I'm usually the observer on sleddie walks.
Following along, assessing my movements, planning shots, all while doing my best not to startle any of the dogs.
But I'm also a participator as I come equipped with treats and sleddie-appropriate affections when requested. I chat to different people along the way to learn about their dogs and catch up on life. And I chat to the dogs too.
But today was different as I was a guardian to one of these super-special-sleddies, my friend Bruno!
And that meant I was going to try and do double duty -- guardian and photographer.
For fearful sleddies, one of the toughest things to work on is helping to widen their circles and socialize them to the world in a safe manner. Our human world might seem very arbitrary to sleddies (chew on this dog-specific toy, not on my slippers/shoes/furniture; you must pee and poop outside on a schedule, not whenever/wherever you feel the need; eat from the food dish on the floor not on top of the dining room table/counter where you've always eaten and hung out; sit, stay, come when I call you because I'm asking, yet you have no idea why; don't be afraid of me, I'm being nice to you) so bridging this gap between trusting humans and learning about home life, can help make their world a bit easier to navigate.
And today's walk was a perfect opportunity to help Mr B in this area.
Having met and photographed so many adoptable sleddies over the years, one must figure I've adopted one too.
Alas, I have not, and that's another story for another post.
However, because of our close-knit sleddie community, I've been fortunate to be a part of their lives - through not just walks, but sleepovers, afternoon sleddie sitting, walks, hangouts, vet visits and lots of adventures.
And since Bruno's mom is a friend, he and I have started up a what I like to call (with crossed fingers) a friendship. Bruno came into care back in October 2021. Although his history is not totally clear (sled dog kennels don't keep the best records), we do know he spent time in a specific kennel in the Whistler area where a lot of the most human-fearful dogs have come from. I once called his baby steps "blink-and-you'll-miss-them-steps" because they are so little, if you weren't watching, you probably wouldn't notice them.
So although he's familiar with me, we've never had one-on-one time, and this outing would be new for him. But because we were going on a walk with his 'people', it was safe and familiar to him.
To be honest, I was very nervous before picking him up and was second guessing it all. Would he be ok? Would he get startled and try to escape? Would this be too weird for him?
But I took a deep breath, I knew it would be ok. I had a community who would help us.
Shannon had him ready before I arrived and he was wearing his collar (with tags) and a well-fitting harness.. as well as his fully-charged GPS tracker.
He came outside with me no problem and tolerated me lifting him into the car (he's a bit too arthritic to jump). Once in, he laid down - sort of like he's afraid or nervous. Sadly, this is 'normal' for him. But once I got in and started the car, I saw his little head pop up and he was ready to see where we were headed. Off we went and even though it was chilly out, I opened the back windows so he could turn his sniffer on. I felt like I was driving extra careful - and I guess I was - I had special cargo after all.
About 10 mins later we were almost there.
Stopped at a light on the highway, waiting to turn left.
I could see him in my rearview mirror turning around a bunch... and then I smelled it. Yup. He pooped.
And there was nothing I could do about it right then.
He was secured so he couldn't jump out, so all the windows came down for the final part of the drive.
On the way to last week's walk he pooped in Shannon's car and stepped in it, so when they arrived, it was a bit of a mess. Last week and today, his morning poops were taken care of before the car ride, but it still happened. Nervous poops or just when you gotta go, you gotta go?
Either way, I guess it gives a different meaning to the title of this blog 'double duty'?
We arrived and Argus and Ally were there and Ally hung on to Bruno while I cleaned up the back of the car. Everyone else arrived and greetings were made by the dogs and the humans.
The gang got together for a group photo, with Jillian hanging on to Mr B as well as her two, Jasper and Portia. Then we were off for a walk.
It was a lovely day with lots of people and dogs on the trails. And though I was more focussed on my time with Mr B than photographing the walk, I did manage to get a few.
There were some new faces out this time - Millie, Batman, Biggie, Rio and Samwell along with some more familiar faces - Argus, Jasper, Portia, Arwen, Stevie and of course, Mr B.
When the walk was over, I got Mr B into the car and off we went. We made a pit-stop at my house so he could meet my husband (widening Mr B's circle) but he seemed more confused about why were were hanging outside and not going inside. He made moves to my front steps and would've been very happy to walk right in, but my little Mr Coco (who only has one eye that doesn't work very well) was very confused at what was going on, so Mr B and I headed back to his home.
As we got closer to Shannon's I could hear the sniffer working extra hard. And when we pulled in, he was ready to be home. I opened the door, dried him off a bit (hoping any remaining poop on his feet had washed away on the walk) took off his harness and off he went to his bed, his most favourite spot in the world right now. I gave him the kong filled with treats that Shannon had prepared to help bide his time until she and Tica came home. Then I said my farewells and told him he was a very good boy.
I know the perfect home is out there for him. A home that will provide sanctuary to him, put his needs first and gently help him along this journey. It's in him to connect with people - maybe not everyone - but even if it's just one person who can give him that time, I have a feeling it'll be a pretty amazing relationship. Each time I see him, I see that progress and one of the coolest things of today was the pit-stop we had in the forest. Bruno's not great at asking for attention, but he's good at moving away when he doesn't want it. Today, he let me give him rubs on his shoulders, chest and cheek. I stopped and he looked at me, took a step towards me and let me give him more pets and tell how handsome he was.
What did I learn? Bruno's a champ and it's really great to know that if you're feeling stuck, that there's such a supportive community of sleddie adopters around to commiserate with.
Thank you everyone who came out!
