i was a sled dog blog
one person's journey advocating for sled dogs - rescued, retired, former, fired, or in need of help
Today was it. The day I got to meet Troy.
As one of a number of dogs seized from an operator in the interior of BC last year in a cruelty case, Troy brings with him a bit of a backstory.
But I don't want to go into all that right now.
I want to share this new part of his life. The part where he's now covered by animal protection laws and is no longer beholden to someone for their livelihood and his life. The part where he now has choice and opportunity.
I don't know how fearful (or not) he was when he was first taken into care last year (about 340 days ago), but when he arrived today and hopped out of the van, he came right up my front steps to greet me. When I pulled out a treat, he sat down and looked at me. I don't really ask dogs to do much for a treat other than look cute -- which all dogs nail 100% of the time -- but after my surprised look at this sit performance, I was told Troy's been learning some new things while in care, and learning to sit* was one of them.
What's that saying you can't teach an old dog new tricks? BAH!
*Note: Although sitting is often one of the first things humans seem to teach dogs, in the sleddie world, this and similar movements are taught with some extra care, especially for the seniors. Not all dogs come with vet records, and if they do, they can be pretty limited so some level of arthritis is a given. But depending on the severity (along with any other undiagnosed joint and spine issues) sitting can be difficult, painful or even impossible. So if new-into-care sleddies aren't quite learning this new ask, it's not because they aren't smartie-pants, it could likely be pain related.
Before we headed off to the park though we took a moment in my yard to chat, I sat down and Troy came over and I gave him some scritches while he sniffed my face and head. I brought out the treat baggie and the results were: Dried fish snacks? Sure! Soft Milk Bones? Maybe. Stella & Chewy's Surf n' Turf? YES PLEASE!!
Golden Oreos? Nah.
Then off we went with Troy's nose to the ground.
Boy this guy likes to sniff. And rightly so... living life on a chain as a working sled dog meant his sniffing world was very small. But now, at 9 years old, this guy has the opportunity to sniff this big, wide world of ours and it looks like he's gonna make up for lost time!
During today's short visit, Troy eagerly sniffed the park pathway where all the dogs pee when they arrive at the park. Also, the walkway, the brambles, the grass by the rocks, the rocks, the top of ocean, the actual ocean (as he stuck his nose in the water), the otter in the distance eating a fish, the birds above and in the water, some new strange humans and dogs, and then once back at my house, a good sniff of my backyard where he peed on all my dog's favourite pee spots!
Today's adventure also included a blackberry thorn removal from above bramble sniffing (see photo 5) and scritches. Troy loves scritches. He loves them on his face, chest and even the top of his head, especially when you use your fingertips like an octopus (see photo 13).
I think though, the moment that best describes this outing was the one where he stood still and turned his face to the warmth of the sun, eyes closed. (photo 27)
Maybe I'm putting my human-ness on this action, but he looked pretty blissed out there for a moment.
I'm incredibly grateful that I got to meet this fella because although he's come from a different kennel than many of the 200+ sleddies I've met, he's yet another former sled dog proving that he's an individual with his own likes, dislikes, needs and personality. I can only imagine how big his world will continue to get now that he has the opportunity, along with a huge community of former sled dog adopters behind him, cheering him on. 100%.
Troy is in foster with super-sleddie adopter/foster Deb, but is adoptable through the SPCA in Victoria.
what was captured by camera on this walk:
- Bruno getting pets
- Bruno going up stairs
- Bruno going down stairs
- Bruno standing in the warm, morning sun
- Bruno getting treats (he's the gentlest of treat takers)
- Bruno meeting other dogs
- Bruno on the beach and not interested in the ocean
- Bruno watching the world
what was not captured by camera: (because sometimes it's just about being in the moment)
- Bruno following me (who he's always kept at arms' length previously) as we walked
- Bruno sniffing the pathway, then peeing (he's only recently learned to sniff on walks)
- Bruno taking treats from me as if he's been doing it for ages (he's taken them before, but not so easily)
- Bruno looking at me and not turning away when I looked at him
- Bruno jumping up onto a cement block because that's where I was... then taking more treats
- Bruno looking relaxed while getting loves (he's camera shy) and treats from his foster, Shannon
Bruno is such a gem. He asks for nothing, just follows along. He looks around to see the world and he is trying so hard to fit in. For some sleddies, it takes a bit to work through new things. For Bruno, one of the ways he does this is circling. He was on a long leash line on this walk so he had the chance to explore a bit more (which he did), but he does this sort of pace/circle action. In his past life, he lived on a chain tether so it's a very familiar action and without trying to decode his psyche too much, I've see it in countless other sleddies as they worked through new situations. Bruno did this action before he joined me on the cement block and he does it sometimes when stopped on the path, or something new is in his midst.
