Once a vital means of transportation and a staple of life in the Great White North, the dogs -- and the sleds they pull -- are an increasingly rare sight, natives say. With the advent of snowmobiles and a declining Eskimo population, the dogs are becoming inbred with other animals, The (Toronto) Globe and Mail said Tuesday.
Matty McNair, an arctic tour guide and sled dog expert, said the purebred Canadian Eskimo dogs have dwindled from 20,000 in the 1970s to an estimated 200 remaining in the world today.
"It's not just any old dog," McNair said. "These are the dogs that can survive up here. If you run out of food, they keep going. They're just tough as nails."
As the Inuit lifestyle changed over the latter half of the 20th century, with fewer remote outposts and the introduction of modern conveniences in some villages, the dogs, accustomed to a solitary lifestyle, became something of a nuisance. Police were known to shoot them because they were often hostile to strangers and other dogs, McNair said. Many of them died due to diseases contracted while living in the government-created settlements.
A handful of breeding projects are under way to keep the Canadian Eskimo dogs from going extinct, The Globe and Mail said, but those efforts are patchwork and may not succeed.