Our friend Portia is still missing.
It was Friday, February 24th when she bolted out the front door of her home when the plumber arrived. It's not something she would normally do.
Local social media groups who help find lost pets were notified and people sprang into action. Posters were made and put up around the community of Sooke, BC where she's lost.
Sooke is district about 45 mins north of Victoria. It has a growing downtown area with some residential pockets, but it's pretty much surrounded by large rural properties on three sides and the ocean on one. Where Portia went missing from is full of Private Properties, farms, acreages, trails, wildlife -- and lots of places where a dog who's likely in survival mode now, can make itself unseen.
There have been a couple potential sightings since Portia went missing, but none confirmed so a search party was set up for Saturday, March 4th. The maps and areas to search were organized by Erin, who also set up a home base to keep track of everyone. It was cold and rainy and windy and at the forefront of everyone's mind was Portia, a senior sleddie who came into care in April 2021. Portia is very sweet, but very leery of new people. And while she's a cuddler at home, she needs her brother Jasper for support. And it turns out Jasper is really missing his Portia.
Volunteers drove around the rural areas checking out what maps couldn't show. Marked trails were walked and new trails were forged. With snow on the ground in some spots, volunteers watched for paw prints. More larger posters were put up and people handed out small posters and chatted up anyone they came across.
As I was driving around I would keep seeing things that I thought were Portia… or places where she could be hiding. But it was like looking for a needle in a haystack, in a field of haystacks. Where do you start?
At one point I ran into some family who lives out there and since he knows the area, I popped in for a visit and he - along with the help of his dogs - showed me some areas our group could search. (Thanks B, A + E!)
The Sooke terrain felt familiar with its dead-end rural roads, trails to who-knows-where, moss-covered rocks, lakes and streams, and it took me back to 2015 and the time I joined Deb on one of her trips to search for Apex.
Apex had been Deb’s foster dog and after he got adopted, he went missing. For five months he survived on his own in the rural areas outside of Sechelt, BC, until he appeared seemingly out of nowhere on a fish farm dock, safe and in reasonable health (save for some weight loss and a few ticks) [https://www.iwasasleddog.com/blog/finding-apex]. So armed with Apex’s remarkable story and the many other tales of lost dogs who are found days, weeks, months after going missing, it gives me a sense of hope in finding Portia.
There was a lot of groundwork laid by the volunteers, so along with other work going on behind the scenes including scent markers and trail cams we’re all just waiting for a confirmed sighting. Something that provides us with an area to focus the search. So while Saturday's search party may not have yielded anything concrete this time, the eyes and ears are open and word about Portia is spreading.
Some from our sleddie community came out to help too and I managed to connect with a few of them: Stevie + Peach, Sparky + Buddy (and l'il Koda Bear), Argus and Twister. And some of them even gave a “one-ear flop” in support of their friend Portia.
Thanks also to head greeter, Cedar, who provided some smiles on a very gray day and did her part by forging through some snow with one of the volunteers.
If you're able to help with posters or searches, please let me know.
Thanks so much to everyone who came out to help!
the february meet up
Our second meet up of the year was a great success!
17 sleddies along with one honourary sleddie came out to the woods to run, romp, trundle and get their paws muddy.
We started with a group photo, and then met up in the woods with some more friends and another photo op. Some were off leash and weren't too happy with having to stop the adventure so soon after starting, so it's a bit of a group-photo mash up with wayward dogs wandering in all directions!
In addition to old friends reconnecting, some new friends joined in! Twister, who came into care in March 2022 got adopted last spring so came for his first group walk, and Spinner, who it turns out is Jasper's brother! They have the same cute snouts and soft, floofy-ish coats.
With so many attendees it made for a long line of humans and dogs on the forest trails so I tried my best to capture everyone along the way. Some gave me lots of chances as they ran from the front of the line and back, likely putting on 10x more mileage than the rest of us and others made me work a bit to find them along the way.
All in all, it was a great little adventure and I'm so glad were 2 for 2 with groups walks this year!
