Growing at the Rate of a Sled Dog
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.