He's taking those steps though. And in the couple months since I first met him and started going on walks, it's so ridiculously beautiful to see his progress. In a previous post I likened his progress to not just baby steps as they were more like "blink-and-you-may-miss-them steps", but to know him is to see this new world unfold for him.
I know the perfect home is out there for him. Someone who just wants to trundle around with him, gently, at his pace. Who can provide sanctuary for him while he continues to heal and learn.
Thanks to Shannon and Tica (the costa-rican-street-pup-turned-Bruno-guardian), for a beautiful walk.
p.s. After the gallery, check out the two video clips!
Sweet Copper passed away.
In the handful of times I got to see her in real life, Copper was pretty shy for the most part (aside from being a bit of a treat-hound when the camera was not on her!). But I know she had her silly side, her soft side; her side that let her trusted humans in so they could care for her, stroke her face as she lay on the bed and tell her they loved her.
The photos I got to see and stories I got to hear of when she was out with her safe group -- the dogs and humans she felt most comfortable with -- were full of adventure, laughs, high jumps for treats, and even a few surprises.
My heart goes out to her sleddie crew -- Deb with Apex, Calli, Mary Kate, Roo + Flash, Jillian with Jasper and Portia, and all the others - sleddie and non-sleddie, human and non-human who she spent time with.
As I went through my archives searching for photos, I realized I only saw her a handful of times in person over the 5+ years she lived with her family. But because of this strong, supportive, sleddie community, we get to know each other's dogs so well.
And that's a pretty special thing.
Whatever Copper's first chapter as a sled dog had been, her second chapter was spent in warmth, peace and as a beloved family member. Loved for who she was.
Was it too short?
It always is.
My love goes out to her family.
Rest in peace and love Copper.
Who would've thought, all those years ago, that one day, Whistler sleddog cull survivors would wind up with their adorable faces on a tea towel?
Not me, that's for sure.
But it happened for not just one, but TWO sleddies - ChiChi + Fiddle - thanks to the amazing Wunderdog Magazine!
So today with the heaps of snow having melted and the incessant rain at bay, I took a drive to see Fiddle (also the cover dog of this blog) and deliver this cutie little tea towel to her in person. I hadn't seen Fiddle in real life since August 2019 when I went to visit her and meet her foster brother, Bran, but she gave me that same smile as she walked right up to me to say hello and lean in for pets. In fact, she was more interested in saying hello and burying the treats I gave her than any real present, but she took a moment to sniff the little package wrapped in the adorable custom Wunderdog Christmas wrap (also featuring Fiddle + ChiChi) with Fiddle herself on the tag! I have to say it's quite possibly the cutest wrapping on the planet!
Once this treat-hound realized it wasn't edible, she didn't have much interest, but damn if this 16-going-on-17 year old sweetheart at least took the time to give it a sniff! (video below!)
Off camera? Fiddle got treats, gave me kisses and stopped for loves while the humans had a chat. And then she took a little zoomie around the front yard before deciding it was time to head back inside.
I'm so thankful that Fiddle is getting to live out her life in safety, comfort and dignity... and lots of loves!
For more on Fiddle's story, visit her profile here!
Thanks for visiting!
p.s. correction to the above... I saw Fiddle most recently on January 1, 2020 on a forest walk... check it out!
Sleddie radar is a real thing and for me it's always on.
Books, tv, social media, or just walking my own dog around the neighbourhood. That familiar excited-like twinge I feel when it zeroes in on that which is so familiar to me. Sleddies. Even with the diversity throughout the dogs I've met, there's a walk, body posture, look, along with something I can't describe, that 99% of the time is unmistakeable.
Yesterday it picked up on a social media post of a missing dog. Not only did the dog look like a sleddie, but I thought we'd met before, but probably a long time ago. The dog's age was noted at 17, so it would likely be a Whistler survivor, which meant we would've met in 2012 or 2013.
But then I had a work call and got distracted for the rest of the day.
