Portia is home
Portia is home!
After three weeks and one day on her own she was spotted, and within about 40 minutes she was in the car, and within the hour she was back home.
We haven't seen much of the sun here lately. Sure there are the little teasers that get the birds chirping and me out into the garden, but there's still that chill. But yesterday was different. Saturday, March 18/23 was going to be sunny and maybe even kind of warm.
The weather was a welcome change because Find Portia 2.0 was scheduled. When we'd endeavoured with a search a couple weeks ago it was cold and rainy and windy - not great for postering and meeting people. But the sun can work magic.
I'd had dreams the previous night of losing things and then figuring out how to find them. I hadn't actually found the things because I can't often complete tasks in my dreams, but I knew I'd be able to. So at 8:45am I picked up my buddies Shannon and Tica along with Shannon's magical ChiChi memorial glass and we hit the road out to Sooke.
Once at the meeting spot everyone was feeling really positive.
We all said our hellos -- Sparky, Buddy, Tica, Louise, Jasper and Biggie (who wore his best tie and got a hug from Jillian) -- and then got our assignments. Our area was #4 on the map -- some private property we'd gotten permission to search. Shannon, Tica and I along with Biggie, a sleddie who came in to care the same time as Portia, and his person parked and chatted with a dog walker who kindly shared her insights on the wildlife beyond the gates. "Saw some bear scat so the bears are waking up these days. There are cougars out too so watch them, but the wolves are just curious".
No problem for us city folk (!!) and off we went heading past the gate and private property signs.
Even though there hadn't been any confirmed sightings of Portia, the idea of walking trails was more in the hopes of flushing her out of hiding than thinking we'd actually find her.
We happened upon a couple off-leash dogs and my first thought was 'get a photo in case their lost!', but one had a ball and it became clear, they just wanted to play fetch. Turns out they belonged to another volunteer. Phew!
All the other volunteers had done their walking and talking and it was mid-afternoon when we headed back to Victoria. I dropped off Shannon and Tica and headed home where I showered (we'd heard the ticks were also out in full force) and then hit the sofa for a nap. I guess most of the other volunteers were in the same boat as the group chat went quiet.
Then, at 6:30pm a message popped up in our group chat "Sighting at Amanda Plc. Anyone available? Jill and I are running out of bush"
And from that moment those of us who weren't there, just watched things the events unfold in messenger form... "If anyone can run out and buy bacon that would be super helpful!!", then the street names with typos, corrected street names, requests for house numbers, connectivity issues due to the remote location, screen captured maps, the name of the spotter... and more and more messages.... until finally...
"We have her!!!!!!!!!"
And then it was quiet for a bit more until finally we saw the photo evidence we were all waiting for...
She looked ok, but was she ok?
Yes, she was ok other than being pretty skinny and having a little sore on her paw.
More photos were shared and when the team had a chance to catch their collective breaths, we got the whole story of how Portia was sighted and subsequently caught on a remote, but thankfully somewhat residential, road:
Jill + Jasper, along with volunteers Deb and Val were out searching when a message came in to a local fb group that someone named Brett had seen Portia run through her yard...
“As soon as I (Jill) got into cell range, Brett called and said, your dog is 50ft away from me I will not let her out of sight. I drove up Clark road with Deb following and Portia was running down towards me with Brett following slowly behind in her vehicle. I pulled over, let Jasper out immediately and he wagged his little tail and Portia went right up to him. Then Portia did what Portia does best and decided she was done and started back down the road. Deb had blocked off the road so she had to think twice. Jasper went with Portia so I called him back and when I said “let’s go” Portia stopped and turned back towards me. She went past me and up towards where Brett was, then turned back and took off up the road we didn’t have covered. She ran, and stopped, and ran some more. Deb yelled at me to keep yelling “let’s go” and it worked. She would stop and come back down the road, think twice and turn around. Eventually, she came galloping down the road towards me. I sat down on the road and fed Jasper some treats and paid no attention to her until she was right beside me. She took a treat from my hand and I could tell that was it, she was done running and ready for me to get her. Slipped the slip lead over her head and she didn’t even flinch.”
