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 They may be outdated laws, but they're a LOT better than the agricultural animal 'laws' that covered them previously.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 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)
Yes, you are reading that right... a sleddie puppy. They don't often retire before they start working, but Bamboo is one of the lucky ones. He was born in August 2021, and aside from knowing he battled parvo early on, not much else is known about his lineage. But if his gangly body, gait and hooves for paws, are a 'tell', he's sleddie offspring for sure. Being an outgoing little fella also meant he made the journey from Whistler to Victoria on laps and getting in as many snuggles as he could.
His travel companions included two seniors, Meso (me-so) and Saturn. Meso is a sibling to Ice who came in earlier this year. And Saturn, although he looks a LOT like Batman who retired back in January, is apparently a sibling to Mars, who was sprung from working life back in 2014.
Mars is still with us - although he's a tripod now after it was found he had some broken bones in his hip/pelvis area that had been left untreated so his leg had to be amputated. It hasn't slowed him down though.
Meso and Saturn originally came from that same kennel I've mentioned in previous posts. I don't know exactly what happened there - I've only heard some truly awful rumours - but every dog I've met that's spent any time at that kennel has been incredibly fearful of humans. These two have the visible scars on their snouts, and clearly some non-visible scars too. Meso has a big knot of fur on his neck (likely from a collar), and Saturn has some hair loss on his neck (also, likely due to a collar). Over the years, some of these fearful dogs have learned to trust, but some are still struggling... even 7 years later.
What I do know is that these Bamboo, Meso + Saturn will be warm, safe and cared for this winter. Saturn spent some time recently in a house, but this whole 'living in a home' thing will be all new for Meso. Some great fosters have stepped up to provide a landing spot and they've got a huge community of support behind them. When these guys get adopted, that support continues.
All three of these sweeties were game for treats when they arrived, however Bamboo was more interested in tossing his treats around and playing with them! Meso and Saturn took them very willingly and oh so gently. Their mouths lingered on my hand, came back in to check for more, and I even got a few licks. It took them no time to figure out where the treats were coming from so I'm guessing a little "cupboard love" will be a way into their hearts.
So, what's next for these heartbreakers? First some time to decompress and get to know them, then it's off to the vet for check ups and get any medical taken care of -- including neutering and dentals -- two of the most common procedures for sleddies when they arrive.
I'm sure "little" Bamboo (he's already a gangly 28 lbs!) will be adopted quickly, but Meso, Saturn and the other senior sleddies who are waiting for homes are just as special. And just because they were sled dogs, don't let the two biggest myths get you:
1) No, not all sled dogs pull on leash, in fact most of the seniors just amble along behind or next to you.
2) Though they may not have much (if any) experience living in a home, like any new senior dog you bring into your life, you find each other's rhythm, celebrate the ways you learn to connect and know you're helping a dog live out its twilight years in love and comfort.
Thanks again to Jillian (sleddies Jasper + Porsche's mom) and Victoria Humane Society for helping this intrepid trio into care!
Once again, I share many photos to so you can too can witness the nuances of their personalities on the first moments of a new life.