When my friend Deb reached out later in the afternoon with the lost dog post asking: "Oh my god is this Whistler sleddie blizzard????????"
My answer was "YES!"
I quickly looked her up in my gallery of all the sleddies I've ever photographed and found her right away.
I met Blizzard July 23, 2013 on her first day of retirement. She was a survivor of the Whistler sled dog cull in 2010 and she arrived into care with 13 other sleddies (Question, Eagle, Boo, Tuba, Cello, Owl, Ping, Mister, Muffin, Muselix, Bubba, Hopper, Griffindor). I managed to keep in touch with (or keep tabs on) a few of the sleddies from this group, but I always wonder what happened to the sleddies I've haven't been able to keep in touch with... who adopted them? How was their retirement? Did they get all that they needed? Time to run and play and just be the amazing dogs they are? As survivors of the cull, what effect did that end up having on their lives?
It was heartbreaking to see Blizzard was missing and even more so considering the pseudo-blizzard that blew into town yesterday afternoon. That twinge from my sleddie radar going off appeared, but felt a bit different this time. It wasn't excitement -- it felt more quiet than that. More like relief perhaps. Relief that a dog who'd suffered so much was still being loved and cared for, no matter what she was up to. And relief she was safe once again.
The workings of sleddie radar have been honed by lots of people in our community. Last week a sleddie adopter friend (Shrekkie's mom) had a sleddie radar connection with a new co-worker. During the 'getting to know you' conversation, they talked about dogs and discovered they both had adopted sleddies many years ago. Barb then got in touch with me asking if I remembered a couple sleddies named Comet & Holstein.
Did I? Absolutely!
And when I asked why, she told me of the connection!
It's a small sleddie world.
Although I never met Holstein, I knew the name through old records I've seen. But Comet, I met back in March 2012, around the same time I met Shrek. I remember having a hard time telling Comet and Shrek apart in my photos once I got home as they looked so similar - the tell for me ended up being the ears. Comet's stood up, Shrek's flopped over.
Comet has since passed away, but Holstein is still adventuring.
I absolutely love hearing these stories.
I have a hard time describing how it feels when I hear about these connections. As someone who generally only gets to see a dog when they're not themselves... scared, nervous, overly excited, shut down, unsettled... to find out that they've been loved and cared for all these years is a really unique and beautiful feeling that brings me some semblance of comfort and enables me to keep sharing stories.
Thank you for visiting,
24 new retirees in 6 sets of new arrivals
12 meet up photo ops
53 gb of raw images
thousands of shutter clicks
1 sleddie turned 17
6* sleddies passed away
It was a year like no other... but then again, aren't they all?
24 more sleddies joined the 'officially retired' team. I use 'officially' for two reasons: 1) because a few of them had retired while at the sled dog kennel but they didn't have anywhere to retire to; and 2) because the moment they left the kennel and were in care of the rescue, they became 'domestic pets' and thus covered under domestic animal protection laws here in BC. They may be outdated laws, but they're a LOT better than the agricultural animal 'laws' that covered them previously.
I'm not sure of the costs incurred to date, but it would be well in to the thousands - gas, ferry fares, spay/neuter surgeries, lump removals, dentals, specialist appointments (Pumpkin's eyes), food. Plus the volunteer hours provided by foster homes who not only opened up their homes for months to some of this crew, but made sure they got to all their medical appointments.
Some arrivals looked more like what one thinks a sled dog should look like - a bit floofier and husky-like (Ace, Ice, Saturn), some looked more like hounds (Biggie, Ginny), some had piercing blue eyes (Saturn, Centurion, Ice, Batman, Loki, Meso, Toledo), and some were incredibly fearful but are coming out of their shells at their own pace (Ace, Bear, Catty, Bruno, Herman, Stevie). Two were adopted by their foster homes (Pumpkin, Sparkle), one was adopted by her transporter (Portia), and one was just a puppy (Bamboo).
And at the time of writing this, one is still awaiting adoption... Bruno.
