. Lola would often be found heading into the water, digging in the sand and carrying sticks... and being a treat mooch, of course!
Thankfully Lola was never a sled dog, but she was part of the sleddie extended family here and I wanted to share a snippet of her life, the one she shared with special human and sleddie sibling.
Shannon gave her 'Birdie' a beautiful life until she had to say goodbye earlier this week at the age of 13.
Rest in peace and love, Lola.
Thanks for sharing your girl, Shannon...
It’s never a good time for our pets to get hurt, but right now things different and protocols are changing daily. But what if your pet is injured and you’re not feeling well? And what if your pet is extremely fearful and a big flight risk in most situations? Welcome to Flash’s world.
The importance of having a backup plan is crucial, but it’s hard when your pet is so so fearful. You can’t just ask anyone to help. You weigh the pros/cons of going out. The ethics.
Flash’s human circle is small- her life as a sled dog has left her with such deep-seeded fears that those who want to adopt her want to ‘fix’ her, they think she’ll ‘come around’- but Flash doesn’t need fixing, she needs sanctuary and safety. So when her foster mom was worried about the healing of her wound (and is staying close to home with a cold), she put a call out to Flash’s circle and with a bit of schedule re-arranging, I had the privilege of escorting her to the vet.
Flash had no idea how different things were- new procedures meant when I arrived at the vet I had to call the office from the car and then the vet came out to do an assessment through the open windows. Flash was of course tethered to the seatbelt and wearing her GPS tracker just in case and while the vet looked at her and talked to her foster over speaker phone, I watched Flash and could see her checking out potential escape routes. Thankfully it was determined that Flash is healing up as she should be, so she got a few yumyums and we headed back to her foster home.
It’s certainly strange times but I’m so grateful that people are working to find new ways to continue helping our animal friends, because for whatever we know is happening, they don’t know. They continue to rely on us to keep them fed and safe and cared for.
#iwasasleddog #sleddogsaredogs #victoriahumanesociety #adopt #sleddies
I usually focus on the 'after' stories of sled dogs, but I feel the need to share a video because of its relation to the bigger picture of what the Iditarod 1000-mile race means for the dogs.
I shared this post to the facebook page after commenting on the original video shared by Humane Mushing, who's in Alaska documenting what she sees:
"Even though the dogs have (what look to be) leashes attached, they still get dragged by their collars... it's no wonder so many of the former sled dogs I've met have issues when it comes to collaring, harnessing, and being handled.
Time is $$$.
If people saw their neighbours handling their dogs like this, or knew their neighbour forced their dog to run so far and fast they choked on their own vomit and died, they'd be reported to the authorities, but because of a skewed idea of history, animal protection laws are different for sled dogs so it's "ok" for 'sled dogs' (really, just mixed-breed dogs that are used to pull a sled) to be handled and treated this way.
Everything about this video - and the others you've been sharing while being witness to this f'ing awful race - show nothing but stress and stressful situations for the dogs and abhorrent cruelty.
The spectators along with the organizers, sponsors, mushers and everyone involved in supporting this are complicit in this cruelty."
Welcome to Alaska. Where dogs used for pulling sleds (as well as animals used in rodeos) are exempt from the same laws and protections afforded dogs who don't pull sleds.
This has to change and it's up to us to help change the laws and the minds of those who think and believe these dogs are somehow inherently different than the dogs we share our homes with.
If you'd like to view the video, you can find it here: