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
It's Thanksgiving here in Canada and though I am thankful for the multitudes of humans who are adopting former sled dogs each and every day, today was extra special because I got to re-meet four sleddies who live in my neighbourhood and meet their adopters.
Batman and Stevie came into care back in January 2021, Biggie in April 2021 and Cally in August 2021. Photographing them when they're new into care isn't about trying to get a "happy" adoption photo, at least not from me. It's great when the dog is pretty non-plussed about it all, but in my experience, that's not often the case. Sometimes they're almost frozen in fear so they don't move, don't look at me, don't react. Basically hiding in plain sight.
So when the opportunity arrives where I can re-meet a dog, it's pretty amazing. I take some deep breaths before meeting them (because I'm so excited), gather my gear and set forth.
All the dogs did so well and it made me think back to the reunions we used to have. The first one in 2013 where we had 9 sleddies, to the the ones where we had 50+ former sled dogs running around. The park we met at today wasn't fenced but Cally did get some off-leash time.
You'll see a wrap on Batman's leg. This old gent has pretty bad arthritis and he's been fixating on his sore leg joint so it's wrapped up. Arthritis isn't uncommon in sleddies, but sometimes that comes with other pains that are difficult to diagnose. Thankfully his devoted human has been working with their vet to sort out options that work best for him, but for now, he saunters along, sniffing and going at his own pace. Oh, and he likes impromptu belly rubs too! Stevie you'll see is pretty glued to his human. Meeting at this park was new for him, which can be very scary, but he took time to sniff a bum or two which was a good sign! He's gone on a couple runners since he was adopted, but thankfully there is also an invisible tether between he and his human so he's made it back to her safely. Biggie was a treat hound and showed me some of the best head tilting I've seen in a long time! He lives with his humans and little staffy sibling and they're becoming buddies slowly, but surely. He loves watching the world and getting ear rubs by his human. Cally just wanted to say hello to everyone. Actually, she wanted the treats first - especially the ones in my pouch - THEN to say hello! No fear in the people we met, however upon meeting Batman, he let her know not to get too close, too fast, to which she acquiesced and all was good.
On what turned out to be a beautiful autumn day for this mini meet-up, it's because of these humans and the hundreds of others who have stepped up to help sleddies through rescue, fostering and adopting that I have titled this "thanksgiving, thanksliving". Without them, it's not known what would've happened to these dogs, but with them, we know an often overlooked group of dogs are getting a chance to live in warmth, comfort and with love.
p.s. for those new here, as always, photos are in chronological order and I have included sets of succession images to help show as much of the dog's personality as I can.
p.p.s I also have a 'thing' for pictures of dogs with their eyes closed so have included those too :)
Thank you to the Gorge Park Gang for this visit today!
It's official!!!! Our dear Mary Kate and sweet little Flashy pants now have an official home for life!
And even more great news is they’ll be staying right where they are; Where they’re most comfortable, know the routines, don’t try to escape from (anymore) and with those who know them both the best… their super duper foster mom, Debbie and adopted siblings Apex + Calli!
(Handsome Roo (last pic) is still part of the crew while he awaits his perfect match to come along and whisk him away to a life of fun times, love and complete devotion to his adorable ways. Know anyone?)
Thanks to the Thunder Bay SPCA and team for rescuing Mary Kate back in 2018 and to the Victoria Humane Society for bringing Flashy into care and continuing to be such dedicated supporters of our sleddie friends.
Ginny + Bruno.
I was going to make a little video of their photos thinking I needed to switch things up a bit. But my video program kept gacking at me so I will share the intake photos as I usually do... lots of succession images to help show more of each dog's personality. I know the power one single image can have and I appreciate that, but when I photograph the arrival of new sleddies into care, I want to show as much of them as I can in the hopes that you see what I do.
Bruno apparently originally came from a kennel that has provided seemingly no end of very mentally damaged sleddies. Dogs (with names that you may recognize from my posts) that are fearful (mostly of humans) in a way that they can't seem to shake -- Apex, Flash, Colby, Lunar, Summer, Ace, to name a few. But Bruno surprised us all. And that’s what’s so cool about these dogs… time and time again they prove just how individual they are. They're not all machines born and bred to do one thing: pull sleds. If we label them as one thing, they may show us different. And that’s ok. We can adapt to their needs.
These images in this galley show Bruno coming out of the van - the looking, the sniffing, the baby steps and then taking that step that will land him on new ground. Bruno had been retired for a bit up in Whistler but it wasn't until his care was transferred over to the Victoria Humane Society that he became protected under the same laws that protect the dogs we share our homes with. (something that advocates are working to change) This older gent apparently spent a lot of time in his kennel laying down, so while Ginny was fitted with a new harness and volunteers looked to find one that fit him, he was let to explore inside and once he found the bed under the front desk at VHS, he knew what to do and the infamous 'sleddie donut' appeared.
Then, once both had harnesses, we hung out a bit upstairs at VHS and they got to explore even more.
Ginny was a go-go girl... on the move. Watching. Following. Coming when we called her name. She seemed to go up the stairs no problem, but down held a bit of a learning curve. So did squeaky toys. She was interested, but maybe didn't realize she could make the fun squeak herself. Time will tell.
Afterwards, both headed to their foster homes with the help of Jill + Deb and will be in care until they get any medical needs sorted out, then they'll be adoptable through the Victoria Humane Society.
Welcome to retirement Bruno + Ginny!
Thanks for stopping by,
Before I went to meet the new arrivals on August 9, I stopped off at Deb's place to say hi to her crew... and her.
This group always makes me smile -- so many personalities amongst them.
Calli, who I'd seen recently is so damn sweet and was first to greet me... with a big smile. I'm not sure if she's really 'smiling' so much as she's excited for a visitor... whatever, I'll take what I can get! Flashy I know has heard me pull up. And even though she won't take a treat from me (she did once a few years ago, but never again), she stands where she's knows I can see her so I toss treats her way that she promptly gobbles up. Roo and Mary Kate - who I haven't seen for a bit - were a bit slower to the game, but once they remembered, they were ready to accept the cupboard love. And Apex... well he just does his thing knowing I'll come to him when things have settled down.
We also had a little brush session because it isn't always about treats. Apex and Roo LOVE being brushed and with the warm weather, there's a lot to brush! Then it was time to head out to meet the new arrivals, Cally + Ice.
Here are a few pics from a short, but sweet visit with Flashy, Roo, Mary Kate, Calli and Apex, including Apex taking a treat from me... while I was taking photos with my phone... a first in the 7 years we've known each other.
Cally and Ice -- two more former sled dogs made it into retirement on Monday!
First task was to put harnesses on the dogs, attach the GPS trackers and double leash them. Some dogs don’t always display as flight risks when they arrive into care, so it’s set up just in case. Their fosters have welcomed former sled dogs as fosters before and are part of the sleddie community here, so they know what to expect.
All dogs are different when they arrive, but on this site, I’m referring to former sled dogs specifically. And I can honestly say that after they’ve had time to decompress, bits of their personalities emerge… it can take days, weeks, months, years even. But it’s so important that they get that opportunity to explore and exhibit behaviours of being just dogs. That they get the chance to learn what they like and don’t like, and be themselves. It’s incredible to witness. This is also helpful when matching them with adopters because you want to do your best to get the right fit the first time. But if it doesn’t work out, that’s ok because the dogs can always come back and the process can start again.
So for Cally and Ice, retirement begins.
And if retired life for them is like it was for my parents, they will be busier than when they were working. Their days will be filled with outings and socializing. Naps and time for relaxation. Good food along with some exercise in there to keep the weight in check and the arthritis from setting in too quickly. As they age, they may see the doctor more, but one will be there to help them along the way.
Thank you to Jillian and Amanda for organizing and chauffeuring these two into retirement, and to their foster homes for helping them along this next part of their journey!
And to the Victoria Humane Society who continues to help former sled dogs into retirement
Welcome to retirement Cally + Ice!
To the girl who did things her way.
Who played hard, loved hard and napped hard.
She created a life wherever she landed and the humans went along for the ride.
This is how I saw Sassy.
Her eyes, her floofy tail. Her joie de vivre.
The way her 'smile' always made me smile.
Some sleddies choose their own adventures and I'm grateful that Sass found a family who loved her, cared for her and understood her.
Sweet Sassy hadn't been well but headed out for one last adventure, on her own.
And although we can never know what a dog is actually thinking, it may give us humans some comfort to think she choose her life to the very end.
