Is a husky living in a parked van a ‘poor dog’ or doing just fine?

Last modified: November 27, 2019 at 4:26pm

To the reporter, the husky was a “poor dog” trapped outside with an old van for shelter. To the family, Suukka the husky is a stubborn nine-year-old who refuses to come inside.

Suukka sleeps in a van parked outside her owner’s Yellowknife house. The dog’s sleeping arrangements became news on Wednesday as Moose FM, a local radio station, published an article asking “what is being done for the poor dog.”

The radio station, in an online report, said unnamed residents were “deeply concerned about a skinny husky left outside chained to a van.” At one point, the same report carried information identifying the address of the dog and owner. That information was later removed.


Gage Self-Handley, the grandson of Suukka’s owner, said his grandmother had called other family members “bawling her eyes out” when the report was published.

“My grandmother walks her three times a day. She’s not a neglected dog,” said Self-Handley. “Suukka is just a stubborn old husky, she doesn’t like to be inside. We’ve tried everything to get her inside – we’ve made a doghouse, we’ve tried bribing her with treats. We’ve tried dragging her inside for the night and if we do, she just cries and cries.”

Self-Handley waded into the comments section beneath Moose FM’s article on Facebook, sharing his phone number in a bid to address other residents’ concerns about the dog’s condition. As of 3pm, he said, nobody had phoned him directly to complain.

“I got two calls for support instead,” he said, “from people saying: we know this dog, we know your grandmother, and what everyone’s saying is way out there.”

Suukka’s home is an old but operational van used by Self-Handley’s grandmother to get around town. Suukka, who stays in the van for rides across Yellowknife, goes back in the van at night to sleep.


“My grandmother leaves it open so she can come out and go to the bathroom if she wants, and do her thing,” said Self-Handley.

The controversy over whether it’s appropriate for the husky to sleep outside the house, in a Yellowknife winter, illustrates a broader clash of values when it comes to the city’s dogs. Yellowknifers come from many different backgrounds, and a resident who could not conceive of leaving a dog in a van overnight may find their neighbour doing precisely that. Each will profess themselves a dog lover.

Self-Handley says people don’t understand Suukka’s background.

“I got the dog when I was 16. She was a stray in Resolute Bay,” he said, referring to the hamlet in Nunavut. “She is a full-grown husky, she has fur on her that is insanely thick.


Suukka the dog

Gage Self-Handley posted this image of Suukka to Facebook, defending his grandmother against accusations the husky had been neglected.

“She has lived on that street for seven years and there hasn’t been any issue. This is the first time it has been raised.”

A neighbour, Kristine McLeod-Semmler, said she had lived on the same street as Suukka the entire time. “When I’m standing in my yard, I can see their dog,” she said. “Not once have I seen the dog in distress.”

McLeod-Semmler added: “I’m from Inuvik and a lot of the huskies in the North don’t want to be inside. Their coats are too thick.

“It’s unfair that this woman is being basically slandered over the internet. You can tell just by living in the neighbourhood who the article’s about. It’s a small community, it doesn’t take much investigating.

“The dog’s not skinny, not starving, not neglected. She walks the dog every single day. I think it’s just a busybody in the neighbourhood stirring the pot.”

Cabin Radio could not approach the original complainant, or complainants, as their identities were withheld in Moose FM’s reporting. The radio station later published a second report in which a woman dog-sitting on behalf of the grandmother insisted Suukka was well cared-for and not in distress.

The NWT’s Dog Act provides law enforcement officials with the power to intervene if a dog is endangered or neglected.

The act specifies that dog owners must:

  • ensure the dog has adequate food and water;
  • provide it with adequate care when it is wounded or ill;
  • provide it with reasonable protection, “having regard to the physical characteristics of the dog, from injurious heat or cold;” and
  • provide it with adequate shelter, ventilation, and space.

Self-Handley said police and municipal enforcement officers had arrived to inspect Suukka and her van in the past day.

“The RCMP showed up and said it’s fine,” Self-Handley told Cabin Radio. “It’s a doghouse, there are blankets in there for her, food, water, everything.”

An RCMP spokesperson said none of its officers had been to the house, and would only attend if a dog were being aggressive or had attacked someone. The City of Yellowknife did not immediately respond to a request for comment. We’ll update this report once that response is received.

“My grandmother is very emotional about it,” said Self-Handley. “She’s concerned her dog is going to be taken away.”