THE CANADIAN ESKIMO DOG IS BATTLING EXTINCTION

Courtesy of Bert-Jan Elfrink

July 1, 2007

By Miriam Körner

“Don’t go too close to these dogs. These are no pets,” warns Brian Ladoon, founder of the Canadian Eskimo Dog Foundation, as he leads me around his dog yard, home to 120 Canadian Eskimo Dogs – one third of the world’s population of registered purebreds. There is something different about this ancient, powerfully built dog, that demands respect. They appear as confident, magnificent animals; their posture revealing pride, their gate a brisk trot with the slow, majestic movements of their wild soul mates.

Although wolf-like in appearance, the Canadian Eskimo Dog is within the spitz family of dogs, species canis familiaris borealis, and the similarities between wolf and dog are more of a superficial nature related to the ability of both species to survive in a harsh Arctic climate. During the winter the dog wears a thick outer coat of straight, often erect hair with a dense underfur below. This protects them against the rigors of life in high latitudes. Males often carry mane-like longer hair over the neck and shoulders. Canadian Eskimo Dogs are very pack-oriented. The hierarchy of dominant and subordinate roles will be fought out under the leadership of the dominant dog, often called the boss dog, similar to the alpha male in wolf packs. But there is no more wolf in a Canadian Eskimo Dog than there is in a poodle, believes the Nunavut organization ISDI (Inuit Sled Dog International). In general, the Canadian Eskimo Dog is gentle and affectionate with the average human and enjoys attention, though they seem to have an almost over response to any stimulus whether it be food, work, fight or play. For this reason, the dogs are recommended to be companions for adults and not as a child’s pet.

The term ‘Canadian Eskimo Dog’ is the official name that the Canadian Kennel Club uses. In the past the Club has referred to the dog as the ‘Eskimo,’ ‘Esquimaux Husky,’ ‘Esquimaux Dog,’ or simply ‘Husky.’ The Inuit of Arctic Canada called their dog ‘qimmiq’ in the Inuktitut language, meaning ‘dog.’ The breed is known to have migrated with the Thule Civilization across the Bering Street, between 900 and 1100 AD, to the coastal and archipelago area – now Arctic Canada – and Greenland. Archeologists have found sled runners and harness parts from that era, but these artifacts only indicate the first usage of the qimmiq as a sled dog. The roots of the dog itself date back to the paleoinuit culture of 4,000 BC, possibly even earlier, where dogs where used as hunting partners. The exact origin of the dog is lost in pre-history, but it is widely accepted that the ancestors of today’s Inuit would not have survived without the qimmiq.

In the 1920s an estimated 20,000 purebred dogs lived in the Canadian North. In the 1960s Inuit families still traveled back and forth between Canada and Greenland by dog team, however, in the 1970s the snow mobile had taken over and the qimmiq was on the verge of extinction with less than 200 of the breed left. The Canadian Eskimo Dog Research Foundation Club in Yellowknife initiated a project, with the help from the Canadian Kennel Club and the Canadian Government, to save the breed in 1972. Four years later Brian Ladoon in Churchill, Manitoba responded to the concerns that the Canadian Eskimo Dog would be soon extinct by setting out on a mission to the North: He acquired his first 19 Canadian Eskimo Dogs from the Inuit communities of Whale Cove, Eskimo Point (Arviat), Hall Beach and Igloolik. Ladoon began the establishment of what has become the largest Canadian Eskimo Dog breeding kennel in the world: The Canadian Eskimo Dog Foundation (CEDF). After 30 years of breeding, Ladoon still believes the future for the Canadian Eskimo Dog looks bleak as dogs in the Arctic are mostly used for racing, and the faster southern dogs are crossbred with the traditional dogs. The CEDF maintains and provides a pure genetic stock to facilitate restoration programs to the Inuit communities of the Canadian Arctic. The dogs are bred for withstanding the Arctic climate, power and endurance, and maintaining the line of the tough working animal.

In 2001, the Canadian Eskimo Dog became the official territorial mammal of Nunavut and the government adopted the term “Canadian Inuit Dog” to designate the ‘qimmiq’ in the English language. The Canadian Kennel Club continues to use the name Canadian Eskimo Dog, referring exclusively to Canadian breeds, while the “Canadian Inuit Dog” is one of the three “Inuit Sled Dog International (ISDI)” amongst the Greenland Inuit Dog and Russian Inuit Dog. Ladoon feels there is much confusion over the name for this dog and he by no means wants to be derogatory by continuing the use of the name Canadian Eskimo Dog, however his argument –is that the word “eskimo” is widely accepted to mean “eater of raw meat,” and after all that’s what Ladoons dogs do as did their ancestors – eat raw meat.

No matter what the dog is called – qimmiq, Canadian Eskimo Dog, Canadian Inuit Dog or Inuit Sled Dog International – the canis familiaris borealis is one of Canada’s four indigenous breeds, rich in history and of great value to its people. One of the only four indigenous breeds – the Tahltan Bear Dog – has already vanished from the face of the earth; the Canadian Eskimo Dog came close to extinction in the 70s and their numbers have barely recovered to a viable size. So no matter what the name or the location of the organization is, that breed of rare descendants of the ancient qimmiq, they have one thing in common: The dedication to save this historic dog from the fate of extinction.

For further information or to contribute with donations, visit the following websites:

http://www.polarbearworld.com: The site of the Canadian Eskimo Dog Foundation (CEDF) can be found on this web page. The CEDF offers a healthy breeding stock of purebred Canadian Eskimo Dogs.

http://www.inuitsleddoginternational.com : The Inuit Sled Dog International (ISDI) site has his own breed registry and publishes the quarterly journal “Fan Hitch.”

http://www.ckc.cawww.ckc.ca The Canadian Kennel Club describes the purebred criteria of Canadian Eskimo Dog and owners of these dog can register their purebreds here.

Miriam Körner is a freelance writer and photographer. She lives with her sled dogs at Potato Lake, Saskatchewan and guides dog sledding and canoeing adventures for “Paws’n’Paddles Wilderness Tours.” She enjoys winter camping by dog team and wilderness racing.

by bert

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