Jill noted that once they got home, Portia (on leash) went into the house, straight to her bed and lay down.
We'll never know what event led to Portia being found today. Was it last weekend's time change which offered more light for a chance at spotting her at 6:30pm? Was it the abundance of outdoor enthusiasts and ATVs on the remote roads, logging roads and trails on a Saturday afternoon that spooked her out of hiding? Was it the magic of sunshine, dreams, the ChiChi glass, Biggie's tie?
Or was it just time and place?
Whatever it was, it was the best news and Team Portia is incredibly thankful for the Sooke community and the volunteers who helped keep Portia's magic alive for the past three weeks and one day.
Portia's survival while on her own is pretty incredible. Her family had only recently moved to the area, she's a senior, we had some terrible storms and even some snow early on, plus the area is vast and remote and there are lots of places to run and hide... plus, there's a lot of wildlife out there. But she's home and she and her family will now have time to decompress and heal... and (shhh) pop over to the vet for a check up.
Jill has kindly shared the photos below of Portia, home and safe and sound.
Ten days of snoozing on a couch, sometimes snuggled under a blanket.
Ten days of learning about life in a home... which came pretty easily to her.
Ten days of pain meds to help with arthritis, a sore back, or whatever was causing her pain.
On the tenth day she went in for her spay. Her foster family had noticed a lump on her and when they opened her up the vet found her full of cancer.
She was closed back up and was gently sent along into her final sleep.
Keni, or Keenai as her foster family named her, had ten days of choosing her own schedule for naps, walks, outside time.
Ten days to smoosh her sweet sleddie nature into the hearts of everyone she met.
I only met her the night she arrived, exhausted from the drive from up north, but she, of course, made an impression in the short time I knew her.
Thank you to her transporters, the Victoria Humane Society for taking her under their wing, and of course her foster family - both humans and doggos - for TEN DAYS of unconditional love.
Keenai's foster family kindly shared some photos, four of which have been included below as well.
Rest in peace Keni/Keenai
Our friend Portia is still missing.
It was Friday, February 24th when she bolted out the front door of her home when the plumber arrived. It's not something she would normally do.
Local social media groups who help find lost pets were notified and people sprang into action. Posters were made and put up around the community of Sooke, BC where she's lost.
Sooke is district about 45 mins north of Victoria. It has a growing downtown area with some residential pockets, but it's pretty much surrounded by large rural properties on three sides and the ocean on one. Where Portia went missing from is full of Private Properties, farms, acreages, trails, wildlife -- and lots of places where a dog who's likely in survival mode now, can make itself unseen.
There have been a couple potential sightings since Portia went missing, but none confirmed so a search party was set up for Saturday, March 4th. The maps and areas to search were organized by Erin, who also set up a home base to keep track of everyone. It was cold and rainy and windy and at the forefront of everyone's mind was Portia, a senior sleddie who came into care in April 2021. Portia is very sweet, but very leery of new people. And while she's a cuddler at home, she needs her brother Jasper for support. And it turns out Jasper is really missing his Portia.
Volunteers drove around the rural areas checking out what maps couldn't show. Marked trails were walked and new trails were forged. With snow on the ground in some spots, volunteers watched for paw prints. More larger posters were put up and people handed out small posters and chatted up anyone they came across.
As I was driving around I would keep seeing things that I thought were Portia… or places where she could be hiding. But it was like looking for a needle in a haystack, in a field of haystacks. Where do you start?
At one point I ran into some family who lives out there and since he knows the area, I popped in for a visit and he - along with the help of his dogs - showed me some areas our group could search. (Thanks B, A + E!)
The Sooke terrain felt familiar with its dead-end rural roads, trails to who-knows-where, moss-covered rocks, lakes and streams, and it took me back to 2015 and the time I joined Deb on one of her trips to search for Apex.
