“I was living in an Inuit village in Nuvavik, northern Quebec. The indigenous dogs there, sometimes mixed with other imports from cities further south, are not viewed as pets. They were once indispensable to transportation, but with the advent and eventual dominance of the snow mobile, they now live a kind of tenuous existence, either hunting and scavenging to survive, if unchained, or relying on their owner to come and drop frozen fish, caribou or seal every few days if tied up. In all cases, the strong dogs eat, and the weak ones do not. All of them are susceptible to starvation, extreme cold (to which they’re suited if well-fed and healthy), and the hunter’s gun if they are not chained up. The average age for a dog is somewhere in the ballpark of two years.
“You know that liitle dog? It’s not going to make it. Noah says it’s got about two weeks left ’til winter arrives. So if you want a dog, it’s up for grabs”. This came from my ex, who was well aware that I would return to Toronto after my contract in Nunavik, that I didn’t own a house, that I’d never had a dog, that I was in fact seriously allergic to them. He was speaking about the runt of a litter that was born on the tundra beside our house, shortly before we arrived, and the man to be loosely described as the litter’s “owner”. The puppies would sometimes scratch at our door, seeking food. The ex had adopted two of the puppies, and the runt would sometimes come around to visit.
The news hit me like a fist. I now felt responsible for this little creature, despite the fact that innumerable village dogs were in the same circumstance. The little puppy had apparently been starving, as her stronger siblings had been taking the food left them by their absentee owner. It would never be able to survive the first severe weather. The last thing I wanted was to find her little fluffy body dead on the tundra outside our house. I went about school where I worked, asking people if anyone wanted a dog. I might as well have been asking if they wanted a squirrel or a sewer rat-something wild, plentiful and unappealing.
Finally, though, a woman said her boyfriend was interested. I coaxed the little runt onto our porch and fed it while I called the woman. She left to come meet us and I returned to a shivering, shaking pup seizing on my porch, unused to so much nutrition after weeks of bare subsistence.
“You’re going to meet your new mommy!” I told her (little did I know!). The woman arrived and looked distastefully at the small puppy.
“She has dandruff”, she pronounced.
“She’s just nervous,” I countered.
“Why is she shaking?” she asked.
“She’s just not used to eating yet”, I answered.
“Well, come on”, she gestured at the puppy, whose eyes were drooping and body was slouching.
“No, you have to carry her,” I instructed, and off they went, and my responsibility, and my good deed, was done. Or so I thought.
Three days later, I heard, again from the ex, that the woman and her boyfriend had been too put off by the puppy’s shaking every time she ate and likely by the daily reality of caring for an Inuit Sled puppy, and that they had simply opened their door and sent her back out-to the tundra, to the fast-approaching winter, to her death.
I bawled. I swore. I shouted. How could someone do something so thoughtless, callous and cruel?
“It happens all the time,” the ex informed me. “I don’t see why you’re so upset about it”.
“Well, if she comes back, I’m keeping her,” I pronounced. And of course, later that day, the puppy showed up , still small and lacking the full, thick fur she needed to protect her against the Arctic winter. And I tied a ribbon around her neck as a collar, gave her an Inuit name and called her mine.
It’s been eleven years this Thanksgiving weekend since i walked out to the tundra with a half-starved puppy on a leash in one hand and $25 bucks in the other, hoping her previous “owner” would accept the trade and make her adoption, which happened two weeks earlier, official. I am so very grateful that he did. Nisi is the best and most expensive $25 bucks i could ever spend, my favourite mammal on the planet, my baby and my best friend. I love you forever and ever, Nisi. xo” – Jennifer