[PART NINE of a series chronicling the re-homing of Whistler sled tour dogs.]
I first met Jeff in September 2013 when I was up at the Whistler Sled Dog Co. kennels. He was known as Joffre back then and he was one of the shier of the 43 dogs at the kennels at that time. (Hard to believe as he's the brother of Chichi.. yes, THE Chichi. The dog who's been nicknamed "the happiest dog in the world"... the dog who I may have to devote a whole book to because she loves to stick her nose in my camera lens). But back to Jeff... he would seem interested in things, but was always on the periphery of the group… watching the humans and other dogs. And if he wasn't interested in what was happening, he'd go and find a cool hole to lay down in to escape the 40+ degree heat that had settled in the three days I was there.
With the searing heat, it was hard to think of winter on its way, but that was our focus at the time - it was about networking and working on finding spots in shelters and foster homes. That was the priority. There's no doubt some of these pups were very good at what they did as working dogs. But their work in addition to winters spent outside along with getting older, had taken it's toll on their bodies. Having lived outside 24/7, 365 days a year, these dogs weren't housetrained, they didn't know not to take food from counters, they hadn't gone for walks on leashes, heard oven doors open, kettles whistle, been exposed to city traffic, and perhaps were most confused as to why their food and water was on the ground, and not on top of their bedroom.
So never in my wildest dreams, could I have pictured this moment. Ten months after those days at the kennel, here I was at an indoor swimming pool in North Saanich, witnessing one of the shiest dogs I'd met, actually relax... in an indoor pool of all places.
Jeff's life couldn't be more different now than it was back then. Now it's all about him. Trips to the pool to help with exercise and arthritis, play dates with old friends and dogs he's comfortable around, and a community of both humans and dogs rallying behind him and his family offering support, guidance, sharing tales, and just being there.
The great thing is... it's not just for Jeff. Although some of the dogs have adjusted quite easily into life in a home ... for others it's been more challenging. But these guys are a part of a unique and passionate community who helps each other. I will never forget hearing, more than once, how unadoptable people said some of the retired sled dogs were. But what I've witnessed over the last two and half years of photo documenting about 100 of these dogs in a variety of situations - at the WSDC kennels, being transported in the truck, in shelters, on walks, hikes, and beach romps. As well as eating, drinking, sleeping, post-pee & poop kicking, playing fetch, being nervous, happy, depressed, excited, shy, smiling, winking, lip-licking, at the vet, being vaccinated, being surrendered, being adopted, a first trip to the ocean, a first dip in a pool, reuniting with other sleddies and making new friends - is their resiliency and ability to keep us humans from ever doubting what they can achieve.
Philosopher George Santayana wrote "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" and I believe in this case it rings true. To ensure the tragedy that these dogs were witness to never happens again, we have to remember it, to whatever extent we can tolerate. But the future of each of these dogs is unwritten and their adopted families are dedicated to helping new chapters of their life stories unfold.
Thank you Jill + Jeff: for organizing the party, Erin, Niv + Siku and Deb, Question + Daffy for letting me tag along on another adventure. And to Melanie Mosher of Black Dog White Dog for coaching and hosting Jeff's Pool Party.
I haven't captioned any of the photos this time because I don't think they need it. You will see a collection of feelings - from nervousness to relaxation and from fear to joy from both the humans and the dogs - but ultimately I hope you will see people helping dogs... and dogs helping people.