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. ;)
Because of the dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased.
ChiChi retired life was full of joy. A life full of doing the things that made her happy - mostly running… off leash… and sometimes being gone longer than was comfortable for her human. As a former sled dog one could argue that running was in her blood, and that may be so, but it didn’t mean that she had to do it at the will of humans. She ran on her own terms… and napped on her own terms. And was always present when the treats came out.
She blinked for more photos than almost any other sleddie I’ve photographed. Her brother Jeff, did the same.
As she got older she ran less, but still loved her outings - especially to her favourite place, Fleming Beach, where there were lots of things to sniff - dogs, wildlife, the ocean breeze.
She was adopted at 8 years old, a senior in the eyes of the shelter so she was 50% off. But that meant nothing to Chich… the last (almost) 8 years she lived with Shannon made up for whatever labels and expectations other people had for her in those first 8 years.
She was the happiest dog in the world.
She was the tiny wonder.
She reunited me with an old human friend, and she and her human helped grow a community of retired sled dog adopters here on the west coast of Canada. From that first reunion of nine dogs in September 2013, to over fifty dogs in following reunions. She made friends with all the other dogs while allowing her sister Lola (RIP) the space she needed. She welcomed a wee, wild puppy, Tica into the home.
She was an ambassador.
She was my muse.
She lived just past her 16th birthday, and was able to pass with dignity and in peace in Shannon’s lap.
There are many, many more photos throughout my archives, but it's been a hard week on many levels so I'm sharing an odd little collection of some I've shared before, some I haven’t.
Rest in peace and love tiny wonder.
#1 Sledder day out, November 2013
#2 Thetis Lake walk, January 2014 (captured on film and the cover of Dogs with their Eyes Closed, Retired Sled Dog edition)
#3-9 Documentary day, February 2014 (pictured with Lion + Nordique, also this is the day Shannon tried to teach ChiChi to sit for a treat!)
#10-13 East Sooke walk, April 2014
#14 ChiChi's 10th birthday, May 2014
#15-17 Esquimalt Lagoon, June 2014
#18-23 Reunion #3, June 2014 (the pool photos are 4 direct succession images showing her settle in to the pool)
#24-26 Canadog Day, July 2014 (the day she was reunited with her brother, Jeff)
#27 UVic dog park gathering, November 2014 (captured on film)
#28 Fleming Beach, April 2020
April 2012, at the shetler
Today I wanted to send my condolences out to the family of Lola.
Although Lola was never a sled dog, if you had to bet which of Shannon's dogs was a former sled dog, chances are, you would've picked Lola. She was bigger, fluffier and with her all-white coat she was what we envisioned a sled dog to look like.
Lola was an only dog until Shannon adopted ChiChi in 2012. I had gone to middle-school with Shannon and we lost touch over the years. Then in December 2012 as I was photographing pets with Santa at our local shelter, a familiar face came in with two dogs. I had started focussing on sleddies by this time so I recognized ChiChi right away, and then was happily surprised to see she was with someone I knew, Shannon!
I was then introduced to sweet, sensitive Lola Granola.
Lola didn't come on all sleddie adventures, but she had her circle of familiar sleddie and non-sleddie friends and this smaller group had some fun adventures together. Lola would often be found heading into the water, digging in the sand and carrying sticks... and being a treat mooch, of course!
Thankfully Lola was never a sled dog, but she was part of the sleddie extended family here and I wanted to share a snippet of her life, the one she shared with special human and sleddie sibling.
Shannon gave her 'Birdie' a beautiful life until she had to say goodbye earlier this week at the age of 13.
Rest in peace and love, Lola.
Thanks for sharing your girl, Shannon...
The game is called "pick out the sleddies"!
An annual walk with some friends and their dogs- some being former sled dogs, some aren't... can you figure out which is which?
[Hint: the sleddies are named below the photo gallery- click on their names to learn more about them as part of the I Was A Sled Dog photo project]
It was more of a forest bathing mud bath after a big rain and wind storm yesterday... but nevertheless, big thanks to ChiChi + Tica, Trixie + Penny, Niv + Cedar, Mary Kate + Roo, Sassy, Fiddle, Jasper, KC, Chester, Falen, and your amazing humans for coming out today!
Please click on the first photo and then scroll through the gallery- there are 70 photos including multiples of similar images so you can see the change of tail wags, facial expressions and what the dog is interested in. There's a photo bomb, some blurry ones and some of the dogs just standing and looking around (there's always some of that).
This is all intentional as I want to help you feel as close to being there with us as I can, because it's that magical!
Three of the dogs on the walk today are survivors of the Whistler sled dog cull and 2020 will mark the ten-year anniversary of that horrific event. And even after all that happened, there continues to be sled dogs that need help. Animal protection laws for working sled dogs here in British Columbia, Canada and beyond are atrocious and it's incredibly sad and unfair that working sled dogs are exempt from animal protection laws in Canada, just because they're classified as sled dogs. But sled dogs aren't a breed- they're a mix of any number of breeds, and you can see the diversity in the photos below as well as in I Was a Sled Dog, Part 1 + Part 2. The fact that, for example, "Dog A" is classified as a working sled dog on a Monday and therefore exempt from the same laws that protect the animals we share our homes with. But when "Dog A" gets adopted into a home on a Tuesday, suddenly- as if by magic- he's covered by those same laws he was exempt from the day before. It makes absolutely no sense. The dog is a dog is a dog.
I could go on, but right now I want to enjoy the memory of today's walk with these remarkable dogs and their wonderfully compassionate humans who love to celebrate them as much as I do.
Happy New Year sleddie family!
Whistler sled dog survivor Chichi is a grand 15 now so we went for a trundle through the forest at her pace...
except for her little sister, Tica... she ran enough for all the dogs combined!
the woodland trundle stars: Chichi + Tica, Saru + Chester, Mister Coco + Bella Boo
~ thanks to the humans: Shannon, Heather and Rob
Pique passed away last yesterday, Friday, September 13.
As a survivor of the Whistler sled dog cull, this gal landed in the lap of luxury at her adopted home and lived to almost 15 years old. I was lucky enough to go on many adventures with her and her family over the years - she was always a sweetheart.
Within the circle of retired sleddies I know, she is predeceased by her biological sister Question and adopted brother Sonny. She leaves behind her foster brother Coyote, her adopted brother Shrekkie and a whole bunch of family and friends who loved her to the ends of the earth.
Not one to turn down a treat, Pique would look at you with her eyes as blue as the sky and you would submit to her wishes.
Rest in peace and love Pique. xo
A combination of feeling the creative bug and ChiChi's upcoming birthday so my dog dorks came to my studio so we could all hang out working a little bit on art and lot on snuggling dogs.
Sleddie roll call: ChiChi, Cola, Niv, River, Question, Daffy + Apex
Also special appearance by Saru and a wee little Coco (photo 3)
I climbed a mountain today. Well, kinda two.
The first was Mt Finlayson. I was with my fellow dog dorks, Heather and Shannon and their dogs. Saru, Lola and Chichi. It was a beautifully sunny day, but it was COLD! The climb up took about an hour and at one point I felt like I was going to die, but everyone I was with was so fit that I had to keep going.
We finally got to the top - I knew it because I could see the sun shining between the trees. As I was also taking photos along the way, I would end up at the back of the group, but Lola always made sure I was coming. She'd come up to me, give me a nose, and then run back to the others. And Saru was having the time of his life - off leash. A little never-wracking at first, but he seemed to know that it was fun time... and there were treats when he came back to mom.
And Chichi... well this girl can RUN!
She probably ran ten times as far as we walked... and she smiled the whole time.
Once at the top we took some time for photos and to take it all in. There were lots of people, but there was a calmness. It felt incredibly peaceful.
Then an eagle flew by.
The way down took almost as long somehow, but at the end I felt like I had climbed a second mountain.
After my l'il Suzy-dog died two weeks ago yesterday, I've been going through the motions. I've had to go to work, visit with family for Christmas and just be alive... but none of it felt right. Today, when I reached the top of the mountain, it was the first time I've felt connected back to the world. I felt like I could make it through the sadness. I know there will still be tears... there already has been. But when I saw that eagle fly past us, I could see Suzy's beauty in the world. She's now a part of nature and I will be always be able to find her amongst the trees and forests and beaches and mountains. I wouldn't have thought of her in that way, but my husband told me about how he was able to see her beauty a couple days after she had died. I was starting to get worried that I never would see it because I've been trying to find her since then, but I couldn't... until today.
And today will be the first of many more... so thank you friends for being a part of it.
*this entry is an edit of the original post from January 4, 2014 posted to my personal website