Preserving a dog-sledding tradition

Bonnie Learning
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Interest in protecting Labrador Husky gaining traction in the Big Land

For Scott Hudson of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, it’s a sign of good things to come.
Hudson — born and raised in Black Tickle, a remote island community on Labrador’s south coast — has raised, bred and run his own team of Labrador Huskies for several years, and runs his own dog team business, Northern Lights Dog Sledding.

Lori Pope, James Kelly and Scott Hudson (with Griffen Bea, Toopy and Binoo, respectively) are hopeful that the Labrador Husky breed they love so much are protected and preserved for years to come.

But he’s now seeing an increase in the number of individuals in the Big Land looking to start their own team of dogs, which, in his opinion, is great news for the survival of the breed.

“The Labrador Husky needs to be celebrated and (the breed) maintained,” says Hudson.

“Having more people interested in the dogs will help keep the bloodline alive.”


Unique genetics

Hudson explained the Labrador Husky is unique in its genetic makeup from other husky breeds.

“Historically and culturally, they are different from any other breed of husky that’s since been introduced to Labrador. There’s been a ‘watering down’ of the breed over the last 10-15 years, which puts us in a dangerous place.”

Hudson explained a purebred Labrador Husky is a result of the Canadian Eskimo dog being cut off geographically from the more northern region of the country when the Inuit first inhabited Labrador.

“It limited the breeding pool, as the dogs bred just with each other, but they also bred with the local wolf population, resulting in the sub-species we now know as the Labrador Husky.”


Always wanted a husky

Lori Pope makes Happy Valley-Goose Bay her home now, but she grew up in the south coast community of Cartwright.

She currently has three dogs — two Labrador Huskies and one Canadian Eskimo from Nunavut — two of which she houses in the same area as Hudson’s Northern Lights Dog Sledding kennels.

“People always had teams years ago back home (in Cartwright),” says Pope of her interest in the dogs.

“I always wanted a husky growing up, but was never allowed to have one because they were strictly thought of as ‘working dogs,’ not pets,” recalls Pope.

“My grandparents had a team, and I remember my parents telling me stories of their experiences with the team, although they never had a team themselves.

“It’s sad to think that in basically one generation, the teams went away.”

Pope keeps her lead dog, Stormy, as a house pet, but she notes he loves to work as a team with her other two dogs, Griffen Bea and Trot H.

She is hoping the latter two will one day become “romantically involved” and produce a litter of puppies to add to her team.

“Last winter was my first year having a team, so I’m still just learning,” she said.

“I took my mother for a ride last winter and she said it all came back to her (being on dog team).”


Promotion and protection

Hudson noted there two other Labrador Husky teams — belonging to David and Olive Callahan and Megan Hudson and Damien Bolger, respectively — housed near his kennel as well. He feels things are going in the right direction for the promotion and protection of the dogs he loves so much, adding he would never have gotten this far with his dogs without the support of his family.

“I would not be able to do this without the understanding and support of my wife Lori, as she enjoys the dogs as much as I do. Oftentimes, she will take them out on her own either for an afternoon of personal pleasure or for clients.”

He added it makes him proud to know that his children will have grown up experiencing this part of their Metis heritage, rather than “simply reading about it on the internet.”

“I would recommend this to anybody; it’s a great way to connect with the land, the dogs and maintain this part of our identity.”

Currently, Hudson has eight dogs of his own — six Labrador Huskies and two Siberian-Labrador Husky crosses, in addition to five new purebred Labrador Husky puppies.

“When I got into raising dogs, I knew it was going to be hard,” said Hudson. “Some people play sports, play instruments … my time goes to the dogs.

“Some people might refer (to dog sledding) as recreation, but I think it goes deeper than that — it’s a cultural connection.”

Hudson believes raising and running Labrador Huskies is not only vital to it’s existence, but also pays homage to the elders of Labrador who did the same, as well as to the breed itself.

“Our elders carved out a living with those dogs, it was a matter of survival,” said Hudson. “That needs to be recognized.”


Steering committee formed

Hudson is helping do just that, not only through his own dogs, but also through his work with the Labrador Husky Steering Committee, which was established a few months ago.

The six-member committee recently applied for — and was successful — in obtaining a $10,000 grant through the Newfoundland and Labrador Aboriginal Heritage Fund to help in establishing a centralized database of all things Labrador Husky.

“We’re hoping to use the money to hire a co-ordinator to research and document all the information they can on the breed from all over Labrador — through talking with elders, Them Days magazine, The Rooms, etc., so it can all be centralized in one location,” explained Hudson.

“This will also help make our case that much stronger to get the Labrador Husky ‘Heritage Animal’ status with the province.”


A bucket list item

James Kelly is brand new to the region, but his love of all things Labrador — including the Labrador Husky — has been ongoing for a few years now.

“I adopted a Lab Husky-cross from the Happy Valley-Goose Bay SPCA in 2009, and met Scott through a mutual Facebook group called ‘Snow Dogs of Newfoundland and Labrador,” said Kelly, who moved to Happy Valley-Goose Bay just last month for work.

Originally from Placentia Bay, Kelly said he has “always loved” the Labrador Husky and discovered through his contact with Hudson that the breed needed protection and preservation.

“I want to have my own team of Labrador Huskies,” notes Kelly. “It’s the last thing on my bucket list.”

He adds the fact the breed is so intrinsically tied to the history and culture of Labrador makes it all the more appealing.

“I’ve been talking to a few people who own dogs, so I’ve been using Scott as my contact and guide to look at getting some experienced dogs to start me off.”

When asked why he wouldn’t just get a team on the go on the island portion of the province where he was living, Kelly grins.

“It just seemed a better fit to do it in Labrador.”

Organizations: Labrador Husky Steering Committee, Newfoundland and Labrador Aboriginal Heritage Fund, Lab Husky

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Happy Valley, Goose Bay Cartwright Nunavut Placentia Bay

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Recent comments

  • R.Hopper
    August 02, 2014 - 02:27

    Isn't this the same guy that was involved in stealing 4-5 aluminum boats from DND site at Crooks Lake 2 years ago, just after he took pictures of Air Force personnel fishing after cleaning up an approved landing site on DND property, and then gutlessly forwarding the pics to politician Randy Edmunds, who then caused a stink on Facebook and got national media attention....Yes, a role model. Both of them.

  • R.Hopper
    August 02, 2014 - 02:23

    Isn't this the same guy that was involved in stealing 4-5 aluminum boats from DND site at Crooks Lake 2 years ago. Yes, a role model.