Apex had been Deb’s foster dog and after he got adopted, he went missing. For five months he survived on his own in the rural areas outside of Sechelt, BC, until he appeared seemingly out of nowhere on a fish farm dock, safe and in reasonable health (save for some weight loss and a few ticks) [https://www.iwasasleddog.com/blog/finding-apex]. So armed with Apex’s remarkable story and the many other tales of lost dogs who are found days, weeks, months after going missing, it gives me a sense of hope in finding Portia.
There was a lot of groundwork laid by the volunteers, so along with other work going on behind the scenes including scent markers and trail cams we’re all just waiting for a confirmed sighting. Something that provides us with an area to focus the search. So while Saturday's search party may not have yielded anything concrete this time, the eyes and ears are open and word about Portia is spreading.
Some from our sleddie community came out to help too and I managed to connect with a few of them: Stevie + Peach, Sparky + Buddy (and l'il Koda Bear), Argus and Twister. And some of them even gave a “one-ear flop” in support of their friend Portia.
Thanks also to head greeter, Cedar, who provided some smiles on a very gray day and did her part by forging through some snow with one of the volunteers.
If you're able to help with posters or searches, please let me know.
Thanks so much to everyone who came out to help!
14 new arrivals, 14 new friends
I was up way past my bedtime last night for the arrival of these 14 loves - 8 adults and 6 puppies. Some had been kept on heavy chains connected to frozen urine encrusted wooded boxes. Some were in pens.
All were living outside in northern Canada up until a couple days ago.
Think that's cool?
It's really f-ing cold.
The sled dog tour industry isn't all it's hyped up to be. I've been documenting the post-working lives of sled dogs for over 10 years and every time I meet a new group into care, I take a moment to tell each one that it's going to get better.
The arrival can be very scary and everything they've known, whether it's good or bad, is thrown out the window and it's back to square one.
But the one thing I've learned is that sleddies are resilient and do their best to make sense of our seemingly random human world.
Welcome to a whole new world: Ying, Yang, Yale, Watsit, Keni, Baloo, Blue and her 3 pups and Willy and her 3 pups!
This time I made a video of their arrival... it's about 5 mins long so grab a cup o' tea.
It was March 21, 2012 when I first met Ash. He had arrived the day before and was getting his bearings. It was a big change from life on the mountain. At the shelter he was being kennelled with Comet, a pretty relaxed sleddie who was very generous with his affection.
Ash had these deep golden eyes that drew you in. His coat was a beautiful brown, almost brindley and he had those long sleddie legs. He was one to put his paw on you for treats, attention or maybe just comfort when he was unsure.
It would be about a year and a half before I saw him again, September 2013, at our first reunion. He'd been adopted by an amazing human who was working to help ease his anxieties, someone who didn't return him when he tore apart the inside of her car when he was left in there for a short time.
She loved him.
As a Whistler sled dog cull survivor, Ash's second chapter as a beloved family member was pretty awesome. He came to reunions and hung out with some of his old buddies and in 2017 he participated in I Was A Sled Dog and showed off his posing skills as well as his extra cute "paw + cute look = treats from human" look.
The last few years he shared his life with a tri-pawed brother and Ash got to show him the ropes. He was a very good big brother.
I'm so grateful that Jen and Ash found each other.
Rest in peace and love sweet Ashy.
the february meet up
Our second meet up of the year was a great success!
17 sleddies along with one honourary sleddie came out to the woods to run, romp, trundle and get their paws muddy.
We started with a group photo, and then met up in the woods with some more friends and another photo op. Some were off leash and weren't too happy with having to stop the adventure so soon after starting, so it's a bit of a group-photo mash up with wayward dogs wandering in all directions!
In addition to old friends reconnecting, some new friends joined in! Twister, who came into care in March 2022 got adopted last spring so came for his first group walk, and Spinner, who it turns out is Jasper's brother! They have the same cute snouts and soft, floofy-ish coats.
