By the end of April and into May there were some things on my mind, knowing that I would be leaving Shamattawa in June. I was thinking about Spotty Nibbles and Princess' puppies that were due end of April. I wanted to do everything possible to help get them out of Shamattawa, and the rest of the pack. I would also walk to the school to see Spencer and teach art after school (painting classes), I'd sit outside with the dogs, give them the love and affection they had never experienced before from most people, and taught kids how to act with dogs. A large amount of the community is afraid of the dogs, and like many people who get scared of barking or growling, they run in fear or use a form of protection - in this case large pointed sticks or branches.
When students would stop by to see me I would spend a lot of time with them outside to explain why the dogs would chase them or even pull them to the ground at times. I had also done this during the winter months, but now with the warmer weather it was easier to do with everyone outside.
* Don't run!
* Put down the stick! That stick is a weapon and they are scared. They have been abused before and they will bite out of fear. You are in their territory and they want to protect us in the Teacher Units.
* Talk to them - say nice things to the dogs! They are very sweet.
* Kneel down and slowly put your hand out for them to smell you. Slowly pet them. If they trust you, they will be loyal to you and others. Respect them - they are beautiful living creatures with feelings like us.
There was one group of kids in particular who would visit and talk to me almost every day (even when they skipped class and I explained that school is important!). At the beginning they would run from the dogs and carry sticks, throw sticks or rocks, and would be pulled to the ground by Aurora and Pirate. I would hear them yell at the dogs and every day I would say what I listed above, among other things. By mid-April none of those kids were afraid anymore. They would ask me to sit in the sun with them, surrounded by the dogs where they would pet them, rub their bellies, give them hugs and kisses, and they even asked me questions about the pack:
"What kinds of dogs are they?"
"Why were they abandoned? Why did you start taking care of them? You fed them in the cold?"
"Why is she scared?"
"What happened to Pirate's eye and back? It's not nice that he was so hurt. He is cute."
"Pirate looks like a scary dog but he is really friendly. He's my favourite. It's not good to judge someone by how they look because he looks scary, but is nice. He is happy to be taken care of."
"Why do they protect you?"
"Why do you love them? They're only dogs."
"Why do you want to have the puppies leave on a plane? Will they go to Winnipeg?"
"You're trying to rescue the dogs? Will they be in better homes?"
"Will you save all of the pack?"
"It's good to be nice to the dogs because they like me now."
"People here don't take care of the dogs. You will help them? I would take care of them. I had dogs before but they were shot. I liked them."
"Why do people here shoot them? They're not nice. Is it because they're scared?"
"I want to see them every day. Joy gives me hugs!"
It made my heart fill with happiness once a connection and love between the kids and the pack was witnessed. This became more apparent when another group of kids came by and started to yell at the dogs, had a branch and tried to whip Aurora with it and threw a large rock at Pirate and Joy. One of the young girls, Brandy, paused petting Princess and 626, stood up and told them what I had told her weeks before: "PUT DOWN THE STICK! DON'T HURT THEM! THIS IS THEIR HOME! WALK AND TALK TO THEM!" It made me so happy (and still does) that she and other young kids started to teach what they had been taught, not only to other students but also to adults. They began to understand and believe that the dogs are living beings who feel and show love and fear. There is still so much that they have to learn in terms of taking care of a dog properly, but treating the dogs with respect and compassion is a good start. Education truly is key.
One of the scrumptious treats the pack enjoyed: parts of caribou that had been hunted. They enjoyed the legs - easy to carry around and they got to eat the hooves! Pirate and Pistachio (he sometimes came around the pack) loved the legs and tried to get me to play fetch. Pistachio found it very fun to try to rub the leg on me to get me to throw it for him. I only threw it a couple times - wearing mittens and holding onto the hoof!
Pirate, triumphant over the caribou leg he had found. "Are you proud of me?!"
Aurora, Joy, and Pirate snoozing after snacking for the afternoon. It's hard work...!
Pistachio enjoying the caribou after trying to have me play fetch. He made sure to keep looking at me to make sure I was aware of the deliciousness he had right in front of our door.
Pistachio's look of shock after Pirate snatched the leg away...How dare he?!
I never saw a live caribou, only the remains. We came across hides and bones that were strewn across dirt patches alongside a road. It made me think of how more of the remains could have been used to make things - bones into knife handles, jewelry or decor of some kind, the hide for parts of clothing. The dogs and wolves ate the bones and took what was needed, I'm sure.
One of the last snow storms of Spring brought in a lot of snow, hail, and then ice and rain. The dogs were not impressed by this and tried frantically to find food outside under the snow. After trying to tear apart some garbage to get scraps of any kind, I went back to giving them some food from inside to help them during the quick weather change. We kept a watch over Princess and Spotty Nibbles though because they were pregnant and we wanted to make sure they stayed safe until their puppies were born end of April.
Although the pack was a little annoyed with all of the snow, Aurora was still pleased to play in the snow. She is so adorable with the snow on her nose from rooting in a drift! This is one of my favourite photos I took of her.
