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Arctic endeavors and canine friends

In a busy, techie, ever-changing world, the age-old partnership between humans and canines remains as durable as it is enjoyable.

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    SGT. FRANK PEDERSEN AND MAJ. JULIE PIO, A VETERINARIAN, EXAMINE A PATROL DOG IN GREENLAND.
    DENVER DAVID ROBINSON
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In the middle of a bone-chilling winter, it’s fun to escape to the tropics, if only by flipping through a travel magazine or digging into an adventure story (“Kon-Tiki” perhaps). When a heat wave hits, I’m partial to reads about snowy climes. One scorching summer, I made my way through much of the subzero canon – from “Endurance,” the saga of Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition, to “Into Thin Air,” the story of the ill-fated 1996 Everest climb, to the fictional thriller “Smilla’s Sense of Snow.” 

A Monitor cover story by Denver David Robinson (click here) is in that tradition. It's a ride-along with a Danish military unit patrolling Arctic Greenland. Sledge Patrol Sirius braves the elements in a region that is the focus of growing international concern – and commercial interest – because of the thinning ice pack.

One of the pleasures of Denver’s reporting and photography is the “Boys’ Life”-type adventure it presents. Could you – or some physically and mentally tougher version of you – handle the rugged training and unforgiving conditions that these guys (women can apply; none has) go through? Could you master and care for a dog team, shelter in an ice cave, navigate by stars and compass, and protect yourself from a marauding polar bear with a World War I-era rifle? This isn’t a make-believe reenactment of old-time winter camping. Vintage tools and techniques turn out to be superior in a climate that breaks modern technology.

Our tale is replete with camaraderie, grit, and breathtaking scenery: icy peaks, vast plains, and a front-row seat to the northern lights. The Northern Hemisphere summer has officially arrived. So kick off your flip-flops and brace for the howling winds of Greenland’s outback.
*           *           *
The Sirius crew and its dogs are a survival team. All over the world, canines defend herds and homes, sniff for bombs, find disaster victims, guide blind people, provide companionship, and fill YouTube and Facebook with comedic content. New research indicates that dogs were domesticated at least twice in history, which suggests they were predisposed to our company. We feed and shelter them; they work, guard, and add something we seem to need to our lives.

I am currently dogless. A few months ago, we said goodbye to our beloved old Scottie. Dog after dog has shared our home for 27 years. None did a hard day’s work. Like most, ours have been sidebars, lounging patiently nearby but eventually staring lasers at us until we understood that they’d had it with our boring humanness. Why not take a break, take a walk, have some fun? There’s the leash; here’s the door! How about a car ride? Are you thinking cheeseburger, too!?

Ages ago, dogs and humans teamed up to survive. How often is that now necessary? Mostly, we team up to live. Dogs coax us out of our seriousness. So while doglessness has helped me appreciate dogs in general, I don’t see it as a permanent condition.

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