A town divided over a stray husky

Should he stay or should he go? His supporters are citing historical precedent.

by Josh Dehaas

National Geographic/ Anne Fraboni

When Colleen Belanger, who runs the local animal shelter in her backyard near Colbalt, