In the wilds of Victoria, a small group headed out for some forest bathing. Clearly, some took that 'bathing' part quite literally by 'bathing' in some dead animal on the side of the path and 'bathing' in the mud. But clever Stevie actually did some bathing (and drinking) in the stream.
This small group included new arrivals Jack and Peach, along with more experienced retirees, Stevie and Portia, and the fella who's known the ropes the longest in this gaggle of sleddies, Jasper. The group was intentionally small this time so that new-into-care Peach could meet up with a friend from her working days, Jack, as well as hopefully some new friends... and she did.
Before we even got started on our walk, a familiar face showed up in the parking lot - it was Penny Stone, who heads up the Victoria Humane Society (VHS) and has been helping sleddies into care for over 10 years. VHS is the rescue that has made it possible for these 5 sleddies and many, many more, come into care. They cover the food, vet care, meds, as well as spay/neuter surgeries, dentals and whatever else is needed to help these sleddies along. And even though Jack was recently neutered, he still wanted to say hi to Penny.
Across the road and down the hill we went into the woods. Leashes came off for Jasper, Portia and Stevie. Off-leash time for Jasper and Portia meant they ran circles around us and put on a lot more milage than the rest of us. Stevie, though off leash, stays pretty close to his human and the rest of the crew. Jack and Peach were pretty jazzed about it all, but their leashes (and GPS trackers) stayed on, with off-leash time saved for another day when the humans get to know them a bit better and they get to know the humans. In the meantime they got lots of loves and treats as both are VERY snuggly.
Words that came to mind when editing this photo set: Jack's ears, Stevie the sentinel, Peaches the snuggler, Jasper the zoomer, Portia the smelly (after rolling in the dead stuff), digging, happy, adventure, brave, love.
Some new friends were made along the path, photos ops were had and when it was time to go, Jack said farewell.
Jack is currently reviewing his potential adopter applications and once Peach will be doing the same in the near future.
Thanks to the humans J, G and J for letting me tag along, once again and of course to Jasper, Portia, Stevie, Peach and Jack for being so perfect.
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
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)
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!
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!