By Agnieszka Rakoczy
“ALASKAN malamute, female, free; samoyed purebreed, want to give it for breeding; husky puppy, two-months-old female, 150 euros; puppies, husky-German shepherd mix, 50 euros.”
A quick online search tells it all.
On the sweltering island of Aphrodite, so called “snow dogs” remain readily available, despite desperate efforts by a group of animal lovers determined to ship as many of them as possible away from the scorching heat of the Cyprus summer to cooler climate countries more in keeping with the comfort zone of their natural habitat.
Marta Malinka, the Ukrainian-born founder of the Cyprus Husky Rescue and a self-described ‘dog rescuer’, says the exotic looks of the blue-eyed huskies, giant malamutes and white samoyeds accounts for their unfailing popularity among Cypriots. Looks aside, most islanders seem to know little else about the breeds’ unique characteristics, especially the difficulties such dogs face living in hot weather conditions.
Malinka, a proud owner of four dogs, all rescued in Cyprus, explains:
“These are working type dogs. For thousands of years they have been partners with humans living in the harshest possible conditions. Often human lives were dependent on the strengths and talents of these highly intelligent, independent dogs. They are supposed to think, not just obey, and they need a lot of exercise and stimulation.”
Unfortunately, even though attitudes towards snow dogs in Cyprus have been changing gradually, many are still kept caged or chained up. Females are used extensively for breeding purposes. A network of trading sites offers puppies for sale for as little as 100 euros.
“In spite of our efforts, the number of abandoned, abused, ill treated snow dogs in Cyprus is not decreasing – just the opposite,” says Malinka.
Since late 2013, she and her colleagues at the Cyprus Husky Rescue have re-homed more than 100 of these winter dogs abroad. Most had been abandoned or given up by owners, who, unfamiliar with their dogs’ special traits and needs, were simply unable or unwilling to cope.
Many of the dogs that come their way have serious health problems. They also lack social skills simply because of the neglect of owners who have no idea of the kind of dogs they are dealing with.
As a result, many of the dogs require long-term foster homes on the island where they can recover and get trained properly before being sent on to their new permanent homes in Germany, Holland or Scandinavia.
The demands are heavy, says Malinka, now widely recognised as the animal protection social media network’s leading authority on rescuing Cypriot snow dogs
“We need volunteers for visiting pounds and kennels, taking pictures of the dogs, checking their behaviour and how they interact with children and other pets and posting all this information online. We need more foster homes, we need more funding to pay our vet bills and kennels and dogs flights to forever homes.”
Much more is needed if these efforts are to be sustained and this is why Marta, who has been directing the rescue effort from The Hague since moving there last year with her husband, is about to embark on a very special project to raise Cypriot awareness of the plight of the island-bound snow dogs
A dedicated walker, who spends up to five hours a day exercising her three huskies Pando, Max and Gracie, and a bit smaller Japanese cross Misa, Malinka is training to join up with Joe Henderson, the well known explorer and author of many books on snow dogs in a special Arctic Alaskan expedition next year.
“We will be on a trail with real working Alaskan malmutes for 10 days. We will have to ski for five or six hours a day, then dig a hole, put up a tent, cook, dry clothes, make sure we keep warm,” says 29-year-old Malinka, clearly excited about the prospects of experiencing the same way of life as the communities who for generations have worked and lived with snow dogs in their natural habitat.
She hopes that through publicising the whole adventure in Cyprus, she will make people more aware of snow dogs’ uniqueness.
Cyprus Husky Rescue: https://www.facebook.com/
PayPal account : [email protected]
Alaskan Arctic Expeditions
Many snow dogs lovers across the world are familiar with Joe Henderson, the ‘Malamute Man’, and the stories of his many, often solo, expeditions into the Arctic wilderness. His malamute dog sledding team is considered to be one of the most resilient, hard-core teams around.
Henderson says of his dogs: “I’m not their Alpha or their leader, I am just a team member of these gentle giants. They love and respect me and I love and respect them. They rely on me and I depend on them for our survival. We are one team, mind, body, and spirit. When both an animal and a person recognise their survival depends on each other there is no longer a dominate role of either person or animal. They work and live together as one unit. Emotions are felt between them like they are one being. When one suffers or feels joy so does the other.
“When Alaskan malamutes believe that their strength is invincible, nothing can, or will stop them. You must nurture this natural passion to pull. They are freighters. It is ingrained deep in their DNA. They love pulling heavy loads more than anything else on earth.”
Story of Togo and Balto
In January 1925, an outbreak of diphtheria had killed two children and was spreading quickly in Nome, a town in Alaska of about 1,400 that was icebound seven months a year.
A local doctor telegraphed Washington, urgently requesting serum to treat the outbreak. Public health officials found a supply in Anchorage. Officials determined that dog sleds were the best way to transport the serum from Nenana, a northern railroad stop, to Nome, 674 miles west. A group of top mushers and sled-dog racers would hand off the serum at roadhouses along the route. Covering the distance usually required a matter of weeks, by when, public health officials feared, much of the population of Nome would be dead.
A noted racer and mining-company dog driver named Leonhard Seppala was originally assigned half of the Nenana-Nome distance. Seppala’s lead dog, a gray and brown Siberian husky named Togo, had covered 4,000 miles in one year alone, guided a famed polar explorer around Alaska, and won major races.
Seppala, Togo and the team set out at high speeds, running a total of 261 miles. They carried the serum for almost double the length any other team did. Twice, to save time, they violated warnings to avoid Norton Sound, a dangerous inlet of the Bering Sea, and instead went straight over the frozen sea, where ice often separated from shore, stranding travellers on floes. In the dark, in 85-below temperatures with wind chill, Seppala could not see or hear the cracking ice, and was dependent on Togo.
Meanwhile, worried that Seppala’s dogs would get too tired, Alaska’s governor called in additional drivers for the final portion. Just five and a half days after the serum left Nenana, a driver named Gunnar Kaasen and a lead dog named Balto pulled into Nome, serum in hand.
Kaasen and Balto, a handsome black Siberian with white paws, became instant heroes. In December 1925, Balto was immortalised with a statue in New York’s Central Park; news coverage by then was giving Balto credit for taking the serum all 600-plus miles.
Seppala, wanting the acclaim due his dogs, also embarked on his own tour of the States in 1926. It culminated with a Madison Square Garden ice-rink appearance, where the explorer Roald Amundsen awarded Togo a medal of honour.
The Alaskan malamute originated at least 4,000 years ago. The name derives from their association with an Eskimo group, the Mahlemuit Inuits. Believed to be among the first breeds to be domesticated. Their reputation for great strength, courage, endurance, and loyalty made them great family pets and fantastic freighting dogs, capable of pulling huge loads over long distances at a steady pace, even in extreme conditions.
A very active, energetic, and resilient breed whose ancestors came from the extreme weather environment of the Siberian Arctic. Siberian Huskies were bred by the Chukchi of North-Eastern Asia to pull heavy loads long distances through difficult conditions. The dogs were imported into Alaska during the Nome Gold Rush and later spread into the United States and Canada.
A breed of dog that takes its name from the Samoyedic peoples of Siberia. These nomadic reindeer herders bred the fluffy white dogs to help with the herding, and to pull sleds whenever they moved on.