Monday, April 8, 2013

Arctic dogs


"Don't look now, but I think we're being followed," I whispered to my husband.  We were out on a walk to enjoy the beautiful day, which was unusually warm and balmy at -29°C. 

"By that dog?"
"If that is even a dog. Might be a wolf."
"It's not a wolf. It's a dog."
"Might be a wolf."

The dog was huge, a thick frame, with gigantic paws that would never break through the snow.  Rob theorized that it was an Alaskan malamute.  He was watching us with great interest.

"Be careful," I said. "He might be a wolf."
"It's a dog. And he's got three legs."

"He's got three legs, but he knows how to use them," I said, ripping off a certain classic rock band from Texas.

Then my husband went over to pet it, because he apparently can tell when a dog is not a wolf. A good tip, I guess, is when they have a dog collar.

Lefty, as we decided to call him, was a friendly dog, curious about what we were up to. Unlike the other dogs in town, he wasn't chained up in the yard, and so he was free to wander, following us as we made our way across the frozen ice that formed the Beaufort Sea.

It was starting to warm up, to the point where walks outside where pretty pleasant in that you didn't get an instant windburn / frostbite if you accidentally exposed skin, and I only had to wear two layers of protective clothing, as opposed to my usual three or four. Long deep cracks were starting to form in the ice, ominous looking at first to people walking on the ice, at least until you remember that the sea stays frozen well into May and beyond.

Lefty followed us all the way, almost in a protective manner, keeping a respectful distance, but staying close enough to let us know he was there whenever we changed direction.  Malamutes have been loyal dogs to people in the North for a long time now, often used as sled dogs - although I'm pretty sure Lefty wasn't pulling any sleds these days, with his missing leg. There's a strong history between dogs and men up here in the Arctic, both helping each other to survive the harshest environments by pulling sleds and helping during hunts. The slaughter of sled dogs by the RCMP during the 1960s, citing health and safety reasons, provoked many bitter feelings by the Inuit towards the Canadian government. Nowadays, the folks in town use snowmobiles to pull their heavy loads, but many of them still keep dogs around, like Lefty.

Lefty, pondering

Lefty, in front of the Martin Bergmann ice breaker ship and the Distant Early Warning System. Talk about an Arctic view

Eventually Lefty had to go back to his owner. On our way back home, though we were discovered by another dog - a much smaller little puppy named Kilo.  A couple days ago, I'd seen the neighbourhood kids teaching the little puppy how to pull a sled. The little puppy was giving it his best, pulling and pulling, while a toddler sat on the sled.  Now, though, he was free to run around, and he seemed excited to play with me.  At least I figured he was excited, because he peed on my boots.

the road by our house