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Warm holiday season for rescued dogs

Former sled dogs Cooper (far right) and Coco (back) have a warm new home this Christmas, thanks to Rebecca and Curt Gebeshuber. They also have a new friend in the couple
Former sled dogs Cooper (far right) and Coco (back) have a warm new home this Christmas, thanks to Rebecca and Curt Gebeshuber. They also have a new friend in the couple's longtime pet, Darwin the dachshund.
— image credit: ALINA KONEVSKI/ABBOTSFORD NEWS

When Coco and Cooper arrived at their new home, a suburban Abbotsford house, they probably didn't know quite what to make of it. The former sled dogs had spent most of their lives outside around Whistler. They didn't understand the concept of dog toys, nor the difference between indoor and outdoor behaviour. They had to learn that running at a glass patio door was not the smartest move.

But all that changed under the patient guidance of Rebecca and Curt Gebeshuber, who adopted the two Alaskan racing huskies a few months ago.

Coco and Cooper are two of dozens of dogs that have been out for adoption since the Whistler Sled Dog Co. went out of business in July 2013. They have gone through multiple owners in recent years as dog sledding companies have struggled to remain profitable when caring for a large population of ageing dogs. Most infamously, a man was convicted in 2012 for animal cruelty for killing some of his oldest sled dogs.

"We heard of the cull…and we heard that there were some of these dogs to adopt," said Curt. "But we didn't really think that it was going to be us. Because people think that they're wild, and that it's going to be a real struggle to look after…But once we met them, that broke down pretty quickly."

The Gebeshubers' were seeking a companion for their 12-year-old dachshund Darwin after their Pointer cross passed away last summer.

They first selected mild-mannered Coco from the Whistler Sled Dog Co. in September. The very affectionate dog brings her face right close to that of humans, patiently expecting people to fall in love with her. In this case, it worked.

"This is how she got herself adopted…She was the one in the pack that came with us, and just sat there, and was, like, 'Pet me,'" said Curt.

Doggy ChristmasWith the weather getting cooler, the Whistler Sled Dog Co. began shipping dogs down to shelters in the Lower Mainland and put out a renewed call for adopters.

In response, the Gebeshubers returned to a shelter seeking a third pet just a month after bringing Coco home. They selected Cooper from the Burnaby SPCA in October to make sure that Coco had a buddy after their elderly dachshund passed.

In learning to care for two former working dogs, Rebecca joined Facebook groups for B.C. sled dog owners and tracked down the dogs' histories. She found that eight-year-old Coco, a husky greyhound mix, was once a highly-valued lead dog for her smarts. But after a mishap in which Coco became distracted by a squirrel and wrapped her racing team around a tree, she was demoted. Seven year-old Cooper was a wheel dog in the back of the pack, a braun over brain teammate with lots of energy.

This background helped Rebecca understand the dogs' limitations and interests when working with them. Both had to be housebroken, and had to get comfortable with their new human family and the elements in their lives, such as TV noise. Coco adapted fairly quickly within a few weeks. Cooper, more shy, took longer. The pup has anxiety and stops eating when nervous. He has put on weight since arriving at the house but still has a way to go.

The Gebeshubers say that Cooper was misunderstood at the shelter where he spent a short amount of time, and that a volunteer called him "feral." The couple didn't know what his personality would be like when they brought him home. With their support, Cooper has since emerged as an energetic goofy dog that loves playing catch.

"It definitely does take a little bit of a leap of faith and some patience with these guys…You have to be willing to do that," said Curt.

About 10 former Whistler Sled Dog Co. dogs are still looking for homes, after nearly 200 successful adoptions, according to a Dec. 14 Facebook post by the company.

Most are at various SPCA centres in southwestern B.C. SPCA general manager for community relations, Lorie Chortyk, believes that these last are the more timid ones like Cooper. She emphasized that potential adopters will need to nurture them as they get used to everyday life in a home and family.

"These are wonderful dogs and they deserve to be in loving homes, but because they have been raised in such a structured environment with no exposure to everyday activities in a home, they can be very timid and fearful of new experiences. It is important that new guardians have the time and the willingness to work with the dogs, be patient, to understand what it is like for these dogs as they adapt to new experiences and to provide them with a very structured routine as they adapt to their new life."

The Gebeshubers heeded this advice as they integrated two active outdoor dogs into a new life at home.

(Photo below: Cooper (left) and Coco settle into their new home in Abbotsford.)

Cooper and Coco

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