The sleddie support team came together this evening for Tiger. Tiger came into care back in May extremely fearful... and she's still very fearful in her foster home. There have been some baby steps, but she's still super nervous of humans - a common trait I've seen over the years.
So in the yard of a school away from the city, a small group assembled to meet, say hello and let the dogs have a romp... or nap... or whatevs.
I also got to meet my 225th sleddie - Louise! She's a former Whistler sleddie and is just a wee thing! She's super friendly, loves to play and run and hang with her family.
Have I mentioned just how cool it is to see dogs who I've only met on their arrival into care, post adoption? Today I got to see Toledo, Jack and Angel again and it was beautiful to seem the settled and happy. Jack's had some health issues, but his adopter is so in love with him, that she's making sure he gets whatever he needs.
Kayou and Tiger are still in foster. Kayou is such a sweet velcro dog! He just wants to be close and get massages and pets and he'll stand on you or meet you at your level, just to make sure you haven't forgotten about him. He was also a big fan of Louise. They did come from the same kennel... I wonder if there's a history there?
Tiger isn't a fan of most humans but she's found friends in shoes and bits of clothing at her foster's! She just brings them into her bed with her and just sleeps amongst these special 'found' objects. Adorable.
I'm not sure how the support team worked for Tiger in the end, but I'd like to think it helped in some respect. She did sniff and trundle around and check out her surroundings a bit and then chilled out next to one of her foster moms, so baby steps it is and baby steps it will be.
What a cool, supportive community.
Sleddie roll call: Angel (recently adopted!), Jack (recently adopted!), Kayou (adoptable), Louise (adopted), Tiger (adoptable) + Toledo (adopted). Also along for the romp were Max (Louise and Toledo's brother who looks like a sleddie, but isn't) and l'il Sam (Tiger's foster sibling)
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
A special sleddie for many reasons including being the 200th former sled dog in my this project!
Although I will admit, Centurion, who also retired today and arrived with Toledo, is just as special being #199.
... and, well... so are the other 198.
Both dogs arrived at VHS HQ after the trek from Whistler. Upon arrival they got some treats, more water and were fitted with new collars, harnesses and GPS trackers. They also got a few moments to chill before heading out to their foster homes where they'll get to decompress, learn about life living in a home and get to know some new humans. They'll get vet checked (and neutered), and when they're ready, adopted.
This vein of animal photojournalism, specifically documenting newly-retired sled dogs is not without its challenges. There generally aren't 'smiley' dogs, or cute "adopt me" photos. I have no expectation the dog will look at me, at least not at first. Sometimes they do, most of the time they don't. In fact I don't expect the dogs to do anything when I first meet them. It's left up to them. In today's gallery, you will see the missing tip of Centurion's ear and the bit missing from his tongue. You'll see Toledo's stress panting and him looking at the doorknob and out the window for possible escape routes. You will see fear, uncertainty and, inquisitiveness upon arrival into a new way of living. But you'll also get to see Centurion offer a perfect head tilt when I made a cat meow noise and his bum as he walks to the car with his new foster home and Toledo's jump right into Jill's car and into the crate - what he knows as a safe space. It's all part of sharing their story, no matter how small a chapter it may be in the story of their life.
And when the time came for super sleddie chauffeur Bobbie, to say farewell and head back home, she had a hard time leaving these fellas. In the few short hours she spent with them today, they filled her heart. But that's always the way. Once you've met and spent time with a retired sleddie, they stay with you. It's probably why I've continued to share their stories over the past decade - they're so dang easy to fall in love with.
I know in time they'll settle and this new life will get easier on them. I've seen it over and over and over again. Centurion, who bears not just physical, but emotional scars from a kennel he worked at long ago, could already be considered a "cuddle puddle" as he wanted loves from all the volunteers he met today. And Toledo, who may have escapism on his mind, well, I've already heard that he found his bed at his foster home and planted himself firmly in it.
Thanks to the Victoria Humane Society, Bobbie, Jillian, Deb + Penny and the sleddie foster families and volunteers for making this all happen for these two super special guys.
And to everyone who's been a part of helping the 198 sleddies transition into loving homes, thank you!
Welcome to retirement Centurion + Toledo!
There's a huge group cheering you on and ready to support you and your new families, when the time comes.
p.s. not sure who's who? Centurion is brown with golden brown eyes and Toledo is black + cream with piercing blue eyes.
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