What to read: The Canadian Inuit Dog: Icon of Canada’s North

"A great book," Kuujjuaq musher Allen Gordon says

As the sun goes down, Inuit sled dogs stand on the melting bay ice near the causeway in Iqaluit in May. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

By Jane George

If you want to know more about Inuit dogs or you’re just a dog-lover, a recently published book points the way as clearly as a hungry dog team heading home over the ice.

The Canadian Inuit Dog: Icon of Canada’s North by Kim Han offers readers many beautiful photos of dogs, historical illustrations and more than enough solid information. The clear, easy-to-understand style of the book makes you feel that you learned a lot, without even working at it.

And there’s a lot to learn about Inuit dogs: you probably did not realize that in the winter, sled dogs don’t drink water as much as they eat it.

Some of this water is trapped in the food they eat. Other water is produced by the dogs’ metabolism as it breaks down fat for energy. Inuit dogs are also not just your average dog in other ways, too.

This photo of Inuit dogs pulling a sled, by Mike Beedell, is one of the many photos and illustrations in The Canadian Inuit Dog: Icon of Canada’s North.

“Inuit dogs are said to still have one foot in the wild. They do not bark like cultured dogs, but make guttural sounds, yelping and howling like wolves,” Han writes.

As Han describes the Inuit dog, it has a broad chest and a robust, muscular body built for stamina. It also has a thick neck, a wedge-shaped head and medium-length legs.

“The most obvious difference is tail carriage. The Inuit dog has a big, bushy, sickle-shaped tail carried in a tight curl over its back, especially when it is happy,” she writes.

In Han’s book you’ll find a history of the dogs that stretches back thousands of years, to Asia. According to the Canadian Kennel Club, there are less than 200 “registered Canadian Eskimo Dogs,” because Inuit and non-Inuit in the North do not register their dogs.

The Natural History Museum of Denmark at the University of Copenhagen estimated in 2000 there were about 20,000 Greenland dogs. Ten years later, that number had fallen to 15,000. In 2018 there are even fewer, Han said.

In her book, Han writes that this continuing decline is attributed to climate change and shrinking sea ice, which makes it more difficult for hunters to travel on the sea ice for marine mammals. Among the other factors cited are the growing number of snowmobiles and fewer people using dog teams.

While researching her book, Han spoke with many people, Inuit and non-Inuit involved with Inuit dogs as well as numerous experts. It was a labour of love: she wrote the book to honour her daughter, Siu-Ling Han, a longtime Iqaluit resident and dog-team runner who died in 2016 of cancer.

“I have never lived in the Arctic and never managed a team of Inuit dogs,” her mother Kim said. “But I had the opportunity to go dog sledding in the Arctic, help raise and train Inuit dog puppies, and care for them in their retirement.”

Han plans to donate the income from this book to Qimmivut, a land-based program of the Ilisaqsivik Society.

This mental-health and mentoring program for Inuit youth will honour Siu-Ling and “the way she cared about people, the environment, northern wildlife and her beloved Inuit dogs,” Han said.

Allen Gordon, a Kuujjuaq musher who acquired from Siu-Ling two sister pups, Tarqirk and Piqatik, that helped form the foundation of his dog team, said, “’The Canadian Inuit Dog: Icon of the Canada’s North’ is a great book,” in his foreword.

“Kim writes about the toughest dog on earth,” Gordon said.

Inuit dogs allowed people for the first time to reach both north and south poles when attempts with different animals had failed, he said.

“Kim also touches on a sad, dark history regarding the killings of sled dogs by the authorities,” he said.

You can order “The Canadian Inuit Dog: Icon of the Canada’s North” from:

Barnes and Noble

Amazon

You can also buy the book directly from Revodana Publishing,  for US$34.99 plus $10 for shipping. Books ordered from Canada will be printed in Canada and sent from Canada.

Share This Story

(3) Comments:

  1. Posted by Kangir&iniq on

    About time a book like this came along. Having grown up the first ten years of my life living with a dog team, I understand this book. I also did not know Siu Ling Han had passed, my condolences.

    • Posted by Kim Han on

      Thank you for your message. Did you know Siu-Ling? Where are you located? I am hoping the Iqaluit Library will acquire a copy of the book. If it wasn’t for Siu-Ling and help from her many dog-teaming friends in Iqaluit, as well as Kuujuaq, Inuk elder Elijah Padluq, and his daughter Kathy Martha, who was a dear friend of Siu-Ling’s, the book would not have been what it is today. I am donating all proceeds of the book to Qimmivut to honour my much-loved daughter who loved the North, its people, her work, and her dogs.

  2. Posted by Floki on

    I’m lucky enough to have become the owner of one of these beautiful dogs. I would love to know more of their history so thank you for this article, I will definitely pick up a copy of this book.

Join the Conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*