I’ve been asked why I stayed so long, working at Chocpaw Expeditions if I knew of this neglect.
There are many reasons why I stayed there so long, one of which is I didn’t know about the fate of the dogs in the early years.
I hope this story will help the reader gain a little bit more insight in my world at the time working at the dogsled kennel of 400 dogs.
I believe it was my second winter season working at Chocpaw, early months of 2015, I was 26 (?).
Second season was a big deal for me, I worked really hard to prove myself as an asset of the team.
I had to not only thrive as a guide, but get to know each and every dog by name, as well as their personally traits and behavioral tendencies. That wasn’t easy for me, I thrived in other ways as a hard worker, and as a guide, but memorizing so many dogs… That’s not an easy feat! the Senior guides knew, and so they helped allot and took care of creating teams at the beginning of the season.
Certain dogs cannot be next to other dogs. Just aggression. There wasn’t many aggression issues at Chocpaw, it’s still bound to happen with dogs. Male-Male, or female to female, the rare dog who just was extra dominant. Dogsledding can be high stress too, which can get the dogs extra rilled up.
Our boss at the time, the owner, Paul Reid, made sure to stress to us that if dogs get in fights, that is Our fault as guides. We need to be setting the dogs up for success. Not Failure- so that is why the teams of dogs are chosen so specifically. All teams were built in the fall, arranged by senior guides and then Okayed by Paul. I digress
The Second Season, I started getting trusted with more responsibility as a guide. I was able to lead overnight trips on my own. It’s a huge sign of trust from the staff, because this means they believe in your skill, and knowledge of the dogs.
I loved being out there in the bush in the dead of winter. I loved sharing my home- the outdoors- with clients. It was allot of work you know. We slept in canvas tents. As a guide, we were the fire keepers, getting up each 45 minutes – 3 hours to stock the stove so the clients were comfortable. Making the coffee and meals over propane stoves. Being a host really. Their comfort and safety is our number one goal.
Oh, not to mention break a hole in the ice to get our water supply for the dogs and humans, as well as felling some hardwood and softwood trees, bucking it up, and splitting it up to keep the stove going at night.. and making sure you have a good supply left over for the next person.
Then of course, there’s the dog care, they slept on drop chains, making sure they were well fed, and looked after, and comfortable. Look at their paws for any injuries, do some nail maintenance, keeping track of every individual’s needs. We had to check on them every time we stoked the stove at night.
Dog Sledding in and of itself is an amazing experience. After all, I worked with my own team of 7 dogs which I had gotten to know very well. It’s team work, you gotta run up the hill with the dogs and sometimes help push the sled up. You gotta use the breaks going down, keep control of the sled so it doesn’t over run the dogs. You gotta be safe and kind to your team… A beautiful trail system on crown land right next to Algonquin park, and sometimes into the park itself.
I was leading an overnight trip on my own, maybe only 2 nights. with only a few clients. On the before last day, one client asked me to check their dog Prince. His gait was not like it had been earlier. We asked that from our clients. We encouraged them to get to know their team, show their dogs love and look for any irregular behavior and tell us.
So I went over to the dog, Prince. He was a large barrel chested dog. Piebald col lours of brown and yellow over a white base. His fur was medium long, which is irregular for Chocpaw Dogs. Most of them are short haired “alaskan” huskies.
I gave him a look over, there was nothing in his paws, no sign of pain when I squeezed around his body. So I asked the clients to keep going, their team was right behind mine, so i set a pace and looked at Prince’s Gate.
He was indeed bobbing his head downward. There was something off about the way he ran. I decided then to stop the team, and switch out Prince for one of my dogs. This way I could keep a closer eye on the guy and see if I could figure it out. He was showing no sign of pain. Those dogs are driven to run. I had already been advised that sled dogs hide their pain, they would rather run, then sit in the sled.We continued on to camp, and set up for the night.
When everything was settled, dogs watered and fed. I took my time trying to trouble shoot Prince. What was going on with this guy.
I gave him a head to toe check, and checked range of motion of all his extremities. That’s when I noticed his back right(?) leg moved differently. It had extra range of motion.
I compared the movement of both his legs and noticed it was his Achilles tendon felt detached. I could feel the tissue under the skin, it felt like … if a Achilles tendon is a rubber band.. the rubber band had snapped and was at his heel. All inside tho, no blood. And Prince showed no sign of pain.
I had no idea how this happened. I was keeping a steady pace all day. The snow was a little crusty on top, which can hurt the dogs. But a good pace, should be no problem. And as a solo guide, all the other teams are behind you following, and we are constantly looking behind us. The clients were also nice to their dogs (they aren’t all believe it or not).
Anyway I couldn’t tell you whether or not I called the shop on the satellite phone to let them know,. Paul would come at any time of night to come pick up dogs or people if there was an emergency. However if the dogs can run, then they are to run home.
So that’s what we did the next day. Prince ran on my team. No interest in sitting this one out on the sled (thank goodness cause he’s a large dog). When we got back to the kennel, and all the dogs were put away, I advised the Senior staff of the injury like we had been taught.
Prince’s house was about 2 houses in front of the bush row, we went there together and I showed them my finding. I won’t lie, I was concerned for him, but I was more concerned I would then be in trouble for this.
If I loose the opportunity to guide trips, then I don’t make money. And being on trip is so much better then being at the kennel. I Digress.
After the clients had left the shop from the usual chilli lunch, guides took the time to fill out an After trip Log. This log is very in depth.
How was the trip, how was the food, how were the clients, any injuries? what worked, what didn’t work, did anything break, how were the dog teams? any injuries? notes? end of trip comments by guide. That whole thing. They are too be kept for 7 years, in case a client comes back and sues you for something- like if they get injured. It was also a way for the boss to keep track of whats going on out there.
Somewhere in the Chocpaw Files there is a paper stating that Prince had sustained this injury.
My boss didn’t punish me for this injury. In fact, it sucked, but sled dogs are athletes. and athletes get injuries. Dogs would sometimes come home with a sprained shoulder or something of the sorts, and the kennel staff would be tending to that 2xdaily, and the dog might be off running for a week or so till they are okay to run again.
But Prince’s Injury wasn’t a a sprain. His Achilles tendon was snapped.
Prince had to sit the rest of the season out. It sucked. He loved to run. But he couldn’t because he had that injury.
The next winter season, at the very start, which is usually November First for the returning staff, which I was, When I came back, Prince was gone.
When I asked a Senior staff about it, they just looked at me and said Prince didn’t make it through the summer.
And that was it.
Prince was never talked about again.
What may seem obvious now, wasn’t back then. It was an unfortunate truth that Prince had died. Dogs Die.
How this perfectly healthy dog- minus the Achilles Tendon – died? I don’t know.
Did Prince see a vet for his injury? I don’t know.
Chocpaw kept amazing record of the dogs that went in and out of this kennel.
Somebody knows how he died.
I worked 2 more winter seasons… Eventually figured out some stuff. Eventually was allowed into the “inner circle” of Senior guides….
Watch Sled Dogs Film to see the behind the scenes of the dog sled industry.