Columns/Opinion, Irene Marinelli

Pierre would never make it living off the grid

Rob and I have been watching an excellent series on Netflix: “Life Below Zero.” The series is set in Alaska, land of snow and ice.  Not only is it an interesting program, it has also turned out to be a learning experience.

I now have some bare-bones knowledge of survival in case I am ever stranded out in the wild and windy Alaskan tundra in winter. I now know how to “talk” to a wolf or a grizzly, if such should cross my path.
Actually, any wolf or grizzly I would ever encounter would find me running at top speed in the other direction — something you are definitely not supposed to do.

It is amazing to see people living sustainable lifestyles off the grid, happily at peace with their environment and their mode of living. They hunt and gather  their food in the forests and meadows and fish in the rivers. They refer to themselves as opportunists.  Whatever comes their way is either eaten or used to make life more comfortable.

Most of these Alaskans have a number of dogs.  The dogs are used for transportation, for racing competitions and for companionship in a solitary life.

They live outside in temperatures 50 and 60 degrees below zero.  The only shelter they seem to need is a wooden dog house stuffed with straw.  The dog houses are small, only large enough to fit each dog. I suppose this must preserves the dog’s body heat.

They eat, and seem to absolutely love whole, frozen fish.  They chew on the fish as Pierre would chew on a large bone. Of course they also get warmed kibble, but the “fish sticks” seem to be greatly favored.

Because they would get into trouble and even danger if they ran loose, each dog is chained to his or her dog house. The truly amazing thing about these animals is how well they are trained.
Their owners rely on them to stop a runaway sled, even if the owner has jumped or fallen off. They follow their masters on hunts and fishing expeditions through heavy brush, across swollen creeks.  From what I can tell, the bond between dog and master is obvious and very strong and the dogs seem happy.

The other evening, after watching an episode of “Life Below Zero,” Rob and I looked down at Pierre, snoozing on the couch. He was comfortably deep in slumber but I knew as soon as I went out to the kitchen for a cup of tea he would follow me, wide awake and ready for his evening snack of sliced chicken. I can only imagine his reaction if I tried to substitute a frozen fish.

Rob fondly believes Pierre would step up to the plate and survive the lifestyle of the Alaskan dogs if he had to do so.

Really? Sleep in a straw-filled dog house outside in sub-zero weather?

Sure, he’ll sit in a snow bank in winter for a while, but you wouldn’t catch him staying outside in the cold all night when there are soft, warm beds upstairs.

He chases song birds, chipmunks and squirrels, but a wolf or bear would have him for dinner. If anyone tried to chain him to a dog house he would simply howl until he lost his voice.

Besides, if he could not be brushed and petted and hugged, he would soon lose his usual joyful demeanor and become a morose, unhappy dog. No, we must make sure Pierre never gets lost in the wilds of Alaska, or even the parks of Morgantown.