I would like to extend extra thanks to Millie + Batman for coming out. Along with age (Millie's 16! and Batman's getting up there) these friends are dealing with some other medical issues so they only joined us for a little bit of the walk, some sniffs and a couple treats. Thankfully they have veterinary care and caring guardians who are ensuring they get the help they need.
I did my best to get individual photos of each dog, but with a different priority this walk I may have missed a couple. Sincere apologies to both Arwen + Portia - thankfully I did get some snaps of you at last weekend's walk!
Sleddie roll call: Argus, Arwen, Batman, Biggie, Bruno, Jasper, Portia, Millie, Rio, Samwell, Stevie
Sleddie friends: Deacon (Rio's brother), Jo (Bruno's former foster sibling) and Zoe (Millie's floofy sibling).
Ten sleddies plus a little Tica and a teeny, tiny Peanut (neither of whom are, or ever were, a sled dog!) came out with their humans for a walk around a lake.
Most of the group was familiar with each other, but we had a new addition in Argus -- a super sweet fella who made it out of the industry last year and was recently adopted into a loving home where he's since taken over the recliner. He was a champ meeting his new friends and he and his family were officially welcomed into the sleddie community.
Once again I share quite a few photos of this gathering. More than some would share in a photo essay. But I want to provide an opportunity for viewers to see nuances in the dogs - their ears, tails, eyes, body posture. See them greet each other, sniff, take treats. But also the moments of nervousness, tucked tails, ears back, the unsureness. Because for as far as some of these sleddies have come, there are still things that can rock them a bit.
And sharing a few extra photos supports my aim of telling the truth - in photographs and words - of what I take in when I'm with my sleddie friends. It's not all great leaps forward. There's good and not-so-good. There can be many mis-steps, steps back and breakdowns along the way. Baby steps when you see how easy it could be for them to soar, if only they let you in. It can be really hard, yet incredibly rewarding at the same time. It can be beautifully messy.
It can just be.
Any way you look at it though, it can change your life and the life of the animal relying on you.
So, for example: Stevie gets worried on leash, so he spent most of the walk (when it was safe from cars) off leash and forging his own path. Literally. He'd truck along adjacent to the path and then stop - sometimes seeming stuck or looking for his Geri - so I'd say "come on Stevie", and he'd start moving again. Champ!
And Bruno, (aka Mr B) trotted along and when we stopped he got some pets. It may seem like Mr B doesn't want them, but for him, if he doesn't want pets, he will move away. He's slowly showing his 'tells'. So today when we were stopped and he stood next to me I gave him some shoulder rubs. Then stopped. Then he'd look at me. So I'd rub his shoulder some more. He did this with Geri and his foster mom Shannon, too. Champ!
I hadn't seen Arwen and Pluto for ages! It was beautiful to see them continue to thrive! Their coats were shiny, their eyes were bright, and they were loose... just tearing it up off-leash as much as possible. Champs!
Roo and Mary Kate represented Deb's gang. (Apex, Flash and foster Troy decided to stay at home and have a party or watch tv or something...?) They trotted along politely, on leash the whole way. It felt weird to not have them zipping around, but them doing so well on leash further proves that they're dogs as dogs can be. Champs!
Sparky and Stevie came in together back in January 2021 and it's really, so cool to see the positive changes in them. Stevie literally hid behind Sparky when they came into care, but now, they're their own personalities! Champs!
Portia came into care in April 2021. Originally being fostered by Jillian, Jasper decided Portia was a-ok, so she stayed. This girl does not stop... she's a go, go, go... and she's a tough one to photograph. So at the end of the walk, Jill gave her a hug and I think I got one. Champs!
As for non-sleddies Tica and Peanut, well, Tica is my little buddy (and Mr B's foster sister) and she made sure I kept her fed and she showed up for bum scritches every time I crouched down to get a photo of another dog. As for teeny-tiny Peanut - she's a foster through Victoria Humane Society and was happy to be carried around all snuggled up, although at home, she has no problem telling foster sister Sparky what to do. Also included in the photos are a random family who wanted me to take their photo - they had cute dogs, so I said ok!
Wherever they're from - Whistler, Thunder Bay, Salmo, and beyond... and whatever their story - abandoned and left to starve, abandoned and pregnant, seized as part of a cruelty investigation, surrendered... this group shows the strength and resilience of former sled dogs and proves once again, that they are individual dogs with likes and dislikes and deserving of a life beyond the end of a chain.
Sleddie roll call: Argus, Arwen, Bruno (Mr B), Jasper + Portia, Mary Kate + Roo, Pluto, Sparky and Stevie
Thank you to the fosters and adopters for helping me share their stories.
p.s. and even though our old friend ChiChi passed away in 2020, she was able to join us in the form of a little purple glass stone. xo
Today I had the privilege of meeting Argus.
Like Troy, whom I met last weekend, this fella has made it out of the biz (thanks to the actual enforcement of some basic sled dog regulations) and is now taking up residence on his new family’s recliner where it’s soft, he’s cozy and warm and being doted on. It’s a bit of a learning curve for him and his new family, but Argus is showing that he’s ready for this new lease on life.
Today was his first walk amongst ‘his people’ (sleddies and their adopters) and he was a champ. He may have vision problems (a tough go for the fella named after the Greek God of Surveillance/giant with a hundred eyes) but his sniffer works aces and he sniffed his new friends, new surroundings and the treats on offer.
Welcome to your new chapter Argus!!
Argus marks the 210th sleddie photographed, named and given space in this world, in my decade-long work following the 'after' of former sled dogs.
For more, please visit my Archives!
(more photos from the walk to come!)