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Spoiled Malamute Goes to PawsWay

Tanya Hawley notified us AMCC members in the Mid East that PawsWay was going to have an Arctic Dogs event on Sunday December 9th. PawsWay is a dog and cat pet centre in Toronto on the Harbourfront. Lots of people wander around Harbourfront venues on the weekends. Tanya had taken her mals to a previous Arctic Dog event at PawsWay and was planning to attend this one.

You all know what a big undertaking it is to haul your dogs to a public display several hours away in winter driving conditions. This was not a dog show and no remuneration offered. I wanted to support Tanya and help make a good showing for our indigenous Canadian Arctic dogs: malamutes and Canadian Inuit Dogs. But no local breeders I knew could do it. Days before the event I discovered there would be no Canadian Artic dogs attending and the event had been re-named Parade of Winter Breeds. Poor Tanya had to withdraw because of back injury.

What about my two mals, 6 year old Yukitu and yearling Ike’s Hope? I have to confess, they’re spoiled pet mals who run free on 30 acres, contained by a customized invisible fence. They’ve been to puppy school but I don’t take them to town enough to make them good on the leash and with other dogs. Michelle Lavigne, Ike’s breeder urged me to give Ike a chance. Ike is an unusually long and long haired mal. He has a gorgeous tail and pantaloons (as our vet calls his hind quarters) which accumulate all the mud and burrs 30 acres have to offer. His brains are formidable, his temperament affectionate Goofus, his long, soft fur coat makes him a cuddle monster.

Perfect mal for the public, if he doesn’t jump up, knock people down or strain on the leash as though choking to death. If…! Guilt ridden at being such a poor trainer and not wanting to let the side down, I lay awake much of Saturday night thinking…I’ll let fate decide. I’ll get up early enough to work at raking the mud and burrs accumulated on yesterday’s hike in the rain. That done, I’ll do the two plus hour drive into Toronto if the current forecast of freezing rain and snow is wrong.

I woke to a sunny, clear morning. Ike readily succumbed to his grooming and lept into the car before I could lay out the dog blanket. You guessed it, our spoiled dogs are not put in crates. Yukitu growled at Ike to mind his manners and might have done worse had I not diverted her with a rawhide to stay behind. The driving conditions were easy, bare roads. Though as we neared the city the forecast was “freezing rain warning” but they didn’t say when it would arrive. It was Ike’s first trip into the city and he behaved like a malamute: smiling adventurous, slobbering anxious, trying to get out the back windows to greet children waving at him from the back seat of other cars. And squirrels…there were squirrels on the ground! And strange dogs everywhere.

Ike sat back in contemplation as I lectured him, again, on the role model malamute show dog behaviour I expected from him. I stopped at a park with no dogs in sight to give him some practice and a pee break. He was amazingly good on the leash, sometimes sticking so close to my side he tripped me.

At Harbourfront I was relieved to find they had completed the new underground parking lot close to PawsWay. First underground concrete cave for Ike. Weird! But he disembarqued and made friends with the guys parked beside us, with the parents and kids in line at the ticket machine, and the pretty girl in his first elevator ride. Up on the concrete ground he saw Lake Ontario between the high buildings and accompanied me on the sidewalk to PawsWay, straining but not gagging on his collar as I kept him on short leash. He was concentrating on the dog just ahead of us, when I spotted the squirrel about to cross our path. Then Ike spotted it. I grabbed his collar and got his leash hooked on a concrete post before he could give chase. Once the squirrel was up a tree, Ike was willing to move on.

But when I saw the variety of dogs being led out of PawsWay and pictured the multitude of them within, felt the tension rising in Ike as we neared them, it was I who failed to stand my ground. I retreated, deciding to tie up Ike outside the PawsWay building, rush inside to deliver promised books to the event co-ordinators, then take Ike home. In prior correspondence with co-ordinator Blair Keetch, I had promised to bring some copies of City Wolves for PawsWay and my malamute for the Parade of Winter Breeds, but warned that if Ike were not well enough behaved, I’d back out. The parade was to go from PawsWay to the skating rink.

Ike obediently sat down, lay down and “stay” while I went inside. Friendly people gathered round him. Inside was a crowd of people with a variety of dogs lined up to have their photo taken with Blair Keetch dressed up as Santa Claus. As I pulled the books out of my back pack and handed them to another co-ordinator I noted that only one Samoyed and a few well behaved Siberians were assembling for the parade. I retrieved Ike to take him to the car before the parade came out of PawsWay.

It was then I began to feel guilty about being a cowardly poor handler, not giving Ike a chance to prove himself and not giving Canadians a chance to meet one of their indigenous sled dogs. I talked that over with Ike. He then led me to the skating rink where I sat on a bench, hungry and tired since no one was giving me cookies and rests. Ike stayed at my side offering paws and licks to children and adults who stopped skating to stare then cautiously approach. I kept a tighter grip as the Samoyed and Siberians paraded behind us and along to the other side of the rink, a loud speaker introducing them. Ike continued to receive admiring remarks, handshakes and cuddles while the Parade greeted people on the other side of the rink. It was all over in a half hour.

Ike accompanied me back to the elevator and underground cave on a relaxed leash, smiling proudly at my courage in the face of new circumstances. We got home an hour ahead of the freezing rain. Yukitu rushed out to meet us, prepared to tell Ike off and put him in his place if he had let the side down. “He was a good boy,” I told Yukitu. “A proper malamute.”

Dorris Heffron author of City Wolves

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