Joy huddled up by our neighbour's place (their caretaker and supplier of fooding). He looked like a little coyote trying to keep warm and dry from the wet snow and wind.
"Let me inside?" is what was going through Pirate's mind, I'm sure. His large scar kept getting more dry and cracked. Some tea tree oil and almond oil helped it from cracking too much with the cold weather.
Joy going for a romp after seeing Aurora and Pirate run by. His hind right leg had been injured in a fight so he stayed closer to the units until he felt a bit better. He also tried to stay away from the large German Shepherd crosses that had been trained to attack anything - people included.
After seeing the pack lounge in the sun, soaking in the warmth while sleeping upon the frigid snow and ice, them coming to the broken door, I thought a good ol' portrait photo shoot was in order! I wanted to capture more of the personality of each rez dog, because it gives an extra sweetness with focusing on each one individually.
Also, who knew that these portraits, and others from Spring time, would lead to some rescues and being on posters for one of the organizations?!...More about that later!
Spotty (Nibbles) waiting patiently in front of the garbage box. The dogs are always pleased to get food other than the scraps that fall out.
Joy, looking back after barking at other dogs passing by and the snow fall.
Aurora - Precious. She is the first dog who connected with me and stayed close the entire time. The leader of the pack, she is sweet, courageous, protective, and strong.
Patches - Aurora's best friend and her top companion in the pack. An extremely gentle dog who demanded many pets when inside, enjoyed sleeping on the heated floor with Aurora (until they got too hot and would go back to the snow), and was my boyfriend's favourite dog while living up here.
When spending time with Patches, and seeing how he interacted with my boyfriend daily, a part of him really felt and seemed human. Reincarnation, perhaps?
Joy, I believe, will stay a puppy at heart his entire life. He is young, energetic, always curious, and enjoys receiving pets and cuddles from anyone who will give him the time!
Pirate is one of the later members of the pack. He came around when it was below -30 Celsius. He was quite timid and injured. His one eye is damaged which affects his vision, and along with having multiple smaller scars and cuts, he has a large scar on his back in the shape of a 'Y' which gets quite dry. After cleaning him up a bit and spending days of encouraging him to come in, we finally got him in through the front door. Now, he is loyal and close to Aurora.
Princess is one of the more domesticated of the pack. She loves to be inside, always wants on the couch, and aside from playing with the pack, enjoys being by herself.
Spotty Nibbles posing upon a snow bank with Joy in behind. They had been chasing each other around, but Joy felt defeated when she sat on the pile of snow with me 'protecting' her. She is a strange dog and would nibble on my pants and coat whenever I was outside. She has finally grown out of that habit!
This is one of the last photos that I took of Patches in March. Unfortunately, he passed away due to illness and with no vet clinic, all we could do was try to keep him happy and comfortable. When he would come in to visit, we would use lavender and other essential oils with teas to help him relax with the scent. He slept in the sun, surrounded by the pack, and Aurora refused to leave his side day and night.
Aurora would not go into the neighbour's house at night when all of the other dogs were inside. She stayed outside and howled all night the week before, and following Patches' passing. She would look up at the night sky and it sounded like she was crying for her friend, honouring and remembering him. It was so sad to see her heartbroken to no longer have her best friend, and father of her past litters with her.
Patches crossed the Rainbow Bridge and I am sure is chasing many rabbits and caribou, looking over his pack.
I have always been more of a cat person, but these dogs made the cold winter days feel less lonely until my boyfriend got back from work. They entertained me with their playing in the snow, made me happy with their sweet eyes, looking in through the broken door window, and kept me company when I would eat...and they would get their peanut butter!
Patches and Aurora waiting for their peanut butter...
Joy and Princess playing - They love the sun!
Outside our place, ready to go for a walk around the teacher units.
From left: Aurora, Joy, Princess, and Spotty (Nibbles)
SUN'S OUT! PAWS OUT! TO THE FIELD WE GO!
The pack adored (and adores!) to go for walks and playing. In the snow I would run with them in the field while they raced and jumped around. From chasing each other, spinning around my legs, hiding in snow banks and eating chunks of snow, they were bundles of fun! Reminds you of the simple joys in life that many people tend to forget.
From left: Joy, Aurora, Princess, Spotty, Patches, Pirate
Aurora and Joy - Joy finally caught her off-guard...
I moved to Shamattawa, a remote First Nation Reserve in Manitoba, earlier in the year to be with my boyfriend who has been teaching. Not working myself, my main focus (other than doing some painting) became the rez dogs. The lovely pack that protects the teacher units became my companions during the day when outside, and inside when it was -40 and I would feed them. I began photographing them not only to pass the time and to remember them, but also to show the delicate and caring nature of these dogs when they are given the chance to show that they are not only wild, but that they are still capable of being 'man's best friend'.
Aurora and Patches were the first to come inside when it was very cold during the day. I did not have any dog food, but they always enjoyed peanut butter on bread, eggs, and the occasional chicken piece!
It took some patience, but after days of gaining his trust, Pirate became a new member of the pack and also a very sweet dog. He had been through some tough times.