Last weekend, Kismet, his human Nikki, and I crashed a greyhound gathering at a local park.
Actually, we didn't really crash it, but we did invite ourselves on the walk. It was a great opportunity to meet and compare similarities between Kismet and the greyhounds. Kismet comes from sled dog lineage - his parents are a mix of (but not limited to) greyhound, husky, pointer and maybe saluki. Modern sled dogs are built for speed and endurance so greyhound can be in the 'mix'.
I sometimes find myself comparing the world of rescued/retired greyhounds to the world of sleddies. I know rescued greyhounds have been on the public's radars for longer but I've noticed for years that these two sets of dogs - both who have spent careers running - seem to be viewed differently. So, being the curious person I am, it begs me to wonder why? Is it mostly visual? Is it preconceptions of their breeds - and what they were 'bred to do' and how/where they live during their working lives? If sleddogs are thought of as high-energy, huskies with big fluffy coats, do greyhounds, with their short coats and graceful demeanour, seem more adoptable? One look through the images in I Was A Sled Dog will show visually just how diverse sled dogs can look, but is there more to it?
So... then I have to ask... how can those of us advocating for sleddies, more effectively work to change the perception of sled dogs, whether working, retired or rescued?
Phew. A lot of questions and a lot to think about.
So for now, I will continue to share the stories of the sleddies I’ve met and photographed.
And to share that sled dogs are really just dogs. As remarkable and honest as any other dog you’ll meet.
Thanks to the Northwest Canadian Greyhound League's local group for letting us crash your walkie and sharing some of your stories and knowledge about greyhounds. And thanks to everyone for standing for a few more minutes in the rain for a group photo! You're GREYT!
Please click here for more sleddie stories + photos!
It was June 2014 when I got the message through my website:
We adopted our Whistler sleddie Jeff (previously Joffre) in Victoria in December. He's still terribly shy and skittish around people and dogs, but we did run into some of his sleddie friends on the trails in Whistler and for the first time he seemed pleased to see other dogs. How can we be included in future reunions?
I got goosebumps and shivers and was super excited. I had met Jeff in September 2013 while I was up at the Whistler Sled Dog Co kennels. He was Joffre back then - named not after the Game of Thrones character, but the lake. He was curious, but nervous. He hung around me with the other dogs and took treats occasionally, but he seemed uncomfortable in his skin.
A short while later I'd learned that he was at the Victoria SPCA and he would have visits at his biological sister, ChiChi's place. I got to see him in November 2013 at Sledder Day Out (back when they were "sledders", not "sleddies") and then I didn't hear much again - it was ok though - he had been adopted.
Then I got that note.
Plans were made to meet up on July 1 for a Canadog Day gathering with a few of his old Whistler mates, including his sister ChiChi.
Jeff was still nervous but he seemed to know the gang.
For almost 4 more years I got to follow Jeff's adventures. His human mom would send me photos of him with his eyes closed - something Jeff and his sister ChiChi excel at - and it always made me smile and laugh. Every single time, no matter where I was. He made me laugh as I watched him sniff bums and follow his doggy girlfriends around - Jeff loved his lady dogs... and even one special boy dog. I watched him snooze in front of his fireplace and saw him play - like really play - with his dog brother, Ben so I know that whatever was plaguing him in his mind - whatever made him so nervous - had left some room for him to have moments of just being a dog.
Jeff's had a few medical issues over the years, all which were treatable. His human mom even took him swimming to an indoor pool to help with his mobility and he did really well and swam around on his own, seemingly quite content. He came to my studio to participate in i was a sled dog and he had a good time hanging out with fellow sleddie, Santana.
But last week Jeff took a turn and it wasn't good.
His humans made the decision to let him go.
I know sleddies are not immortal. But they're superheroes to me. Superheroes who've had their own cheering squad who've helped them experience care, love and compassion. But damn, if it doesn't take a little piece of my heart each time.
Thank you to Jeff's humans and brother Ben for allowing Jeff to be Jeff.
Here's a few of my favourite Jeffy photographs.
More can be found at:
Rest in peace and love Jeffy.
Some sleddies got together for a little gathering at Candy's new home today so I hit the road and tagged along so I could photograph Candy for my I was a sled dog project - her humans even let me put the tape on their walls and everything!
I managed to sneak a few more sleddies into the project and after their 'work' was done, it was time to zoom around outside and let the humans stand around and admire them and talk sleddie stuff.
There are fewer and fewer of the Whistler dogs left, and the group is evolving, but it's staying strong and new sleddies are coming into care and there always seems to be something to learn.
These adopters are something special... just like their dogs.
Sleddie roll call:
Candy, Bella, Weasley + Kirika... sadly I had to leave before the other sleddies arrived.
down memory lane....
As I was editing Candy's photos from today I wondered how many photos I got of her when I was in Whistler in 2013 - turns out more than I thought... and it would seems she's kinda notorious for jumping up for treats! She's the dog responsible for the pawprint on Penny's white pants!