To the huge community who took to the neighbourhood looking for her, to the kind family who found her laying peacefully in their garden.
And most of all to her family... I send great thanks, appreciation and hugs for being a part of Sassy's Way.
Read more about Sassy here, see more about Sassy below...
Sweet Silly passed away last weekend.
He was one of the original retirees I met in Whistler in September 2013. During that visit, he was never one of the dogs who seemed to be always vying for attention and pets, so when he did come to you and you started to rub his shoulders or hips, or talk nicely to him, he just stood there and ate it up. The strong silent type it seemed, as many sleddies are.
He got adopted to a family in Victoria where I live - in fact he got adopted with kennel mate Sun - and I would occasionally see them out and about which was always more exciting for me than them! The family also had two Malamutes and of course people would think they were the sled dogs of the intrepid foursome, but their family would always turn it into a learning opportunity to advocate for their sleddies and all the sleddie community.
Though he may have been a bit on the shy side at first glance, his family's nickname for him became "cuddle puddle". In the 8-ish years his family shared their home with him, he would continually melt into loves, pets and any kind of cuddle being offered.
The stuff dreams are made of.
Rest in peace and love dear Silly.
Click here forSilly's IWSD bio
A special sleddie for many reasons including being the 200th former sled dog in my this project!
Although I will admit, Centurion, who also retired today and arrived with Toledo, is just as special being #199.
... and, well... so are the other 198.
Both dogs arrived at VHS HQ after the trek from Whistler. Upon arrival they got some treats, more water and were fitted with new collars, harnesses and GPS trackers. They also got a few moments to chill before heading out to their foster homes where they'll get to decompress, learn about life living in a home and get to know some new humans. They'll get vet checked (and neutered), and when they're ready, adopted.
This vein of animal photojournalism, specifically documenting newly-retired sled dogs is not without its challenges. There generally aren't 'smiley' dogs, or cute "adopt me" photos. I have no expectation the dog will look at me, at least not at first. Sometimes they do, most of the time they don't. In fact I don't expect the dogs to do anything when I first meet them. It's left up to them. In today's gallery, you will see the missing tip of Centurion's ear and the bit missing from his tongue. You'll see Toledo's stress panting and him looking at the doorknob and out the window for possible escape routes. You will see fear, uncertainty and, inquisitiveness upon arrival into a new way of living. But you'll also get to see Centurion offer a perfect head tilt when I made a cat meow noise and his bum as he walks to the car with his new foster home and Toledo's jump right into Jill's car and into the crate - what he knows as a safe space. It's all part of sharing their story, no matter how small a chapter it may be in the story of their life.
And when the time came for super sleddie chauffeur Bobbie, to say farewell and head back home, she had a hard time leaving these fellas. In the few short hours she spent with them today, they filled her heart. But that's always the way. Once you've met and spent time with a retired sleddie, they stay with you. It's probably why I've continued to share their stories over the past decade - they're so dang easy to fall in love with.
I know in time they'll settle and this new life will get easier on them. I've seen it over and over and over again. Centurion, who bears not just physical, but emotional scars from a kennel he worked at long ago, could already be considered a "cuddle puddle" as he wanted loves from all the volunteers he met today. And Toledo, who may have escapism on his mind, well, I've already heard that he found his bed at his foster home and planted himself firmly in it.
Thanks to the Victoria Humane Society, Bobbie, Jillian, Deb + Penny and the sleddie foster families and volunteers for making this all happen for these two super special guys.
And to everyone who's been a part of helping the 198 sleddies transition into loving homes, thank you!
Welcome to retirement Centurion + Toledo!
There's a huge group cheering you on and ready to support you and your new families, when the time comes.
p.s. not sure who's who? Centurion is brown with golden brown eyes and Toledo is black + cream with piercing blue eyes.
Knikity Knik Knik Knik.
Is what I called her both in her presence and in my mind whenever I heard her name.
She was brave, she was fun, she was resilient.
Knik passed away this week at 14.
Her family fostered somewhere in the neighbourhood of 180+ dogs and cats over the last few years and Knik was one of the ones who just had to stay.
Knik participated in I Was A Sled Dog, Part One, so you can read her bio from March 2018 here.
We all know she'll be in good company with all her sleddie buddies... wherever they are.
