The iconic Greenland Dog is slowly dying and desperately needs our help.
This large husky-type breed, used for sledding and hunting, is facing an uphill battle. Climate change and a shift in the cultural and economic landscape has resulted in the neglect of the 21,000 dogs that call the world’s largest island home.
With a government mandate to separate dogs from human living areas for public safety, canines are being sentenced to “designated dog areas,” far from their humans. They are chained during the increasingly long Summer months, without access to food and water. These chains get coiled together, up to the point where it suffocates the animals. The puppies, in particular, have been hit hard by injury, malnutrition, and dehydration. Sadly, sick dogs are usually shot because of a lack of veterinary care.
The volunteers of Darwin Animal Doctors (DAD), an organization dedicated to helping injured and neglected pets in the Galapagos and overseas, recently visited Greenland to lend a helping hand.
When Dr. Jochem Lastdrager and his team of DAD volunteers arrived in the coastal towns of Southern Greenland, they were surprised to find a staggering number of dogs in dire need. Terry Stone, a Board Member who was part of the initial team, said the number of deaths due to a lack of proper diet, and injuries from chains (lacerations/broken legs) and fights, were too numerous to count.
Stone tells BarkPost:
“I was sickened by how dogs were left alone, many succumbing to dehydration.”
During the last 40 years, the Inuit people have been moving from small colonies around the coast to larger, newly developed Western cities. Within one generation, they have shifted from living in mud huts, subsisting on hunting/fishing with the help of their dogs, to living in colored concrete buildings with central heating and a supermarket around the corner. This means abandoning their dogs who helped them survive for many years.
Lastdrager tells BarkPost:
While having healthy dogs was a top priority back in the day, now they have been dropped to the bottom of the list. They’ve lost their economic function in society because of the introduction of Western comforts like cars, snowmobiles and supermarkets.
Despite modernization, some groups have held onto their dogs for pride, using them for hunting, sled races, and a growing interest in the tourism industry, even if it means sending them away during the Summer months.
Unfortunately, the country’s high unemployment rate means a lack of money to buy dog food, and an inability to transport food on a daily basis to the dog areas in the outer limits of town. While the canines used to provide themselves and their owners with food, things have turned around, and the dogs are dependent on their mushers (sled drivers).
Imagine the quantities of food and water required to feed 10-20, then imagine transporting this food and water to the dogs on foot (they can’t use their snowmobiles in the Summer). This is a real commitment. So people tend to hide behind excuses, convincing themselves that the dogs (like their wolf cousins) do not need to eat and hydrate on a daily basis.
These dogs, who are bred to work, not only suffer from feelings of futility and hunger, they are not being socialized. The lack of human contact means a lack of socialization. Dr. Lastdrager believes that the key to the survival of this breed is to become involved in the tourism industry, but worries that the loss of regular human interaction will lead to problems in the future.
Lastdrager tells BarkPost:
It is quite difficult to organize responsible sled dog tours (or even guarantee safety for your own people) if you cannot trust your dogs to be around humans.
Since 2014, Dr. Lastdrager and his team have made three trips, helping dogs in dire conditions, providing them with medical care and much needed interaction. When Lastdrager returned to Greenland this past Winter – this time to Tasiilaq, a village in East Greenland, to assist during the country’s largest sledding race – he was pleased to see the dogs smile. “It’s beautiful to see the mushers work together with the dogs; it’s a mutual understanding that almost looks natural,” he said.
It’s imperative that this aspect of Greenland’s culture is preserved, not just for the pride of the Inuit, but for the sake of the majestic dogs that call this beautiful country home.
If you can’t plan a trip to Greenland to visit these lovely dogs, consider making a donation to Darwin Animal Doctors, which plans to return this Summer to provide free medical care and work with passionate locals to establish comprehensive humane education to save the sled dogs.
Images and video provided by Darwin Animal Doctors