With so many attendees it made for a long line of humans and dogs on the forest trails so I tried my best to capture everyone along the way. Some gave me lots of chances as they ran from the front of the line and back, likely putting on 10x more mileage than the rest of us and others made me work a bit to find them along the way.
All in all, it was a great little adventure and I'm so glad were 2 for 2 with groups walks this year!
As usual, I include a whole host of photos so you can join along virtually and share in those split-second moments of head tilts, facial expression nuances and body language changes... all without getting your feet muddy.
Thanks to all who came out... I'm looking forward to March's meet up already!
Sleddie Roll Call: Apex, Mary Kate + Roo, Argus Arwen, Clyde, Jack, Jasper + Portia, Samwell, Sparky + Buddy, Smokey, Spinner, Stevie + Peach and Twister... and honourary sleddie Tica, who was a great little sister to ChiChi.
the january 1 forest bath
It was our (sort of) annual sleddie gathering and we all went for a bath in the forest.... although I think some came out from this woodland bath in need of a regular bath.
14 sleddies - some off leash, some on. Some seniors, some youngsters who probably went 10x as far as most of us.
Some who've known retirement for years, some who are in their first year.
New friends and old.
We met up, the dogs got treats because, you know, they gotta get some extra energy to trundle the forest paths (!) and then did our best at getting a group photo before we headed off.
It was short and sweet and just the right little walk to start off a new year.
A new year that I'm sure will see more former sled dogs get to know soft sofas, warm blankets and all the love, toys and care that life can offer.
Sleddie roll call: Apex, Argus, Clyde, Ice, Jasper, Mary Kate, Peach, Portia, Roo, Santana, Smokey, Sparky, Sparky2 (now called Buddy) and Stevie
Thanks to everyone who came out... and for loving your sleddies!
21 in 2022
I met 21 new sleddies this year!
Angel, Argus, Clyde, Cruz, Echo, Jack, Kayou, Louie, Louise, Nike, Oman, Oscar, Peach, Samwell, Serabe, Snickers, Sparky, Sweetie, Tiger, Troy and Twister
Most I met when they were new into care, with a couple being just new to me.
We also went on forest walks, met up in yards, parking lots and parks. Here are the friends I got to hang out with in 2021...
Here are some photos from those meetups, in no particular order.
Thanks for an amazing year old friends and new... and here's looking to 2023!
2022 sleddie friends roll call (fingers crossed I've named them all!):
Angel, Apex, Argus, Arwen, Batman, Bella, Biggie, Bruno, Clyde, Colby, Cruz, Echo, Jack, Jasper, Kayou, Louie, Louise, Mary Kate, Millie, Nike, Oman, Oscar, Pluto, Portia, Peach, Rio, Roo, Samwell, Serabe, Smokey, Snickers, Sparky, Stevie, Sweetie, Tiger, Toledo, Troy and Twister
Colby, Nike + Bella
I recently had the chance to pop in and see a couple old sleddie friends, Colby + Bella, and meet a new one, Nike!
I first met Colby July 23, 2014, when he came into care. He then was fostered with my friend Deb so I got to see him often -- including a trip to walk the wilds of the Sunshine Coast in the hopes of Finding Apex, his foster brother, when he was missing.
Deb had nicknamed Colby the little Imp and it's true, he a little guy, with a very imp-ish way about him. Now that he's older and his mobility isn't what it used to be he gets breakfast, lunch and dinner in bed and the cuddles come to him. The imp-ishness is still there because he will get up for some smelly treats!
Last year, Colby's humans adopted Nike - who like Troy and Argus - are survivors of a sled dog company cruelty investigation here in BC. Nike is very, very shy, however, it's been recently discovered she's learning to like Jeopardy! Now whether it's really her love of the trivia show or the treats that come with it, or the regular routine of a daily family tv date, it's bringing this girl out of her shell, slowly but surely.
