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In a new situation, it can be surprising where you find the support to get you through your daily routine. Sometimes it comes from friends you knew would be there for you, or a husband who calls and writes every day. Sometimes there are strong, unexpected new connections. In my time up north, a strong source of support and joy has come from a breed of dog credited with helping the Inuit survive one of the harshest climates on earth: the Inuit Sled Dog, Nunavut’s official mammal.

Living with dogs is an entirely new experience for me. My housemate here in Iqaluit works as the head of the Canadian Wildlife Service for the Eastern Arctic but also has a working sled dog team. She’s raising two young pups to join the team and has a retired sled dog living in the house. At each stage of their lives, these dogs are treated well. And all of these dogs have been helping me through this pregnancy.

The retired sled-dog-turned-house-dog is ten years old. Having run and raced all across Baffin Island and raised two litters of puppies (including the current team’s Boss and Lead Dogs) Tua has now decided she would rather stay indoors and gather her puppy-sized stuffed animals around her. She walks across snowy and icy tundra at my pregnant pace.

She chooses the best paths and is my companion on long walks. When everyone else is walking quickly – what was once my normal pace – it’s comforting to have a dog who understands that I need to walk slowly and more carefully.

About once a week I exclaim in wonder at how quickly the sled dog puppies are growing. Sometimes my comments are met with laughter, as my fleece layers become halter tops, barely covering my expanding belly.

In my sixth month now, I too am growing quickly, perhaps gaining weight at the same rate as the sled dogs around me. The absence of full-length mirrors in my day to day routine here has led to a few bad wardrobe choices but has also kept me from tracking my changing shape compulsively. Now I keep an eye on the young pups, knowing I’m probably keeping pace.

The mother of the original 11 pups of this litter is a working sled dog named Sila. As the puppies grow older and more demanding she spends less and less time with them, running away from their pen when given the chance.  She is very affectionate towards humans, a lovely dog, and I feel for her trying to raise and protect her litter while at the same time being worn down by them.

Add to my experience with the Inuit Sled Dog puppies the fact that I sometimes house-sit for a friend whose house comes with four young chihuahuas.

Here again, the mother tries to avoid the demands of the puppies, who now use their teeth and claws to cling to her for milk. She drags the puppies across the floor with her. I fashion a little getaway for her, a bigger box to contain the pups and start them on solid food and I let her sit on my lap to watch the presidential debate. 
We don’t know if our baby will be a boy or a girl so we’ve been calling him or her Junior. And with the upcoming election, sometimes we refer to Junior as FETUS (you know, like POTUS. In the Situation Womb). Since Junior can hear almost everything I do, he or she must be aware of the daily barking, whining and howling.
But when I return to the south before the birth, he or she will arrive into the world to a home without dogs. After all these weeks of dog noises – all these rough and tumble interactions, the smells of seal meat, the daily praising and petting – I wonder how those experiences find their way into this young person’s future.
Dogs are often the reason to go for walks on cold days. I  peer at the massive paws of the older dogs and realize how many miles they have covered. Watching the temperatures drop, I appreciate what they endure and begin to understand the kind of weather these thick coats are built for.
I watch the young pups, experiencing so many things for the first time – snow, ice, older dogs – facing their fears and fighting their puppy battles. These dogs have helped people in this land for centuries, and they’ve surprised me by being an important connection (and support) to me here.
Angie Pajek is a freelance producer based in Toronto, currently working for the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation.
Season Two  of the Inuit Youth comedy “Qanurli?” premieres January 11th, 2013 on APTN. Like them on Facebook.
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