As usual, I include a whole host of photos so you can join along virtually and share in those split-second moments of head tilts, facial expression nuances and body language changes... all without getting your feet muddy.
Thanks to all who came out... I'm looking forward to March's meet up already!
Sleddie Roll Call: Apex, Mary Kate + Roo, Argus Arwen, Clyde, Jack, Jasper + Portia, Samwell, Sparky + Buddy, Smokey, Spinner, Stevie + Peach and Twister... and honourary sleddie Tica, who was a great little sister to ChiChi.
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).
a saturday sleddie walk
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
2021 in review
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
the december walk
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)
welcome to island life
As the last sleddie hopped into her foster's car to head on to a new life, I had to reflect on what this project is all about and why I'm doing this.
There are many reasons why I continue to document former sled dogs coming into care (more which will be chronicled very soon), but one of them is to give a face and name to those who have been a part of the industry while educating people on what it's like for dogs who come out of it.
So here's the intake of six former sled dogs who came into the care of the Victoria Humane Society yesterday evening. They made the journey from Whistler to BC to West Vancouver where they were took a ferry ride to Nanaimo, then transferred into VHS care. The transport volunteers drove them to Duncan where they had a pit stop for water and a potty break, got their harnesses fitted, GPS tracker attached and then back into the van for the short drive to Victoria and VHS HQ.
Then they got their hardware checked, got double leashed for safety and their foster homes met them one by one to take them home.
Vet visits for check ups and procedures, including some spays/neuters will be next, once they've had a breather.
Ace, Bear, Biggie, Catty, Loki and Porsche (along with Maddy a 7th dog who went to her foster home before I got to meet her) woke up as sled dogs and will go to bed as dogs covered under our domestic animal protection laws (which need updating, but it's a start).
In this small intake, two dogs were super fearful (Ace + Catty), Bear (who has an injured leg which will be getting looked at) was tentative but moved in close for pets, Porsche loved the ear scritches (similar to scratches, but scritches are on THE spot) and was seemingly content as long as a buddy was in view. Biggie was a treat hound and totally chill and even had a nap while waiting to head home... and Loki wanted to lean in close and get so much love... from whoever was closest.
Thank you to everyone who made this happen for these special pups! (and to Charla for mopping out the van to get ready for the next intake for VHS)
Welcome to retirement and island life sweet sleddies!
To learn more about former sled dogs, please wander around this site.
To see the diversity of 198 former sled dogs on one page, go HERE
To learn more about VHS or contribute to the care of the sleddies, please visit: www.victoriahumanesociety.com or visit their very active facebook page.
full gallery below:
198 sleddies into retirement...
What's makes meeting and photographing the handsome Loki this evening kinda special? He's the 198th former sled dog I've documented coming into retirement over the last decade!
I know I've met more, but for whatever reason, there is no photo - no name to attach to a face - but for Loki and 197 others, there is. And that's important. Because for the industry that paints all sled dogs as sled dogs who like to 'work' and 'pull', they are individual beings with needs and likes and dislikes. And yes, they are totally adoptable. Like any dog, some will be happy to spend most days curled up in a sleddie donut napping and getting in a walk or two a day. Some will want all the walks and adventures. Some will be nervous of new homes, smells, sounds, sights. And some will walk right into a house as if they've always lived there.
And what's more... these new retirees are now covered under Canada's animal protection laws (however substandard they are- that's another post)... but instead of being grouped under the agricultural animal laws, they are now considered domestic pets.
No, their DNA didn't change in the course of the trip from Whistler to Victoria, BC, it's just the fact that they were used for industry and now they aren't.
Sounds crazy because it is.
For now, Ace, Bear, Biggie, Catty, Loki and Porsche are going to have time to adjust to their new world, get some vet checks (and spays/neuters) and live as special beings they are.
Thanks to the volunteers who helped make this happen. All these guys will be available for adoption through The Victoria Humane Society, so watch their facebook page for updates. (if their fosters don't fail and adopt them, themselves!)