The first time I was in the Arctic, in 1997, I brought my small Wheaten Terrier with me to Naujaat. Her name was Kaylie. Naujaat, then called Repulse Bay, was a very small town and was one of the last communities ‘settled’ in the Central Arctic. Some Inuit kids thought my little doggie was cute and some wanted to pet her. But, I quickly learned that most kids and some adults were afraid of her and I would have to be careful is she was off leash and ran up to anyone. People would shriek and scream and I thought it was just because they hadn’t seen this kind of a dog before. I noticed that, back then, there were only a couple of other ‘indoor’ pet dogs there. And, although in southern Canada it was sort of okay to bring your dog to work in the evenings after hours, I definitely learned that I could not do this in the Arctic in 1997. My adult students at the Arctic College were afraid of her.
One time when I took the dog to the grocery store with me it was quite cold and I tied the dog outside. I knew I wasn’t going to be very long and the dog would get some exercise on the way. When I left the store and grabbed Kaylie, an elder politely told me that it was really cruel that the Qallunaaq take their dogs inside of the house, because the houses are too warm and dogs should not be inside.
All of this fascinated me and I learned so much from this experience.
The only dogs that were in this community, in the late-90’s where sled dogs. And sled dogs were tied outside of the town on the land. And, they still are. Let me describe this. About 1-2 kilometres from town, sled dog teams are kept on chained leashes, that are connected to a metal spike driven into the ground or rock. The leashes are long enough so the dogs can move around, and the dogs are tied just close enough that they can not fight with one another or get tangled. Depending on the dog owners, some dogs may have a primitive shelter, but others don’t. In all my 9 years living in the Arctic, in 4 different communities, I have never seen a dog use their shelter much. Ha!
All the kids and all newbie’s to the North are taught to stay away from the sled dogs. These dogs are not pets. They are a working animal and they can be dangerous and may bite strangers. They are cared for, but not in the a way that is familiar to us. Their owners spend time with them only to train them to run and to pull, and these dogs LOVE to run and are very loyal to their masters. Other dogs, like pet dogs, like mine would probably meet their demise if they entered the dog team area and little kids must be taught to fear dogs.
It just happened that while we were in Naujaat, there was a group of very young puppies being raised between our house and the neighbours house who was a very successful hunter, John Tanachlui We knew not to go near them but it was nice that we got a chance to view these dogs from my front window and watch them being raised, and watch to see how sled dogs survive the cold and the harshness of the Arctic. Before moving to the Arctic I thought it was cruel that dogs stayed outside and I thought it was cruel that dogs pulled a sled and then this happened! Those dogs lived and breathed for their Master! He was the only soul human that interacted with them. Each day I would watch the owner bring them water and food.
One thing I observed about the dogs that was most interesting is how devoted they were to their owner. John drove his ATV everyday, all winter long and the dogs knew the sound of his ATV. I started to notice that, at odd times, the dogs would stand up and become attentive for no apparent reason and start barking and howling. Then they would stop abruptly but still attentive to something in the distance. Then bark and howl, then silence. Then, the dogs would go absolutely bonkers with excitement and craziness correlated to John’s arrival home on his ATV. I realized what was happening. The dogs would hear their master’s ATV from far away. They would spot him through the houses in the distance and when they saw him, the barked. When his ATV went behind a house and out of site, they would be silent and this carried on until john reached his yard, hopped off of his ATV and went into the house. Then the dogs would just become calm, stretch, shake it off, lie down in the snow and go back to sleep. Their Master was home.