When we weren’t sledging on the sea ice our dogs lived on a clump of rocks opposite our house (also on a clump of rocks). That first winter on the ice (2007) was a nightmare. Getting the dogs up and down a steep, icy road to the ice and back was hell and hard work. I vowed to get smarter and did what the Greenlanders did – I relocated the dogs to the ice.
If you’re wondering about the chains and thinking that it’s cruel… well, I understand. But in the sledge dog districts of Greenland, adult dogs (typically over six weeks old) are required by law to be kept on chains when not working. Working is the key word. Sledge dogs are working dogs, taking the hunters to and from the fishing holes, and on hunting trips. In Qaanaaq they even load qajaqs onto the sledges and sledge to the very edge of the ice before launching the qajaqs when hunting narwhal. It’s illegal to hunt narwhal from a boat in Qaanaaq.
Anyway, back to the dogs, they are chained by law. These are tough dogs. With the right food – plenty of blubber when it’s cold – they are capable of toughing out temperatures in the minus 50s. That’s Celsius. Being so tough, they are not house trained. Meaning, they really shouldn’t be in a house. Sometimes a Dane on a short term contract would fall in love with a puppy and then go through the motions to take that puppy home with them to an apartment in a Danish city once their contract ended.
You’re thinking about it now… 😉 Working sledge dog, used to the extremes and lots of activity (when working), suddenly inside a three-room apartment with central heating.
Yep. That can turn out badly. It doesn’t have to, but it’s not a good idea, and it can be curtains for the dog. It’s a bit like when Game of Thrones fans wanted their own Dire Wolves from the series and bought sledge dog puppies thinking they would just slide into family life.
In Greenland, the story goes that when a hunter wanted new blood for the pack, he would put out a bitch when she was in heat and wait for the wolf to come and visit.
Greenland sledge dogs are about as close to the wolf as you can get without having wolves or hybrids – not recommended.
Anyway, we – my team and me – relocated to the ice.
I still had to deal with the hill, carrying water and food up and down it every day. I was in good shape, if a little exhausted.
However, even though our dogs were not working dogs – I was a teacher not a hunter – we treated them as such, although I confess there was a lot of cuddling and spoiling in our team, and when they felt sufficiently spoiled they even pulled the sledge! Cue shaky but very important photo below! Oh, and it was -28 Celsius that February day. The sea ice is perhaps 20-40 cm thick.
Apart from the red harness in the photo above, I sewed all the dogs harnesses, made the lines, cut lengths of chain, stuffed drill holes in the rock with wood then screwed attachment points into them, or when camping on the ice, dug holes in the ice, slipped wood and chain anchors into the sea, then pulled the anchors tight in an upside down T to freeze before adding the dogs. I didn’t build the sledge, but I did sew the sledge bag – the same kind of envelope bag Maratse keeps all his gear in when sledging.
One more thing, in the photos we are sledging on the road created by taxis and other cars going to and from the settlements. Uummannaq is an island, but in the winter, with good ice, all the islands were connected. We watched Ice Road Truckers when living in Greenland, then went out and did it. 🙂