Today started with a walk in the woods with some sleddies and a pyrenees... then I put on my volunteer hat and went to get some more photos and videos of some 4-week-old puppies at their foster home.
Introducing the walk crew: Spirit the Pyr (and head goofball), sleddies GreyGrey, Daisy, Jasper, Mary Kate and Roo!
p.s. Mary Kate and Roo are adoptable through Victoria Humane Society! Two super smart sleddies who love adventure!
Second set of photos is Rosemary, the pittie in foster with the Victoria Humane Society who had 11 puppies 4 weeks and 3 days ago (according to her foster mom, but who's counting!). I met her a couple weeks ago so am sharing some of those photos as well. You may not see a difference in Rosie, but you will in her puppies! Today her puppies got to be outside for the first time! (see video at end)
Rosie's puppies will be adopted fast - they're so stinking cute - but it's the moms who take a little longer sometimes to get adopted. Rosie LOVES to meet new people and dogs but she gets a bit overexcited and jumpy so she's learning new ways and is very smart!
Plus, she has one of THE BEST head tilts going, gives great face washes and is full of love now that she's getting some.
Let the love begin!
Spring is on its way, and the dogs are feelin' full of beans!
With sleddie Kismet in town from the interior, visiting with his mom to participate in my project, I Was a Sled Dog, we met up with the gang at Francis King park for some forest bathing... only Santana didn't get the 'forest part' - she just bathed... and some other silly dogs followed suit.
Here's Niv + Cedar, Knik, Boomer + Jinx (the low rider), Saru (the Shiba), Santana, Jasper, Daisy, Mary Kate + Roo and Kismet!
p.s. Mary Kate and Roo are available for adoption through the Victoria Humane Society!
i'm currently working on a NEW photo project of retired sleddogs titled "i was a sled dog" ~ to date I've photographed 35 sleddies at my studio so I wanted to share their "class photo"... the candids from their sessions.
The photos I'm taking specific to the project will be displayed at a later date so be sure to check back!
Each of these dog was different when they came for their session (I call them "sessions" as opposed to "shoots" because some of these dogs have survived an actual shoot... with a gun. As well, it's a common way for mushers to thin out the old, sick and dogs who don't want to pull so I like to keep that word out of this project)
Some of the dogs were totally comfortable, some were petrified. Some loved mugging for the camera, some I had to just had to sit and wait until they walked in front of my lens, click the shutter and hope for the best.
Sled dogs, like all dogs, have their own unique personalities and needs. They don't all love and hate the same things as some lead us to believe... and they are all deserving of the specific care, love and attention they require.
I'm still looking for more retired sleddies to participate, so email me if you're interested!
Want more retired sleddie stories? Click no further!
Their story, although shocking, is not new.
Fifteen dogs found abandoned on one foot chains. Three were dead and the others were close behind.
Tethered by a trapper’s hut in the Long Lac Greenstone area of Ontario. There was no food. No water. It was February 2017.
The OSPCA agents along with Thunder Bay & District Humane Society and Greenstone Want a Pet Rescue worked to bring the dogs into care.
“When the 12 dogs entered the shelter, they were unable to walk, were barely breathing, and were extremely emaciated. These 12 are emotionally, physically, and mentally bruised.”
These were sled dogs. And if you know me at all or follow my advocacy work, you’ll know my love for sled dogs. I’ve met and photographed hundreds of retired sled dogs since 2012. And although the horrific events in Whistler in 2010 brought to light the plight of dogs used in both the commercial and sport racing industries, the abuse continues and the myths about these dogs prevail. ”They’re working dogs, they’re different”, “They love what they do”. “I love my dogs, I treat them like family” are all statements still claimed by those in the industry. But here’s the problem… sled dogs are actually just dogs. Mixed breeds built for speed and endurance and to make money for the humans who are supposed to take care of them. And like all dogs, they are entitled to a certain level of care. But when the money dries up or is spent elsewhere, the dogs lose. Abandoned, turned loose, sold, given away, or killed. I say this not to be dramatic, but because more often than not, it's the truth.
These twelve dogs, along with another 17 found on the property survived and are now getting a second chance at life, as pets.
Tuesday night I accompanied my fellow Victoria Humane Society volunteers to the Victoria International Airport to welcome and meet the first two of eight of those very special “sleddies” who will be retiring to the west coast. With the remarkable community that has grown because of the sleddies here out west, the staff and volunteers at the Thunder Bay and District Humane Society agreed to entrust us with some of their special crew.
Mary Kate and Ashley were to arrive at 8:59, but their flight from Vancouver was delayed once… then twice. At 9:24 they arrived.
They were the first "baggage" to arrive at the claim area - Ashley in the lead, then Mary Kate.
