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!
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.
It seemed fitting that today I got to meet and photograph three more Whistler sleddies who have become official retirees and will automatically assume the roles of ambassadors of change.
Because, nine years ago this weekend I spent three days on a mountain just outside of Whistler, BC meeting and photographing 43 survivors of the 2010 Whistler sled dog massacre.
(dig into my 2013 Archive Gallery for those stories and photographs)
The myths surrounding the adoption (and post-working lives) of former sled dogs are many and after doing this for over ten years I still hear the same things from people when they hear about my work or just the subject of sled dogs is brought up. "They're born to do it/it's what they're bred for", "it's their job", "it's all they know", "they love to run", "they pull too much", "they're not suited for living in a family/in a house/ in a city/ with other dogs/ without other dogs/ with cats"... the list goes on. And while some of those points may be true at some time in each dog's life, it doesn't make up each dog's whole story.
I'm pretty confident in this.
Because with the help of 228 former sled dogs, I've learned that they are not the label we humans have put on them.
All you have to do is read through previous posts on this blog to learn about post-working life and what fosters and adopters have learned along the journey. Because learning about their past helps the transitions into adoptive homes. It helps us understand seemingly odd behaviours like wanting to stand on furniture and countertops, preferring inside to outside (or outside to inside), fear of fireworks/loud noises, flinching when putting on collars or harnesses, chewing behaviours and even just being couch potatoes.
Once we know, we can try to 'speak their language', translate it into 'human' and find the place to meet up and continue to build a relationship built on trust.
Like ANY dog who finds themselves in need of a new home, this transition can be easy, or it can be challenging. But ultimately it's up to us humans to do our absolute best for the animal friends who become entrusted into our care.
Speaking of trust, some may wonder if I have adopted a sleddie. The answer is no... not yet! Over the past decade I've had a series of small dogs who, although are very friendly and have been on outings with sleddies as well as shared their home with one for short spells, they don't want to actually live with one. This holds true for my current "low rider" Mr Coco, who joined me on today's outing. Bubbins (one of his many nicknames) is a one-eyed, 12-year-old crooked-legged little man who would likely pack up his stuffies and head to nana's house if a big dog camped out here for any length of time! This little dude was picked on in his previous home and a subsequent injury is the reason he lost his eye. So the trust we've built over the last 9 years includes me helping him with confidence, but also keeping him out of situations where he doesn't feel safe, thus he supervised from the passenger seat of the car.
So, today... I introduce:
While in foster, their families will get to learn a bit more about them and then once they get their clean bill of health, they'll be ready for adoption, through the Victoria Humane Society, so keep watch on their facebook page if you think you'd be a good match for one of these sweet sleddies.
Thanks to Jillian, her mom and sleddies Jasper + Portia who went along for the day trip to greet their new friends!