Responding to a call for help from an Arctic animal rescue.
Helping pets is what we do. So when a call for help came in from the Iqaluit Humane Society (IHS) in Canada’s far north, I was immediately concerned. Rescue work “takes a village” and is even more challenging in remote locations with few resources.
Iqaluit (which means “many fish” in Inuktitut) is the capital of the territory of Nunavut, and the gateway to the Canadian Arctic. It’s also home to a blend of 7,000 people, including Inuit, English and French Canadians, and an assortment of transplanted workers from all over the world.
IHS told me they were desperate to find funding so they could care for stray animals in the North. The shelter is being run on a shoestring budget with part-time help, and only functions at all because of an incredibly dedicated group of volunteers who do what they can outside their full-time work hours. How could we help this community? Along with my wife and Animal Wellness Editor-in-Chief, Dana Cox, and our 11-year-old son, Tristan, I headed north to find out.
The three-hour flight from Ottawa International Airport on First Air (an airline that specializes in travel to Iqaluit) took us over the most remote areas of northern Quebec, dotted with thousands of lakes and gradually thinning forests. From the air we could see giant icebergs and the Hudson Strait. It started feeling like a different planet altogether. The flight was spectacular and we took the opportunity to chat with locals and the congenial crew, who patiently answered our many questions.
Upon landing, we were greeted by Ashli McCarthy and IHS volunteers. Ashli gave up her day off to show us around Iqaluit before taking us over to the Humane Society to meet some animals. IHS consists of a small wooden building on stilts surrounded by a few outdoor pens. As we approached, we were greeted by wagging tails, barks and a warm howl. Ashli introduced us to the longest-term resident, Boss, a handsome husky and abandoned member of a sled team. Shy and in need of intensive socialization, Boss was wary of all strangers, but after a number of treats and gentle coaxing, he accepted Dana’s pats and scratches.
Next door, Diego, a husky/shepherd mix surrendered because of personal problems, was pacing frantically while he waited for attention. Tristan entered the pen and had a little man-to-man chat with him, prompting a sniff and a nuzzle. Diego was ready to play. “Want to take him for a walk?” Ashli asked. Tristan jumped at the chance. “Can I, Dad?” Before I knew it, he was running down the road as fast as he could with a dog that would take hours to tire. Inside the building, everything was tidy and clean, and every animal appeared to be well cared for by the group of amazing volunteers.
Rescuing dogs in the Arctic
Caring for animals in the North is complicated. The IHS rescues dogs from as far north as Resolute Bay, above the Arctic Circle. With the generous support of First Air they are able to transport cages to remote villages so the animals can be airlifted back to Iqaluit. After rehabilitation, many are flown south to Ottawa for adoption. One of the volunteers we met on arrival was visiting from Ottawa, where she had adopted an IHS dog. First Air also provides free flights for veterinarians to fly up and conduct free spay and neuter clinics.
After a busy afternoon, we finally checked in to the Frobisher Inn, a clean and very comfortable hotel that offers many amenities, including a restaurant, a café, a small movie theater (the only one in town) and fitness facilities.
In Iqaluit, the sun goes down late in the summer, so we met up with the IHS volunteer crew at Sylvia Grinell National Park for a sunset potluck dinner. Several people brought their own rescued dogs with them, as well as a couple of dogs from the IHS. Dana and I got to know this incredible animal-loving bunch over dinner while Tristan spent the evening running with the dogs across the mountain. The view of the orange and purple sky over the massive Iqaluit Bay went on for miles. In the near distance I could see a spectacular waterfall where fresh and salt waters meet, creating the best arctic char fishing on the island.
Camping on the tundra
The next morning, we set out on an overnight camping adventure across the secluded tundra, accompanied by our guide from Arctic Kingdom. As the premiere Canadian Arctic adventure company, Arctic Kingdom has toured with everyone from royalty to movie stars, and has even provided services for underwater movie productions for National Geographic and Disney. They offer a number of experiences, from private animal adventures to cruises through the Northwest Passage. As we worked our way along a road that seemed to lead to nowhere, I thought I spotted a wolf on the shore of a small lake. We stopped to investigate and found a dog sled team living along the water’s edge. Ten mighty working dogs expressed their delight at my approach by setting up the most incredible howling. Later, I ran into the owner of the sled team, who said she kept the dogs for family fun. Unlike some other teams, they were home-raised as puppies and clearly well-socialized.
Making our way to our base camp, we hiked along a beautiful river gorge, over mountain passes, and finally arrived in a sheltered valley. We explored the area while our guide prepared a succulent dinner of fresh char and veggies.
A short while later, we looked up to see three large dogs bounding towards our campsite, followed by Graham Dickson, founder and owner of Arctic Kingdom. Originally from Toronto, Graham now lives full time in Iqaluit. As we sat admiring the secluded beauty surrounding us, he confided that the one thing that makes this northern city feel like home is the companionship of his dogs.
Nature’s greatest show
After Graham left, the cool night air moved in. The sun slowly dropped in the west, and an enormous full moon emerged from behind the mountain to the east. An amazing explosion of green and purple light began dancing across the sky. We watched the Aurora Borealis, otherwise known as the Northern Lights, for several incredible hours until, exhausted, we crawled into our sleeping bags for the night. Bucket List item number 24. . . check!
In Iqaulit, you feel the influence of the native Inuit culture everywhere — in the landscape, the signage, the murals on the walls, and the rock carvings. Inuit artists’ work can be viewed and purchased at the small museum in town as well as well as in local shops. Souvenirs are a must from this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Win the trip of a lifetime
It very quickly became clear that in Iqaluit, everyone in the community pulls together to help one other. So First Air, the Frobisher Inn and Arctic Adventures put together an amazing trip like the one Dana, Tristan and I experienced this past summer, in order to raise funds for their local animal shelter. To find out how you can help, visit IqaluitHumaneSociety.com.