It's one thing to photograph dogs at intake as it's not really the best photo op. It's confusing, they may be scared and not themselves, there's new people, smells, they're getting fitted for new harnesses and collars. Their GPS trackers are getting tested. They may be getting a flea & tick or deworming treatment. They may just want to sleep because it's been a big travel day. They may just be super shut down. All the while I'm trying to be a bit of a fly-on-the-wall to get a photo of them, to document their existence and give them space in this world, while they hide behind another dog, a human, under a desk. It's a lot. This is why I'm so incredibly stoked to meet up a few days, weeks, months down the road. There is always a positive change. To see them more relaxed and comfortable, have time off leash, taking treats, giving eye contact, responding to their name instead of tucking their tail. Sometimes it's a teeny tiny change, but it's celebrated. These meet ups are also a lot, but in a super beautiful way.
With a passionate group at the helm, there were chances for (safe) meet ups and connection for both the humans and sleddies and its inspiring to see this community continue to grow and evolve.
2021, for me, meant year 10 of sled dog advocacy, bringing 24 new ambassadors into my world and the total number of sleddies in this work to 208. There are now 24 more faces and names whose mere presence in this world can help advocate for those who are still being exploited. They don't need to do anything else except learn to be themselves.
2022, for me, will mean 10 years since I clicked the shutter on my first sleddie. Ten years of following the 'after', what some may call the 'hard part'. But knowing there are more sled dogs ready to come into care if foster homes can be found, I will continue to share the names, faces and stories because as long as the sled dog industry exists, there will be dogs in need. I know our transport team is ready, are you?
Thank you to the Victoria Humane Society who foots all the bills for these retirees, and to the volunteers who arrange fosters, help with adoptions and support in any way they can. Also, to the transporters of this precious cargo: Jillian+ Debbie, Jillian + Charla, Bobbie, Jillian + Amanda, Debbie + Jillian and Jillian and her mom.
In alphabetical order, meet the new I Was A Sled Dog ambassadors!
Ace, Bamboo, Batman, Bear, Biggie, Bruno, Cally, Cap, Catty, Centurion, Ginny, Herman, Ice, Kerri, Loki, Meso, Portia, Pumpkin, Saturn, Sparkle, Stevie, Teddy, Tig, Toledo
*this is the number of sleddies I've heard passed away in 2021, the number could be higher
Sweet Calli passed away this week. Not wholly unexpected, though that doesn't lessen the sadness that comes with it.
Calli came into care along with a few other sleddies in 2016 having retired from a recreational musher in Fort St James. She ended up in foster with my dear friend Deb who - not surprisingly - eventually adopted her.
She joined us on a walk on Sunday and she was enjoying the outing, but arthritis and some recent health problems came to the forefront and after lots of chat with her trusted vet, Deb had to make the call.
Calli-wag, Calli-girl, Snappy Pants -- she always greeted me with that smile.
She had a zest for life, she loved treats, forest romps and spending time with her friends.
She leaves behind her adopted siblings Apex, Flash, Mary Kate and foster brother Roo.
Rest in peace and love sweet girl and say hi to our friends for us.
The window opened up and the weather held. Just pockets of sun and a brisk chill in the air. The ground was saturated from the deluge of rain we've been getting here on the we(s)t coast which made the moss extra green, encouraged little mushroom families and created delicate droplets of water which hung from the lichen. But the dogs paid no mind.
They got to romp, run, trundle, and saunter over trails and bridges and throughout the forest.
They got to see old friends and meet new ones.
And Apex didn't run from me and my camera... a first in the 7+ years I've known him.
The regular sleddie walk schedule has been difficult to keep during Covid, but sometimes the last-minute plans are the ones that work out.
That was Sunday's walk.
Sleddie roll call: Apex, Bear, Biggie, Bruno, Calli, Flash, Jasper, Mary Kate, Portia, Roo, Saturn, Stevie + Sparky
... plus Tica (Bruno's sister while he's in foster) and Bear's new floofy siblings (Abby + Lola)
Yes, you are reading that right... a sleddie puppy. They don't often retire before they start working, but Bamboo is one of the lucky ones. He was born in August 2021, and aside from knowing he battled parvo early on, not much else is known about his lineage. But if his gangly body, gait and hooves for paws, are a 'tell', he's sleddie offspring for sure. Being an outgoing little fella also meant he made the journey from Whistler to Victoria on laps and getting in as many snuggles as he could.
His travel companions included two seniors, Meso (me-so) and Saturn. Meso is a sibling to Ice who came in earlier this year. And Saturn, although he looks a LOT like Batman who retired back in January, is apparently a sibling to Mars, who was sprung from working life back in 2014.
