It's a word that comes up a lot when I talk about former sled dogs. To be uprooted from all they know, to travel for hours in a van with people they don't know, popping out for potty breaks in new places, to another place that's wholly unfamiliar. Then be whisked away to strange places with more stranger humans and maybe new, strange dogs. It's a lot. For me, being a photographer means being an observer. A watcher. Other people 'do' and I 'watch'. I sometimes feel like I should put down my camera and help when I'm photographing a new intake of dogs - and I have at times - but I've learned the importance of documenting in a measured (and hopefully) meaningful way with the aim to allow others to bear witness to the work that goes on behind the scenes when new animals come into the care of rescues.
On January 31, nine former sled dogs arrived into the care of the Victoria Humane Society. I was there to photograph the event and met 8 of the 9 dogs. These sweeties were mostly as I expected in a group of sleddies - some were very nervous with full tail tucks and cowering, some were checking things out, some would not make eye contact and just did continue yawns and lip licks, I suspect trying to help calm themselves.
A few days later a meet up was organized for a Saturday afternoon. Herman, Kerri, Sparkles and Tig had been in their foster homes only 5 full days but once again, the sleddies were showing proof of their resilient natures.
Dogs that a few days ago were pretty terrified, got to sniff and see each other. Walk together.
But when I got home and went through my photos I felt something was missing from the set of images. In my mind, I'd gone in with some sort of expectation - something I generally try to steer clear of - but I really wanted to get a photo of Herman looking at the camera. Herman who I didn't meet on intake because he was so frightened on arrival he went immediately from the van into his foster home's car and off they went.
But Herman wasn't in to looking at me when I had my camera out, so I spent time crouched, waiting for him to come to me and then giving him chest and shoulder rubs.
The same thing happened with Tig. She's quite a nervous gal, but by the end of the walk, I caught her looking for me - or more likely the treats I had in my pocket. Cupboard love is alright in my books if it helps the dog learn to trust.
Kerri was very outgoing and stoked to go! She did a lot of leans in for pets, and paws for more attention and treats. It was adorable!
Sparkles did her own thing. Just observing the group, having a few sniffs of her mates and on to more observation.
In the end, my main focus of this journey is to share the existence of the former sled dogs that arrive into care. Their names and their faces represent a life not many are aware of.
But now they represent a team behind them, helping them recover.
And they represent resiliency.
Sleddie roll call: Herman, Jasper, Kerry, Sparkles and Tig.
Also pictured is a big Newfie dog that arrived as we were leaving so Jasper (who's been retired since 2015) had to do some awkward playing.
Thanks to everyone who came out!
It was evening when they arrived and the welcoming crew was waiting... the beds, meds, food and foster homes.
The day of travel for the volunteers had been long - up early to catch the ferry, drive to the meeting spot just outside of Whistler, BC, load up the dogs, back on the road, back on the ferry, transporting nine dogs onto a whole new life.
The object on arrival was to ensure the dogs were safe. That meant they were fitted with harnesses and collars, leashed and were assigned a GPS tracker which was clipped to their collar.
First out was Pumpkin. This fellow had recently undergone surgery on his eyes and it wasn't healing. He came in to the shelter to await his foster humans, and in the meantime he sniffed around, made friends with the volunteers, had some treats and a nap on the bed under the desk.
We had thought each dog would come in to the shelter so I could get their photos as it was dark out when they arrived. I really didn't want to use my flash on them outside for a number of reasons, but as with all intakes of new dogs, you do what's best for them. Pumpkin, Teddy, and Cap were more relaxed and crossed the threshold into the Victoria Humane Society with ease and a touch of curiosity. Batman, Tig, Stevie and Sparkles were more nervous so I did my best to get photos of them before they left with their fosters, but none were very interested in looking at me. Kerri was rearing to go and didn't want to come inside so I captured her from a distance (with flash). Herman arrived and left before I even saw him.
Living in a home will be new for these guys. Even though a few of them have couch napping experience, the sights, sounds, smells of being in a home 24/7 will bring along some challenges. The loving foster homes have all been briefed on what may happen with a sleddie in the home - they may find them atop tables and counters, they may eschew comfy beds and sofas for hard floors, ignore toys, they may not eat or drink for days (or only when the humans sleep or are in other rooms), or be afraid of food dishes. They may try to escape you or your home (hence the GPS), they may not engage with you at all and their tails may stay tucked for days or weeks.
It's all to be expected. It's all normal.
One just needs to look at how sled dogs live in a commercial kennel to see that they are usually fed atop their dog houses, their water may be in a bucket attached to their dog house so it doesn't move around and sits at a particular height, they don't know toys. If they've only ever been a working sled dog and this is all they've know... all this new can be very scary.
They just need time to decompress. To figure it out.
The support group here is on hand and ready to help and I'm eager to see how this group settles in. There are plans for a group walk soon, so stay tuned for updates!
Thank yous go out to all the volunteers who helped bring these dogs into care and to the fosters who've opened their homes to these remarkable dogs.
And to the Victoria Humane Society , extra big thanks for being there to help sleddies in need... always.
Most of all, to the dogs. They try so hard to fit into our world and are just doing their best.
Welcome to retirement Batman, Cap, Herman, Kerri, Pumpkin, Sparkles, Stevie, Teddy and Tig xo