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 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
January 31, 2021
Nine former sled dogs made their way into retirement today.
Nine former sled dogs will sleep in a home tonight and all nights going forward.
Nine former sled dogs will no longer have to work for their keep.
Nine dogs who were not covered under companion animal protection laws this morning, are covered by them tonight.
To Teddy, Tig, Cap, Kerri, Batman, Sparkle, Stevie, Pumpkin + Herman (not pictured), welcome to retirement.
(more words and photos about this story to come, so please check back)
Calli Calli Calli stopped by for some neck rubs today... and to pick up some food donated by a friend that will help feed her three sleddie foster siblings.
Calli can’t really reach and scratch her own neck these days because of arthritis and age so I’m happy to help anytime I can.
Doesn’t she have the sweetest sleddie smile?!
She didn't want to look at me when taking her photo... whatevs... I'm used to it by now.
Love you Calli girl!
Wanna learn more about Calli? Click here!
#adopt #sleddies #sleddogsaredogs #lookbeyondthebrochure
June 27, 2020: the day newly-retired Vinnie got to show that he was more than what his past as a sled dog dictated.
Does he love to run? Sure! But he also loves treats and playtime with dogs and humans. He showed he was inquisitive and trusting and deserving of a life in the lap of love.
Vinnie was adopted soon after this!
Full photo gallery here: an evening with old friend + new friends
Morley (formerly known as Splash, who came into care back in April) got adopted by a local family so I arranged to meet up with them on what turned out to be a beautiful afternoon.
After about four months in a foster home, Morley found her family just 5 weeks ago, but has made herself at home. Her family is part of our local sleddie community and this will be the second sleddie they’ve welcomed into their home! They adopted Otter a few years ago and were fortunate to love her for her a short, but sweet time.
I know it can sometimes take years for families to learn their sleddies’ like and dislikes, but I had to ask what they've learned so far:
Likes - pillows, cheese, cuddles, laundry (dirty or clean), morning tummy rubs, playing with the hose and getting muddy with her adopted brother Apollo and being the little spoon during bedtime cuddles.
Dislikes - men yelling, car backfires, and she cowered when she heard the word ‘No’ directed at her
Morley is a reserved gal, but when she has time to relax, she starts to open up. She’s adventurous and is showing her young brother all about water and how fun it is to get muddy! She also has a pretty high prey drive, but does have a cat friend.
Not a lot about her background can be confirmed but it’s believed she came from the same kennel in the Whistler area that many of the most fearful sleddies in our community have come from.
But whatever her past, her future looks to be amazing.
Thanks to Victoria Humane Society for bringing this girl into care and for TJ and family for giving her a new chapter filled with love, care and compassion.
I like to share my sleddie photos in a series when possible as I believe it helps to better share a better glimpse into the personality of the dog. The ear radar, eye movements, body postures, tail wags and, in Morley’s case, how gently she takes cheese from her mom’s hand. It’s all a part of what makes the dog individual. And as much as I like them to look at the camera, it’s more about capturing them doing their thing - sometimes they’re looking, sometimes not. And sometimes I catch them with their eyes closed… something I can not get enough of.
Pictured also, Apollo, her youngster-of-a-brother who can catch airborne treats all day!
All photos © wendy nesbitt
The sun has set.
That was the first thing I though of when I heard that Sun passed away.
Each of the 183 sleddies I've met holds a special spot in my heart and Sun was no exception.
I first met him in September 2013 when I went to Whistler to photograph survivors of the 2010 Whistler sled dog cull. I spent 3 full days at the kennels where the dogs were living - doing my best to learn the names of 43 new friends I'd made. Sure some of them were more on board with being my friend than others, but no matter how friendly, shy, scared or indifferent they were to me, each one was truly unique in personality and spirit.
I could feel Sun watching me a lot over those day. If I ever wandered from the group to photograph something that caught my eye, he followed me... at a distance... and then he'd bark... maybe at me... maybe alerting the others...? I liked how attentive and curious he was, but he never seemed to be curious enough to come too close for pets.
Sun's biological siblings were Sky + Moon, and though they may have had similar builds, Sun was golden brown and they were black. Sky + Moon got adopted together, and Sun got adopted later with a kennel mate named Silly.
I didn't see Sun again until November 2013 at a sleddie reunion and I was so stoked to see his transformation. He was loose, relaxed and ran around taking treats and getting pets from strangers - including me.
His retirement was charmed. He and Silly had two canine siblings who, being malamutes, looked more like sled dogs than the actual sled dogs of the family, which confused people. But his devoted humans used that opportunity to advocate and educate others about the plight of sled dogs.
I saw Sun a few more times over the years and even bumped into him and his siblings on the street a couple times, which was always exciting (for me!).
Sun came to participate in Part 1 of I Was A Sled Dog in June 2017.
The sun rises and the sun sets. And though I'm continually saddened by the passing of my sleddie friends, I remind myself that their leaving is part of life and I take comfort in the fact that there are some incredibly devoted adopters that have done all they can to ensure their special sleddies get to live loved and spoiled lives and have the opportunity, when it's time, to pass from this life with dignity, respect and surrounded by love.
Rest in peace and love, Sun.
please click on thumbnails to view captions of photos below
181 former sled dogs - images taken between March 2012 and April 2020
Click on the thumbnails above for a closer look at the dogs.
On National Dog Day (I'm posting a day late, but does that really matter for us dog-minded folk?), I'm hoping for a better understanding of our canine companions because there's no reason the first 181 dogs pictured above - former sled dogs that were bred to pull sleds for human entertainment and ego - should be treated with a lesser standard of care as well as being exempt from animal protections laws, than the two dogs pictured below.
Sled dogs are dogs and times gotta change.
For more information (including the names) of the dogs above and my almost decade-long project, please click HERE.
Mister Coco + Bella Boo ~ my two adoptees
Stuart ~ may you rest in peace having experienced unconditional love, soft beds, and the warmth of a home and family.
In 2017 Stuart came to my studio to participate in I Was A Sled Dog. His family had adopted another sleddie, Penny, just a few months earlier. He wasn't sure what was going on that day, but he was so chill, he just rolled with it, making himself comfy on the sleddie sofa.
I saw him a few more times group sleddie walks and he was always a gentle soul.
Hugs and thanks to his human family for adopting Stuart and sharing your love and lives with him, and to his sleddie family Penny + Trixie.
Here are a few photos from a walk in December 2018 as well as one from a 'Who Do You Love' photo session at my studio, February 2019.
a little gathering of some new sleddies friends and a couple old friends - including one of the first sleddie friends I made back in 2012, SHREKKIE!
I met Mossy + Kit on Monday eve, and tonight I met their kennel mates Vinnie + Jo who were reuniting after not seeing each other for a bit. Apparently Vinnie and Jo are siblings of Casey who came into care back in April.
I don’t have much history on this group, other than they’ve come from Whistler, but they remind me of so many sleddies I’ve met in the past.
We met at a beautiful spot outside of town in a fully fenced area so the dogs could run and explore and relax. Experienced sleddies Shrekkie + Jasper didn’t have to show these guys how to have fun - all six of them were sniffing and running, checking in with the humans for treats and pets, then back to playtime. And Mossy - who was on a long line for his safety - even found a dead mouse to roll in.
It’s a sight that never gets old. There’s something incredibly special in being witness to a former sled dog running and playing and showing off that extra prance-y bounce they exhibit when not tethered to anything. It’s one of the many reasons I keep doing this.
Vinnie + Jo represent sleddies #182 + #183 that I’ve photographed.
I’m not sure what the future holds for the sled dog tour company Kit, Mossy, Vinnie + Jo came from. If they’ll continue to operate with Covid continuing to lurk about or if they'll be seeking homes for more dogs. And I wonder what the future holds for other sled dog tour operations, long distance racing kennels and operations that rely on the commercialization of their sled dogs. But I will keep featuring them as long as I can. I will keep sharing their faces and names to prove their existence. For as this project is just a small representation of former sled dogs in a small area of the west coast of Canada, I can’t help but imagine what this project would look like if I travelled across the country, the continent, the world - photographing former sled dogs. What that pool of diversity would be like. The stories from rescues and shelters, fosters and adopters. Proving existence to even more names and faces.
For now, I will continue to stick close to home and keep sharing the stories to help educate, advocate and remind people that sled dogs are dogs - just as deserving of love, care and compassion as the dogs we share our homes with.
Thank you to all the fosters and adopters who helped make this gathering happen.
If you're interested in adopting Kit, Mossy, Vinnie or Jo, please visit www.victoriahumanesociety.com
Update- June 30/20: Vinnie has since been adopted and Jo has a pending adoption!