The kennels were off loaded and moved to the side. Opened carefully so the dogs could be double-leashed for safety. First out was Ashley. She came out willingly and her GPS unit was attached right away. When Mary Kate came out of her crate [leashed and GPS'd], she spied Ashley, tucked in right behind her, and rested her head on Ashley’s back.
The production, along with the neon welcome signs had created a stir, and a crowd had gathered to watch. People were wondering what the fuss was all about - why was everyone hugging, laughing, smiling and wiping away tears? And how cute were these dogs!? When we told them they were sled dogs, people were amazed at their size. “They’re so small”, “They’re sled dogs?”. So after a short educational moment with those who were interested, we finished our q + a, gave huge thanks to the wonderful women who helped make their escort to us possible (thank you Debra and Joanne!) and then it was time for the girls to walk on the west coast. A chance for a potty break first and then off to the van where the girls jumped in without hesitation. Once secured inside, off they went.
Mary Kate and Ashley will be in foster with the Victoria Humane Society and once they are spayed, they will be ready for adoption.
There are so many people who made this possible - I can't name them all and I don't know them all - from the people who first saw them in distress and spoke up for them to those who brought them to safety, to the people who co-ordinated flights and transportation, to those who have cheered them on along the way, to the gem of a woman, Debbie, who will be fostering them. A second chapter is beginning for these girls and if it's turns out like the gaggle of sleddies I know already in retirement, it's going to be pretty fantastic.
Donations to help pay for their spay surgeries, food while in foster and flights for the remaining sleddies coming our way are greatly appreciated and can be done through the VHS website with a click of the big orange button on the homepage HERE!
To follow more of their story and the remaining sleddies coming into care, please visit the Victoria Humane Society facebook page.
If you or someone you know will be travelling from Thunder Bay or Toronto, Ontario, and are interested in being a pet escort to help bring a couple remaining sleddies to Victoria, please contact the Victoria Humane Society. It's super easy and won't cost you a thing!
More links about their rescue:
Thunder Bay Newswatch
Thunder Bay & District Humane Society facebook page
Let the love begin!
tonight I saw Sled Dogs Film for the second time.
it was harder to watch the second time but you know what? i had to... because even though I know more than i ever wanted to about this industry, it's armed me with more knowledge to fight this ridiculous cruelty. knowledge to make governments accountable and knowledge to educate those who are willing to listen on how they can help end this...
Shrek and Grey came out tonight not just as sled dog ambassadors, but as survivors of the 2010 Whistler massacre.
And since then, neither the bcspca nor the provincial government have done anything to help the welfare of sled dogs even though they talked the talk and sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars into a new regulation document that instructs how to shoot a dog "properly". yes, it's still legal to shoot a sled dog because as sled dogs they are classified differently than other dogs - even though there are lots of other working dog breeds out there, sled dogs are still considered different and their welfare is at the mercy of the economy and antiquated dog husbandry practices.
in b.c. we need to hold those agencies who can effect change accountable. write them. pester them. show them the medical records of dogs who come into care. remind them that sled dogs are dogs and they should have the same rights as the dogs that live in our homes. because animals are regulated under the ministry of agriculture, write the minister [when a new one has been appointed] asking for change.
ask the bcspca why they haven't followed up and done any checks on sled dog kennels here in b.c.. ask them why their five freedoms for dogs do not include sled dogs.
educate. advocate. stand up and speak out.
and... if you're interested in fostering a retired sled dog, please contact the Victoria Humane Society as they continue to take them in when operations fold, abandon their dogs, or even just ask.
#pullyourowndamnsled #getsleducated #lookbeyondthebrochure
[to see my "sleddie" experiences over the last 6 years please visit: http://www.wendynesbitt.com/the-sled-dogs-of-whistler.html]
There are a lot of myths circulating about sled dogs. One of them being that they can't lead fulfilling lives if they aren't 'working', pulling sleds.
I would argue that myth because I have seen over 100 sled dogs lead incredibly fulfilling retirements. Today was a prime example. The sleddies [our nickname for retired sled dogs] ran and played. They expended lots of energy. and when they got tired, they could choose to walk slower, hang back a bit, stop and sit with some humans and get some treats. They could then run again, play with their dog buddies and ignore the ones they wanted to. They have a choice and these retirees are doing a great job of making up for lost time!
Although I was mostly taking video, I had to get a group shot. And I've decided to show all of the photos from that gong show! As ridiculous as some of the photos are, you can get a little look into what it's like to try to get as many of the dogs [and their humans] into one shot all looking at the camera when there are seagulls flying, waves crashing, beachy smells and so many other distractions ~ including a border collie and his orange ball.
Always fun times!
Roll call - sleddies and their dog friends: Cedar + Niv, Kismet, Boomer + Knik, Pharaoh, Apex + Calli, Copper, Zeus, Shrek + Pique, Grey Grey + Daisy, Willow, Summer + Farmer, Jasper, Sassy, Saru, Cash and Ocea!
And click HERE to see my retired sled dog photo project!