A dog for life

by Kieran Meeke

The Inuit dog sled is light enough to travel across thin ice and snow but tough enough to absorb the punishment of hitting rocks or crevices at speed, being loosely bound at its joints for maximum flexibility. Photo Timothy Allen

IF the color of Greenland is the deep blue-white of ice and snow, then its sound is of dogs howling. The Greenland dog is a hardy animal, living outdoors in compounds sullied with its own waste or just chained up beside a house, and fed irregularly. At the end of each day, they howl at the moon, and each other, and their lament carries in the absolute stillness of the Arctic night.

During the day, a burst of more intense howls shows their food has arrived. “You have to be careful how you feed them,” says my friend Hans as I help him prepare some sled dogs for an outing from Ilulissat. “They have a very strict hierarchy within the pack and any sign of favoritism will set off a fight to re-establish dominance. Give one a treat and you may bring down trouble on its head.”

Transport by dog sled is still vital in Greenland

Ilulissat is said to have 3,500 dogs for a population of just over 5,000 people, a reminder that transport by dog sled is still vital in a country where there are no roads connecting its settlements.

While Greenlanders will hop on a plane or helicopter like those elsewhere might take a train, letting a dog take the strain remains a better option for tackling the rugged interior than the hardiest four-wheel-drive vehicle.

With snowmobiles banned in the country, having a dog team seems to be the way to go.

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