Last month I had the opportunity to spend the day with a Siberian Husky named Koda. My adventure with Koda led me to meet Cyndi Michelena, the Siberian Husky representative for the Seattle Purebred Dog Rescue. Koda is eleven-years old, and was never house-trained. Older dogs are more difficult to adopt out, as are dogs that are not house-trained, so the Whatcom Humane Society arranged for Cyndi and the SPDR to take Koda, in the hopes that they could find a home for him.
Cyndi is a devoted admirer of Siberian Huskies, and has worked with the breed for many years. She lives in a rural setting and has a special husky-proof enclosure (huskies are among the most athletic of dogs, and like most northern breeds, they are enthusiastic diggers; a normal fence cannot contain a determined husky). An avid runner, Cyndi runs with her huskies every day, allowing them to burn off some of their almost boundless energy. Cyndi hoped to adopt out Koda through the SPDR network, and that would be the best outcome, but she was prepared to foster Koda indefinitely. This was going to be a great situation for Koda, the only problem was that Cyndi is 150 miles from Bellingham, in Kitsap County. My part in this was easy; all Koda needed was a ride.
Emily Wyss, the Foster Coordinator at WHS, had told me that Koda was a gentleman and seemed mellow around other dogs, so I brought Iggy and Frankie along for the adventure. Koda stayed in the very back, on the other side of the dog barrier; I set up a dog bed back there for him, and when we led him to the car from the WHS kennels, he hopped right in. Iggy and Frankie rode in their normal positions on the back seat. The three dogs greeted each other through the grate, and exhibited no hostile signals. We stopped at NOAH in Stanwood for a little exercise, and Koda was quite fun to walk with – he had little leash training, but was naturally gentle, and though he didn’t come when called, he did come when I kneeled down and opened my arms.
We stopped in Seattle and picked up my father, who rode along for human company. When I was eight-years old, Dad gave me Call of the Wild, by Jack London. That book, read at that time, is one part of what led to my fascination with dogs. Dad doesn’t have any pets, but enjoys spending time with mine, and refers to them as his grandkids. Like me, he was impressed by both Koda’s appearance and demeanor.
Koda was quiet the whole way. He sat up most of the time, but for at least an hour or so he lay down – he might have been sleeping. Even with Iggy and Frankie in the car, and Dad and me talking, Koda was a perfect passenger. When we got to Cyndi’s place, Koda went right up to her and let her hug him.
Cyndi confided in me that she did not expect Koda would be adopted. She thought she could house-train him pretty easily, but even though huskies can live to be over 15, it was unlikely anyone would take him at age 11. She jokingly referred to this as “foster failure” – sometimes fosters come to live with her and never get adopted, or she grows attached and adopts them herself.
Over the next few days she took him to the vet and got him medication for his ears (he had an ear infection), she took him running with her other dogs, and taught him to sleep in a crate in her bedroom. He got along with her other 5 huskies, and seemed to very much enjoy the company of dogs and people alike. Cyndi found Koda to be a smart, polite dog, and she enjoyed having him in her pack.
Then something happened that was as remarkable as it was unexpected. A family came to meet a different dog, a younger one, and realized they would really struggle to meet the exercise needs of a younger husky. They were very enthusiastic about this breed, however, and were excellent applicants in other regards. Cyndi introduced them to Koda, and he liked them as much as they liked him. The family considered it for a few days and then decided to adopt Koda. Less than three weeks after coming to foster with Cyndi, Koda went to live with his new family.
Siberian Huskies have many very positive qualities – people like Cyndi Michelena are attracted to them for a reason – and they also have some traits that make them challenging as house pets. This combination has caused a particularly large incidence of purebred huskies in Washington’s animal shelters. SPDR handled 164 husky cases in 2009. Cyndi was kind enough to answer a few questions about Siberian Huskies, and the work she does with the SPDR.
How long have you been fostering and rescuing Siberian Huskies? I first fostered for Seattle Purebred Dog Rescue in February of 1999, a 3 year-old male named Thor. I found out about SPDR when I became a member of the Puget Sound Siberian Husky Club in January 1999, 3 months after my first Siberian Husky died at the age of 16.5. I kept my first foster. I fostered a second Siberian in May of 1999 for Eastern Washington Siberian Rescue near Colville, WA. I drove there to pick her up; after having her a few months and someone was finally interested in her, I decided I was too attached to her so I kept her too.