Mars is still with us - although he's a tripod now after it was found he had some broken bones in his hip/pelvis area that had been left untreated so his leg had to be amputated. It hasn't slowed him down though.
Meso and Saturn originally came from that same kennel I've mentioned in previous posts. I don't know exactly what happened there - I've only heard some truly awful rumours - but every dog I've met that's spent any time at that kennel has been incredibly fearful of humans. These two have the visible scars on their snouts, and clearly some non-visible scars too. Meso has a big knot of fur on his neck (likely from a collar), and Saturn has some hair loss on his neck (also, likely due to a collar). Over the years, some of these fearful dogs have learned to trust, but some are still struggling... even 7 years later.
What I do know is that these Bamboo, Meso + Saturn will be warm, safe and cared for this winter. Saturn spent some time recently in a house, but this whole 'living in a home' thing will be all new for Meso. Some great fosters have stepped up to provide a landing spot and they've got a huge community of support behind them. When these guys get adopted, that support continues.
All three of these sweeties were game for treats when they arrived, however Bamboo was more interested in tossing his treats around and playing with them! Meso and Saturn took them very willingly and oh so gently. Their mouths lingered on my hand, came back in to check for more, and I even got a few licks. It took them no time to figure out where the treats were coming from so I'm guessing a little "cupboard love" will be a way into their hearts.
So, what's next for these heartbreakers? First some time to decompress and get to know them, then it's off to the vet for check ups and get any medical taken care of -- including neutering and dentals -- two of the most common procedures for sleddies when they arrive.
I'm sure "little" Bamboo (he's already a gangly 28 lbs!) will be adopted quickly, but Meso, Saturn and the other senior sleddies who are waiting for homes are just as special. And just because they were sled dogs, don't let the two biggest myths get you:
1) No, not all sled dogs pull on leash, in fact most of the seniors just amble along behind or next to you.
2) Though they may not have much (if any) experience living in a home, like any new senior dog you bring into your life, you find each other's rhythm, celebrate the ways you learn to connect and know you're helping a dog live out its twilight years in love and comfort.
Thanks again to Jillian (sleddies Jasper + Porsche's mom) and Victoria Humane Society for helping this intrepid trio into care!
Once again, I share many photos to so you can too can witness the nuances of their personalities on the first moments of a new life.
Sometimes former sled dogs take baby steps, some take smaller-than-baby steps. They're more like blink-and-you'll-miss-them steps.
Bruno is one of those sleddies. The three times I've hung out with him - once when he first arrived, another in October and most recently, today. I can see the wheels in his head turning and he tries to sort out what's going on around him. He watches, he'll inch closer and then he'll stop himself and back up. Sometimes he does that again. It's like he has an internal "road closed" sign seemingly preventing him from going forward. But for all we know, it's an internal "detour" sign and he's going at his own pace, doing his best to navigate his way through this new life.
Bruno's now in foster with my friend Shannon (mom to the tiny wonder, ChiChi) and her happy-go-lucky-but-just-keep-the-cats-away former street dog Tica so today we went for a little walk around their neighbourhood. He's been with them a couple weeks now and he's started to take treats from her hand. And when it's walkie time, once he hears Tica's leash being put on, he makes his way to the door, peeks around the corner and gets ready for his turn to be leashed up up.
Shannon showed me how she gives him treats at the start of our walk so I tried with the treats I brought. He wouldn't take it.... but then he took one of her treats from my hand... and then he took one of my treats from my hand. And as long as I didn't try too hard or make too big of a deal about the amazingness going on, he continued to take them. He trotted along behind Shannon very politely and when the sound of the leaf blower worried him, he quickened his pace so he was closer to Tica. He then got another treat for being such a champ and making it past that noise.
Bruno putting on his "brave dog face" today navigating his internal blocks and detours is another reminder of the resiliency of former sled dogs. Their legacies don't have to be steeped in the human ego attached to running 1000-mile races or being exceptional athletes, designed to be run for human gain and livelihood.
It can be as simple as savouring those blink-and-you'll-miss-them baby steps towards a life as a beloved dog.
Bruno isn't officially adoptable quite yet as he's got a dental coming up, but when he's ready, you'll see him on the Victoria Humane Society's facebook page.
Well done Bruno and team!
Here are some photos + vid taken with my phone as I didn't want to worry him by using my usual gear. ;)