Sunday, January 8, 2017

Moving Your Dogs to Rural Alaska

Oftentimes people ask Cody and I about how our dogs have adjusted to the move. Anyone who knows us knows that we horribly baby our dogs, so, naturally, people wonder how they are holding up in the new environment.  I usually respond to people's questions with a simple, "they're good, it's different, but they're good."  I say this because - they are good! There are some interesting adjustments that we've all had to make though, and being a dog doesn't exempt them from the oddities of life in the bush.

If you're thinking of moving to rural Alaska with a dog, particularly as a teacher, or if you're just curious what they heck we do with ours up here, then this is a good post for you. Here are seven things I've learned about having dogs in bush Alaska, so far:

1.) Room to roam. There really isn't a limit set on where dogs can go here.  For a dog like Specks, who operates leash-free, it's wonderful.  He can roam around, smell all the smells, chase birds on the beach, and just basically live his life like a wild dog. There are no leash laws or rules about dogs being registered.  As long as a dog isn't a nuisance, it's pretty much good to go. Even for a leashed dog like Luna it's still amazing how much exploring she gets to do.

2.) Stray dogs. Stray dogs are EVERYWHERE. In our village, all of the dogs have owners, which is a rarity in bush villages. That doesn't mean that they aren't still much like stray dogs though.  They roam freely all day (and some of them all night too).  Many of them sleep outside and forage around the village for food. Again, we are lucky because our stray dogs are mostly nice, but we do have to be extra careful with our dogs because of this. There are always going to be dogs that yours don't "click" with and it has taken some trial and error to learn to deal with the village dogs.

3.) Wildlife is both good and bad. Our dogs love to chase wildlife.  A shrew, a rabbit, every single duck they see. Here though, we do have to be a bit more careful. We have frequent fox visitors and there are obviously big predators all over the place.  While it's fun for them, it's also quite dangerous. Wolves, bears, and lynx are pretty common in our village and the surrounding areas.  The threat of big predators makes me really nervous because if our dogs wandered off there's a good chance they'd run into one of these animals.

4.) Local attitudes. Alaskans in general look at dogs in a slightly different manner than people from the lower 48. Traditionally, Alaskans have used dogs as a means to get a job done and as a way to travel.  Dogs in our village tend to hunt and forage for a lot of their food (and some of them like to beg at my door too - they must sense that I'm a pushover). Many of them still get fed at home, but it's not always going to be the traditional diet of kibble and treats.  It's often table scraps or chum salmon. Many of the dogs here also sleep outside, warn their owners of bears, and live more like animals of the wild. I've had multiple locals give me a jokingly hard time about walking Luna on a leash or the fact that our dogs don't roam unsupervised. I brush it off and always tell them, "I just love to baby them!"

5.) Buy all doggy items in advance - way in advance. We're lucky because our store does occasionally sell bags dog food. However, this is not the norm, and it's definitely not the brand that our dogs are used to eating.  It takes weeks for our dog food to ship from PetCo, so we have to order 3-5 bags at a time. It's an expensive and necessary evil of having dogs in such a remote place. We also tried to stock up on basic doggy meds and anything they might need if they get ill.  The closest vet is in Anchorage.  Our vet will meet a dog on an airplane at the airport, which is amazing, but little things needed to come with us.

6.) Talk to your district/employer. I highly recommend discussing the pet-friendliness of your village/district with your interviewers before you accept any type of job here. I had one district offer me a job and then tell me they didn't allow pets in teacher housing and another district warned me about bringing dogs because any dogs that the village saw as "strays" would be shot one day per month. Our vet in Anchorage even warned us about animal abuse in certain villages. Obviously, none of those districts or villages would have been good fits for us.  Safety of our pets and the availability of housing that allowed more than one dog was important.

7.) Consider travel. What will you do with your dogs when you travel? As a bush teacher, we have to travel a handful of times per year for district events, inservice trainings, or coaching sports. For these events, it's likely that your pet won't be able to join you. Cody is an aide at the school and is therefore exempt for these events, but if you're alone or if your spouse teaches too you do need to take into consideration who will watch your dogs when you are gone. You also have to consider the cost of flying them to and from your village. Some airlines charge per pound (we paid $300 for ours on one airline) and other airlines may allow your dogs to count towards your free freight allowance.

If you are planning to come to the bush with dogs you should think about it seriously because it's much different than having dogs in the lower 48. We lucked out with being placed in a village that has a good view of pets and a district that is so pet-friendly, but we had to do the research to find them.  Aside from everything I listed above, we wouldn't have ever considered coming to Alaska without our dogs because they are our family.

Pilot Point seems to be a good place for them though, and I think they're really enjoying the wild rumpus that is their lives in the bush.

Your turn..Do you have any pets? 
Currently listening to... Dog Days Are Over - Florence and the Machine

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