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Nunani: Qimmiq (Part Two)



So I used to think that the idea of having a house dog was just plain silly, some kind of southern peculiarity. Inuit, I thought, understood that humans and dogs did not belong under one roof — dogs not under any roof at all, unless it was a mother with pups.

Imagine my surprise then, when I discovered that the Alaskan Inuit breeders of the Malamute husky (Mahlemiut), intended the dogs as home companions!

Incessant raids from hostile peoples, combined with a non-nomadic lifestyle, forced these Inuit to breed their huskies into exceptionally large guard dogs, whose function was to bond with their families. From what I’ve read, such dogs are affectionate to human family members, but fiercely loyal and protective.

Maybe the Malamute could be viewed as the Inuit version of the German Shepherd. Since discovering the aforementioned facts, I’ve met a couple of Malamutes: gorgeous, loveable brutes. For anyone who wants a good example — including its tendencies — just check out the enormous, wolfish dog in the movie The Lost Boys.

Okay, so some Inuit had house dogs. This realization constituted one more pick to chip away at my gradually eroding philosophy of distance between people and dogs – a philosophy that altogether dissolved soon after I moved to Ottawa.

My former belief in human-dog apartheid had never meant that I didn’t love dogs. One of the things that kept me sane in Ottawa was my tendency to seek out dogs at every opportunity. A chance to play with or admire someone’s pet was like a breath of fresh air in what seemed like the sterile, even hostile, emotional vacuum of the city. Yet, despite my love of the beasts, I still felt that they did not belong in the home.

The Ottawa Humane Society was located near my apartment, and I would stop in to visit on my frequent strolls to the park. It was like a kind of petting zoo for canines, while the park itself was another. After a while, I began to get a feel for the astounding variety of breeds.

I noticed an odd-looking pup one day, much like the old cartoon character of Deputy Dog. His voice was like a French horn. He reached through and past the bars of his cage, up to the shoulder, snatching at my coat with a disproportionately huge paw. It was almost too weird.

Well, I played with the pup for a bit, then asked the staff about him. The answers were typically,

“Oh, you mean Byron. He’s a real character. Sweet boy, but nobody adopts him. Never had a pup going unadopted for that long. People are probably scared of his bugle voice.”

All the while, you could hear Byron bugling in the back.

They said he was a coonhound – a bluetick coonhound. You can probably imagine how I responded.

“What the hell is that?”

But it led me off on a research trek: libraries, book stores, on-line sources, anything I could find on this alien breed that, to my Inuit sensibilities, hardly looked like a real dog at all.

Something in me wanted to adopt this dog very badly. I could tell that he was special. I could tell by looking into his eyes that he possessed great intelligence and soul, and I wanted to save him from his miserable circumstances. I just felt that he deserved better.

But I also knew that taking on a dog would mean time, money, and training. And I was living in the city. I couldn’t just do it the Inuktitut way, and leave him outside all the time. He would have to live with me, in my apartment.

This was a hideous prospect — a dog, with filth and dirt and noise, tramping all over the part of my life that craved peace and serenity. My husband thought the dog was a great idea, but — at the risk of sounding sexist — of course he did. Many men love dirt and noise and a dog to be their “buddy”. It’s some kind of male compulsion.

I decided to do a test walk.

From the moment I had him outside on the leash, he took off like a cannonball. I could barely hold him. I had been betrayed by my own assumptions! This thing was strong, much stronger than any pup I was used to…

(Continued next week.)

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