My heart melted when I saw her in her safe little nest - it's right outside Jane's art room and if the door opens, Nike trots in and takes her place under Jane's desk. Oh my heart! I can see why Nike likes it in there - not only is it a room with a creative, yet relaxing feeling - one wall is an ode to the dogs this family has shared their life with, all painted with love by Jane.
We had a few moments in the living room to get some photos, but since it was my first time meeting Nike I didn't want to push it with my scary camera so the visit was kept short and sweet. As I said my farewells I marvelled at the life Colby has had the opportunity to have... the love, the care, the agency to do things on his own terms. And I'm thankful Nike will get that same opportunity...
Next up was a lightning-fast visit to Bella's house. In February 2018, Bella came all the way to BC from Ontario. A survivor of a cruelty investigation, Bella was coming out west because we have such a huge and supportive sleddie community here and an adopter was already lined up! Deb and I met Bella at the airport and got chatting with some staff and relaying Bella's story and as the kennel was opened up and Bella came out one of the first things I heard was "she was a sled dog?"
Yes, it's one of the most common questions I hear and one of the main reasons I started this work.
Bella was a sweetie from the get-go and I've gotten to see her a few times over the years. She's such a happy, loved girl!
When I went into her house she was all tail wags and soaked up all the love I had. She hopped up on her sofa (the family keeps a sofa by the window that is all hers!) and lay down. But then she hopped off and I could tell something had changed... she didn't like my camera. I managed to get a couple more photos stealthily, but I really don't like pushing it - especially in their home, their safe space.
Her mom told me Bella's doing mostly well but is having some episodes that they're trying to sort out with their vet. Otherwise she's happy and loves her walks and runs in the school grounds across from their house!
It was much too short of a visit, but plans are in the works for another visit in the new year.
Big hugs to these families!
Until then friends!
Colby - muti-colour floof
Nike - white as snow
Bella - black with cute, little snout spots
Originally named Fairy (from the Mystical litter), Lucy was adopted in 2012 from W.A.G. (Whistler Animals Galore), the shelter just outside of Whistler, BC and not far from the kennels where she lived... and survived the 2010 Whistler sled dog cull.
Learning to live inside had some challenges at first, but her family was patient and understanding.
Her past didn't wholly define her though and she had lots of adventures including the wide-open beaches of Tofino, BC where she got to run... not hooked up to anything, not even a leash.
She had the opportunity to run freely and be herself.
Lucy was tall and lithe, one of the not-so-husky-like sleddies and always had a smile on her face - not a stress smile - but a happy smile. And it was infectious.
I got to meet her at a couple reunions here in town, but it wasn't until her nana brought her to my studio so I could photograph her for Part One of my project, that I really got to see how special she was. She LOVED her nana and her nana LOVED her. It was adorable.
For all Lucy's joie de vivre, she had some medical issues along the way. On one vet visit, golf-ball sized rocks were found to be embedded in her stomach. Though this was new to her family, it's not a new find in sled dogs. Being tethered all day, every day when not pulling meant that whatever was close could be chewed and/or eaten out of boredom frustration or entertainment - be it the wooden dog house, the plastic igloo dog house, the tether chain or even the rocks within that chained circumference. The rocks were removed with surgery and Lucy went on to live the life of a beloved family member who was a love bug, fun-time girl, and a couch potato all rolled into one beautiful blue-eyed package.
Lucy knew she had support. People in her corner rooting for her. Helping her along... and she thrived.
Recently her failing back end and struggle with canine cognitive decline meant it was time to say farewell and her final morning was spent in the woods, her favourite place.
Thank you to her family.
Rest in peace and love, sweet Lucy.
p.s. at the reunions, Lucy was always on the go, but I managed to get her on a couple occasions as she buzzed past me! In the group photo, Lucy can be found with her family (about 10 o'clock position) and then at my studio (with her nana)