How did you start doing this? In November of 2000, the member of the husky club that was the SPDR Siberian Husky Rep decided to step down so I volunteered to do it. In December of 2000, I went to my ‘training’ — I still recall coming to the room where they had the new breed rep training with a paper briefcase that had several pockets inside so you could file within the briefcase. One of the other people in the room took a look at it and said, “Oh, you will have way more dogs than that briefcase can hold.” I had no idea how many Siberian Huskies were in shelters or being given up by their owners every year. Well, my first full year, 2001, I had over 300 Siberians, Just in Western Washington, that needed new homes that year. Most were in shelters … most I had to leave there as I did not have enough foster homes to accommodate that many dogs. I had no Idea how horrible it was for homeless pets.
How many have you fostered? I guess you could say, counting Koda, I’ve fostered 8 — but pretty much most of them that came to my home I truly was unable to let them go to another home.
What other animals do you work with or have living with you? I currently have 5 Siberian Huskies, 4 barn cats (two of which came from a feral cat rescue group), three horses (2 Thoroughbreds and 1 Paint) which are from places that no longer wanted them, and two house rabbits, one from a neglect situation, the other from our local Rabbit Haven sanctuary.
What information would you like to share with people about Siberian Huskies as pets? You may be sorry you asked this one!
Cats are often considered lunch; sometimes the same with small dogs. Other no-nos include gerbils, hamsters, mice, rats, rabbits, ducks, chickens, etc. Most Siberians have a prey instinct.
Abilities: Sledding, carting, running companion, agility, obedience
Shedding/Grooming: Be prepared for Excessive fur – the downy undercoat sheds in early to late spring.
Best with: Experienced owners, preferably exercise-active owners; minimum 6-foot fence, very secure and inescapable either by climbing or digging.
Not for: People who don’t have time every day to exercise a dog; those who don’t appreciate a self-thinker; people in apartments (they need running room).
Pros and Cons: The Siberian Husky has a delightful temperament, affectionate but not fawning. This gentle and friendly disposition may be a heritage from the past, since the Chukchi people held their dogs in great esteem, housed them in the family shelters, and encouraged their children to play with them. Today, it is charming to observe the special appeal that Siberian Huskies and children have for each other. Siberian Huskies are alert, eager to please, and adaptable. Their intelligence has been proven, but their independent spirit may at times challenge your ingenuity. Their versatility make them an agreeable companion to people of all ages and varying interests.
While capable of showing strong affection for his family, the Siberian Husky is not usually a one-person dog. They exhibit no fear or suspicion of strangers, and will greet guests cordially. This is not the temperament of a watchdog, although a Siberian Husky may unwittingly act as a deterrent to those ignorant of their true hospitable nature. If they lack a fierce possessive instinct, they also lack the aggressive quality which can sometimes cause trouble for the owner of an ill-trained or highly sensitive guard dog. In his relations with strange dogs, the Siberian Husky displays friendly interest and gentlemanly decorum. If attacked, however, he is ready and able to defend himself, and can handle the aggressor with dispatch.
The Siberian Husky is a comparatively easy dog to care for. He is by nature fastidiously clean and is free from body odor and parasites. He is presented in the show ring well-groomed but requires no clipping or trimming. At least once a year the Siberian Husky sheds his coat, and it is then, when armed with a comb and a bushel basket, that one realizes the amazing density and profusion of the typical Siberian Husky coat. Some people feel that this periodic problem is easier to cope with than the constant shedding and renewal of many smooth-coated breeds.
Chewing and digging? Siberian Huskies do their share. The former is a habit that most puppies of all breeds acquire during the teething period, and it can be curbed or channeled in the right direction. Digging holes is a pastime that many Siberian Huskies have a special proclivity for, but in this, too, they may be outwitted, circumvented, or if you have the right area, indulged.
The Siberian Husky is an “easy keeper,” requiring a relatively small amount of food for his size. This trait, too, may be traced to the origins of the breed, as the Chukchis developed their dogs to pull a light load at a fast pace over great distances in low temperatures on the smallest possible intake of food.
There is one final characteristic of the Siberian Husky which I must point out — their desire to RUN. There are many breeds of dogs which, when let out in the morning, will sit in the front yard all day. Not the Siberian Husky. Their heritage has endowed them with the desire to run, and their conformation has given them the ability to enjoy it effortlessly. But, one quick lope across a busy street could be the last run that they enjoy, ever. Because of this, I strongly urge that no Siberian Husky ever be allowed unrestrained freedom. Instead, for their own protection, they should be confined or under control at all times. Sufficient exercise for proper development and well-being may be obtained on a leash, in a large enclosure, or best of all, in harness. If you feel that it is inconvenient or cruel to keep a dog thus confined, then the Siberian Husky is not the breed for you.
A good website to read all about who the Siberian Husky is, especially for a first-time owner, is www.homelesshusky.com.