GREENLAND’S DOG, Guest Post by Caroline Hatton

GREENLAND’S DOG, Guest Post by Caroline Hatton

GREENLAND’S DOG, Guest Post by Caroline Hatton


An enthusiastic Greenland Dog at feeding time. His
name should be Gusto. His neighbors are calmer, like the one sound asleep.

My friend and fellow children’s book author
Caroline Hatton visited Greenland in July 2019. She took the photos and the
video in this post. For info about her books, visit
www.carolinehattonauthor.com.
Around the town of Ilulissat,
almost half-way up the west coast of Greenland, tour guides and posted signs
warn visitors to stay away from local dogs because they can be dangerous. “As
sledge dogs, they’re work dogs, not pets,” I was told. “Since they don’t know
you, they might bite you. Then they’d have to be put down, which would be a
shame.” On the street map, “areas with sledge dogs” appear with hatched red
lines around the inland edge of town and add up to roughly half the size of the
town itself!
Sled dogs live outdoor in large areas beyond the last streets of Ilulissat.
It’s
a good thing I was warned, because the dogs look… adorable: extra fluffy and tantalizingly
huggable. When I walked past them at the start of hiking trails, doing my best
to keep my eyes off them and relax my body, to avoid provoking aggression, all
they did was throw me a placid glance. Their upturned lip corners and slanted
eyes look like a permanent smile, making them seem amused.

Not
trying very hard to act dangerous.
All dogs are chained, except for puppies. The long
chains allow them to roam around their dog house and water tub, and to visit
one another.

If
I had a fur coat, I’d lie still in the summer heat too, near my water tub. Other
dogs were black-and-white, gray, or tawny.
The dogs pull sleds over snow and ice during the
long winter and short spring. Their owners use them to go hunting or fishing,
on weekend family joy rides, in racing contests, and to take tourists on short rides
or long trips. In the summer, the dogs’ season off, tour companies offer guided
visits for informative chats with dog owners.

Dog sleds stored for the summer. I wonder
what costs more, real sleds or the exquisite miniatures sold as souvenirs.
This is not just any big, strong, and furry dog. Greenlanders
are proud of their Greenland Dog breed, called kalaallit qimmiat in
Greenlandic. The dogs’ ancestors arrived in Greenland a thousand years ago with
the Thule ancestors of today’s indigenous Inuits. Canada’s and Greenland’s
Inuit dogs are genetically the same breed, distinct from Huskies and Malamutes.
Greenland Dogs were used by European polar explorers
in the Arctic and Antarctic.
The Ilulissat Museum, focused on Arctic explorer
Knud Rasmussen and located in the house where he was born, also displays sled
dog info, harnesses, and short, well-made documentaries.
Ilulissat Museum (in the middle) in the
house where explorer Knud Rasmussen was born, white Arctic cotton grass (Eriophorum
sp.), and medium-size iceberg in Disko Bay.
Greenland’s “sled dog territory” is where dog sleds
are used, in towns above the Arctic Circle on the west coast and in all towns
on the east coast. Greenlanders protect the Greenland Dog breed purity by not
allowing any other dog in the territory and by not allowing any Greenland Dog
to come back after leaving it.
Despite the importance of the Greenland Dog in the
Inuit history and culture, the number of sled dogs is dwindling due in part to
canine epidemics and competition from snowmobiles. Not that you could tell in
this video[
https://youtu.be/7O57Z5UZGs8] (turn the volume up) of dogs howling at feeding
time, making sure their voices are heard. Fortunately for them, lunch is coming,
and efforts are underway to promote dog sledding.
Major corporations sponsor
Greenland’s annual national dog sled racing championship. It includes
Avannaata Qimussersua for adults and Avannaata Qimussersuaaraa for boys and girls, ages 9 to 14!
For more info
A video glimpse.
Dog sledding info at the Greenland
government website for visitors.
A 2018 letter to the journal Science, about Greenland sled dogs at risk
for extinction.[
https://science.sciencemag.org/content/360/6393/1080.1]

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