Preserving a dog-sledding tradition

Bonnie Learning
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Interest in protecting Labrador husky gaining traction

For Scott Hudson of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, it’s a sign of good things to come. Hudson — born and raised in Black Tickle, a remote island community on Labrador’s south coast — has raised, bred and run his own team of Labrador huskies for several years, and runs a dog team business, Northern Lights Dog Sledding.

But now he’s seeing an increase in the number of people in the Big Land looking to start their own dog teams. He sees that as great news for the survival of the breed.

“The Labrador husky needs to be celebrated and (the breed) maintained,” says Hudson.

“Having more people interested in the dogs will help keep the bloodline alive.”

Hudson explained the Labrador husky is unique in its genetic makeup.

“Historically and culturally, they are different from any other breed of husky that’s since been introduced to Labrador. There’s been a watering down of the breed over the last 10-15 years, which puts us in a dangerous place.”

Hudson explained a purebred Labrador husky evolved when the Canadian Eskimo dog was cut off geographically from the more northern region of the country when the Inuit first inhabited Labrador.

“It limited the breeding pool, as the dogs bred just with each other, but they also bred with the local wolf population, resulting in the sub-species we now know as the Labrador husky.”

Lori Pope lives in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, but she grew up in the south coast community of Cartwright.

She has three dogs — two Labrador huskies and one Canadian Eskimo from Nunavut.

“People always had teams years ago, back home (in Cartwright),” says Pope.

“I always wanted a husky, growing up, but was never allowed to have one because they were strictly thought of as ‘working dogs,’ not pets,” recalls Pope.

“My grandparents had a team, and I remember my parents telling me stories of their experiences with the team, although they never had a team themselves. It’s sad to think that in basically one generation, the teams went away.”

Pope keeps her lead dog, Stormy, as a house pet, but says he loves to work as a team with her other two dogs, Griffen Bea and Trot H., who are housed near Northern Lights Dog Sledding.

She is hoping the latter two will one day become “romantically involved” and produce a litter of puppies.

“Last winter was my first year having a team, so I’m still just learning,” she said.

“I took my mother for a ride last winter and she said it all came back to her.”

 

Promotion and protection

Hudson noted there are two other Labrador husky teams — belonging to David and Olive Callahan and Megan Hudson and Damien Bolger — housed near his kennel as well. He feels things are going in the right direction for the promotion and protection of the dogs he loves so much.

“I would not be able to do this without the understanding and support of my wife Lori, as she enjoys the dogs as much as I do,” he said.

“Oftentimes, she will take them out on her own either for an afternoon of personal pleasure or for clients.”

He said he’s proud to know his children will experience this part of their Metis heritage, rather than “simply reading about it on the Internet.”

“I would recommend this to anybody; it’s a great way to connect with the land, the dogs and maintain this part of our identity,” he said.

Hudson has eight dogs of his own — six Labrador huskies and two Siberian-Labrador husky crosses, in addition to five purebred Labrador husky puppies.

“When I got into raising dogs, I knew it was going to be hard,” said Hudson. “Some people play sports, play instruments. … My time goes to the dogs.

“Some people might refer (to dog sledding) as recreation, but I think it goes deeper than that — it’s a cultural connection.”

Hudson believes raising and running Labrador huskies pays homage to the elders of Labrador who did the same, as well as to the breed itself.

“Our elders carved out a living with those dogs, it was a matter of survival,” said Hudson. “That needs to be recognized.”

Hudson is helping do just that, not only through his own dogs, but through his work with the Labrador Husky Steering Committee, which was established a few months ago.

The six-member committee recently applied for — and was successful — in obtaining a $10,000 grant through the Newfoundland and Labrador Aboriginal Heritage Fund to help establish a centralized database of all things Labrador husky.

“We’re hoping to use the money to hire a co-ordinator to research and document all the information they can on the breed from all over Labrador — through talking with elders, Them Days magazine, The Rooms, etc., so it can all be centralized in one location,” explained Hudson.

“This will also help make our case that much stronger to get the Labrador husky heritage animal status with the province.”

James Kelly is new to the region, but his love of all things Labrador — including the Labrador husky — has been going on for a few years now.

“I adopted a Lab husky-cross from the Happy Valley-Goose Bay SPCA in 2009, and met Scott through a mutual Facebook group called Snow Dogs of Newfoundland and Labrador,” said Kelly, who moved to Happy Valley-Goose Bay  last month for work.

Originally from Placentia Bay, Kelly said he has always loved the Labrador husky and discovered through his contact with Hudson that the breed needed protection and preservation.

“I want to have my own team of Labrador huskies,” notes Kelly. “It’s the last thing on my bucket list.”

 

 

Organizations: Labrador Husky Steering Committee, Newfoundland and Labrador Aboriginal Heritage Fund

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Happy Valley, Goose Bay Nunavut Cartwright Placentia Bay

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