Thank you to VHS and Lise and family for providing a retirement suited to her being her doggie self.
Rest in peace + love.
I weirdly don't have many photos of Knik, but here are a few.
I had intended to post a piece on April 21 to commemorate the 11th anniversary of the Whistler sled dog massacre, but one of my own dogs has been sick and to be honest, revisiting that part of the Whistler dogs' story - even after all these years - brings on a lot of emotional weight that's difficult for me to temper right now.
The piece I was working on was about the commercial sled dog industry being a numbers game.
Like any business, owners and operators need enough dogs to accommodate the bookings. Not enough dogs and they may not make enough money to cover costs; too many dogs and they also may not make enough money as there are too many mouths to feed. Because there's food, vet care, employees, marketing, kennel upkeep and their own living expenses to pay for.
Then there's the dogs who age out, get sick, whose chronic pain is too much, aren't good at pulling sleds (surprise! not all dogs bred to be sled dogs take to the sport), die or are killed. Those dogs have to be replaced. Where do those dogs come from? Is the kennel breeding or having enough 'accidental litters' or are they buying them? The number game continues.
Then there's also having to speculate on what the next season holds. And oh yeah, what to do with the dogs in the off season if there's no snow in the winter. Or what if the tourists don't come because of a global pandemic?
But right now... today... I'm going to keep things brief and remember back to the few days in September 2013 when me and my camera tagged along with fellow sleddie advocate Penny Stone, to go to Whistler and visit the site where the 2010 massacre happened. By the time I got there, over three years had passed since the killings and there had been a couple iterations of sled dog businesses trying to make a go of it, but in the end they closed up shop and decided to find homes for the dogs (there's more to the story than that, but it's covered in other areas of my site). The day I arrived, there were 44 dogs, all survivors of the killings. 43 who were now ready for a new chapter in their lives, and one who was already writing that chapter for herself. If these guys were to follow in the pawprints of some of their already-retired and adopted kennel mates, there would be limitless choose-your-own-adventures to come.
It was hot over those few days with the temperature reaching 40+ degrees celsius up in the mountains north of Whistler, BC. And as I wandered around the property, dogs always followed. And not just me, but any human that was there - treat or no treat. Every time I turned around, a cute little face was there. If I sat down, someone sat next to me and would sniff, check out my cameras, get some pets if they wanted, then lay down for a nap. It made me think about the dogs who are kept chained - which some (if not all) of these dogs were, a short time back. Sled dogs that are kept chained don't get to follow people around, go check things out, visit and play with their kennel mates, sniff things and find the perfect shade spot for a nap.
Kennel runs cost money. Perimeter fencing so dogs can free-run safely costs money. Spay/neutering costs money. More staff to provide enrichment for the dogs costs money.... just to name a few.
And it circles back to being a numbers game again.
But I digress.
And now it's taken me much longer than I wanted to put this together for many behind-the-scenes reasons which are weighty, but also because once I start writing, there are so many topics I want to cover, that I get sidetracked writing down into rabbit holes that are just too big to get into right now. I may revisit that 'numbers game' piece, only time will tell.
I share this all because as much as I've always tried to keep this about the dogs, today the human behind this work feels a need to explain why she didn't make a big post two days ago. Why she's not making a big remembrance post today, April 23, also known as day two of the killings.
Trust me, she hasn't forgotten, nor will she ever.
To those 44 survivors, thank you for paving the way back then and proving that there was more to you than being only a sled dog. For showing us all the breadth of what you're capable of, given the chance:
Arctic, Bowser, Candy, Chocolate, Cola, Daffy, Dandelion, Gretzky, Gummi Bear, Heineken, Honda, Hooters, Hurricane, Ice, Igloo, Inky, Jet, Joffre, Johnny, Kawasaki, Kayla, Kilo, Kirby, Lady, Lucky, Manny, Misty, Myers, Noodles, Nooner, Nordique, Oilers, Pancake, Pez, Rocket, Rolo, Sapporo, Sausage, Silly, Snow, Sonny, Sun, Whiney, Wiggles
Some of the photos below I haven't shared before, including a video of me sitting with some new friends in the shade. We were just around the corner from some other humans and many dogs, but in those 55 seconds - even as I was acutely aware of the events on that land in the recent past - this moment was about being right there, right then.