Chinooks: A Brief, Remarkable History

April 4, 2016

The Chinook breed was fathered by one Mastiff-Husky mix who lived in 1917. His name? Not surprisingly, Chinook. Owner Arthur Treadwell Walden described him in Harness and Pack  as a tawny, yellow dog with a gentle personality.
Chinook was a famous sled-dog. Strong, fast, and friendly, he posed as a great leader for Walden’s dog teams. And Walden began to use him as a sire as a way to keep the strong, yet gentle sled dog’s lineage. Chinook himself was a descendant from a lead dog: Polaris, owned by Admiral Robert Peary, who went on many expeditions, some to the Arctic! Polaris was his companion on many of these explorations. So, it makes sense that Walden would use his descendants to begin the Chinook breed, eventually opening kennels specifically for that purpose.

You have to admit, that’s pretty cool. And Chinook was such a formidable sled dog, he accompanied Walden on expeditions and the pair were so well known, that when Chinook passed away, it was reported all around the world. It happened when they set out to Antartica as part of Admiral Byrd’s very first trip. Chinook was approaching 12 years old, and the hard run through the Antarctic was too much. But by then, he had been the foundation of the breed, and left behind about 16 Chinook dogs.

Unfortunately, Arthur Treadwell Walden eventually faced financial strain, and had to made the decision to sell his kennels. This is when the modern breed takes an unusual turn: the remaining dogs passed between hands and breeders, including Walden’s friend Julia Lombard. She bought three dogs—Jock, Hootchinoo, and Zembla—and these three are thought to have been bred together. But the breed was facing hard times.
In the 40s, a couple named Perry Greene and his wife Honey bought what Chinooks were alive, and took on being the only breeders of the dog. The numbers began to dip, and even though Walden and Lombard had bred over the years, there were only 125 Chinooks alive in 1965. They were named the rarest breed. By 1981, only 28 were living.

That’s right. 1981. It makes you step back and wonder how this strong, brave, famous sled dog’s blood line was facing extinction just 35 years ago. Out of the 28, only 11 were able to breed. Old age, and neutering had left the already endangered breed in a sticky spot. Kathy Adams began working to save the breed while working at the Sukee Kennels, and there she was joined by other’s who wanted to help. Soon, the dogs, and their litters were being spread to other kennels. And for 10 years, a man named Harry Gray helped bring the breed back to life. His kennels offered Chinooks for sale, and he even had his own sled team.

This January, two new breeds were inducted to the American Kennel Club: the American Hairless Terrier and the Sloughi. By 2013, there were over 800 Chinook dogs registered with the American Kennel Club. A far cry from the 11 breedable dogs! They continue to be gentle, and hard working, taking after their name sake.

 

Featured image taken by Kathleen Riley under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. It has been resized. 

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