In totally unbookish news, Jerome Flynn — star who plays Bronn in Game of Thrones — has joined with PETA to post a video asking people to STOP buying Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, and other wolfdog breeds from breeders and pet shops, and to consider adopting instead.
Apparently, the popularity of the show combined with the wild appeal of the "direwolves" that appear in it has created a 420% increase in abandoned wolfdog breeds, or dog breeds that resemble wolves. Prior to its airing, the Dogs Trust charity reported 79 abandoned huskies, malamutes, and akitas in a year. However, by last year (2018), they were reporting 411 abandoned dogs of these same breeds. I believe Dogs Trust is a UK charity, but I wouldn't be surprised if shelters and charities in the US were seeing similar numbers.
Because this breed — Siberian Husky — is so completely near and dear to my heart, I really wanted to speak to this and provide some encouragement, as well as some reasonable discouragement, based on our own experience.
First off, huskies in shelters is already a bit of a thing without the help of Game of Thrones. Notorious escape artists, these lovers of freedom can be very bad about getting out of yards and fences and roaming until they can't find their way back. So they often get picked up and placed in shelters. If you want to own a husky and avoid this dilemma, you need to do three things:
Secure your back yard or garden (or at least be prepared to). That may require higher fencing or even underground, dig-proof fencing depending on the determination of your dog.
Supervise your husky. Our Ari was not allowed outside alone for many months. She is now let out to potty and let back in as soon as she wants to come in. We NEVER leave her outside unattended when we leave the house.
Stimulate your husky. This breed is so, SO smart. They have sharp, inquisitive minds and they want to use them. Yes, they are energetic. But more than that, they love to figure things out and problem solve. And they need near-constant interaction. Bored dogs get into trouble.
And finally, to be on the safe side, chip your dog. Even with the best intentions, your pup may get out of your hands. There are videos all over YouTube of huskies on roofs, on fence tops, on counter tops, on tables — nearly anywhere a dog shouldn't be. A chip will increase your chances of getting your baby back if this happens.
We're lucky that Ari does not try to escape ever. But she rarely has opportunity. She is hardly ever alone and when she is, she is crated. In addition, because Ari is a shy/fearful dog, she behaves more like her ancient wolf ancestors might have and less like most huskies do today, which means she is very skittish of new people and experiences. That also seems to make her less likely to wander. She is most confident with her pack, a.k.a. us. So she seldom wants to be anywhere on her own.
Aside from the escaping, huskies can have a lot of special needs. I don't want to discourage anyone from owning one of these lovely dogs, because they are THE BEST. Ari has literally saved us, and we don't know what we'd do or where we would be without her. You will not love or laugh harder than you will with a husky. But I do want to encourage you to do your homework and prepare yourself. We researched the breed and still discovered many things we were not prepared for. We have had to adapt our lives to continue to care for Ari in the best way possible, including paying for expensive (but so worth it) sessions with a dog behaviorist and rehoming our beloved pet cats of more than ten years.
If you're thinking of owning a Siberian Husky or another breed like it, here are some things you need to be aware of first:
Hair: It's everywhere. You will need to love your dog more than your house, more than your clothes, more than your food, lungs, etc. It will kill your vacuum. It is a plague. This is not exaggeration.
Prey Drive: If you own any other kind of small animal, a husky is probably not for you, or could become a problem. This can include other small dogs. Ari thinks other small dogs are prey. She thought her cat-sisters were prey. Everything smaller than her (and thankfully she is small for her breed) is prey. That means she wants to chase it, catch it, and eat it in that order. And she does not care how much you scream her name at the top of your lungs or wave slices of lunch meat at her when she in "predator mode".
Resource Guarding: This is not always a husky thing, though I see it mentioned more often with malamutes. Resource guarding means we can not have small children around our dog. It means we have to avoid buying certain treats and must read our dog's body language very well. It does not mean our dog is aggressive or dominant or bad.
Exercise: These are high energy dogs that love to run and play and interact. They need walks, even with a large, fenced yard. They need to play with you every day. And they get very hyper multiple times a day (zoomies — it's a thing, look it up).
Stimulation: I think this is even more important than exercise. These dogs need to interact with their people a lot. They need to have their minds engaged. Walks with lots of sniffing and puzzle toys help. We let our girl tear open cardboard boxes to get treats and toys. Car rides and baby pools and other fun and novel activities can help too. And even with all of that, she still tries to chew through our deck to see what's underneath.
Claws: So, it turns out that huskies have these wonderfully adapted claws and toes for gripping ice. They are also excellent at gripping hardwood, solid bamboo, and other expensive flooring options besides carpet and tile. Our two-year old brand new flooring was trashed inside of six months. Had I not been in a stupor of grief and PTSD, I might have thought to get enough rugs before bringing the new puppy home. But then again, had I not been in a stupor of grief and PTSD, I would not have gotten the puppy at all.
Destruction: Huskies can be destructive. If they are left alone they can become anxious and tear things up. Not small things like stuffed animals or throw pillows, but big things like couches. We have fortunately been able to reroute most of Ari's destructive nature with puzzle toys and things we allow her to tear up (like old boxes). But she continues to try to eat her way through our solid wood deck, scraping off the paint and getting splinters in her lips. She also thinks our recycle bin is her personal toy chest. So, there's that.
All the Rest: Every dog is an individual. In addition to husky things, we have a lot of Ari things to contend with. For starters, she is a kleptomaniac. Combined with her resource guarding, this makes for really fun Saturday afternoon hostage negotiations. Because you never just walk up and try to take something away from a resource guarder. Unless stitches are your idea of a good time. She is also shy/fearful like I mentioned. Which is kind of like having an emotional support dog for PTSD who needs an emotional support dog for PTSD. The never-ending list of things Ari is still afraid of includes trash cans, other dogs over ten pounds, the beach, strangers, anything made of metal, the vacuum cleaner, and luggage.
So the long and short of my response to Jerome's plea is this: I second him that you should try and adopt a husky or other wolf lookalike breed once you've decided that you are really ready for everything that package comes with. We bought our dog for so many reasons I won't go into, some of which I still appreciate. And I'll never regret that we got Ari because without us she could have easily ended up in a shelter, considering all of her special needs. That said, I did not know the plight of these breeds then. Eventually, we'd love to adopt a second husky, but Ari is still too scared of other dogs for that to be an option right now.
If you are in our area (Texas) and are interested in adopting a sled dog, I recommend you get in touch with Texas Husky Rescue or Texas Sled Dog Rescue, or find a similar rescue group in your state. Additionally, Texas Sled Dog Rescue posts listings of sled dogs in shelters throughout the state on their Facebook page.
And as a bonus, enjoy these shameless but adorable dog pics of our sweet husky girl, Ari.
And remember to preorder your copy of RESURRECTION GIRLS now! (If not for yourself, do it for me. If not for me, do it for the dog.)
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Finally, you can view my Husky Love Pinterest board here.