Dogs: Down but not out Born to run
Dogs down but not out of Northern picture

By Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

RESOLUTE BAY (OCT 07/96) - There's something reassuring about having a gang on your side.

That comfort, enjoyed by many an arctic traveller, started disappearing with the arrival of the snowmobile.

Until that time any trip long enough to be called a journey was done behind the tails of a dog team.

For centuries dogs served as the engines of the North, happily -- no, make that fanatically -- pulling masters and heavy loads across the vast white landscape.

"You have to make sure you're on the sled when they take off or you'll be left behind," notes Resolute musher Aleeasuk Eckalook.

Eckalook says she still uses the ancient and venerable canine mode of transportation, not for the sake of tradition, but because it makes more sense.

"They're more reliable when you're out on your own, and they're helpful in other ways too, if you've trained them right.

"They sort of protect you. When you're camping out they'll warn you when bears are around, when the snow's blowing they still know where to go."

With radar-like vision, dogs will steer a sled around ice obstacles and snow drifts, even in white-out conditions, says Eckalook.

And in the North, how can you beat a machine that runs on seals, fish or walrus?

"We caught seven walrus last Monday, so that should keep them fed for a while," says dog driver Joe Nester of Coral Harbour.

A while? That's more than 10,000 pounds of meat.

"It should last pretty much the whole year," he adds.

Both Nester and Eckalook use traditional huskies. Traditional dogs are bigger and stronger - and slower - than the new-fangled racing dogs. But trying to pull heavy loads with racing dogs is kind of like towing a tractor out of a bog with a Volkswagen.

Though the snowmobile has added speed to land travel in the North, it has come at the cost another link to the past, to a time when man's best friend was also one of his most valuable assets.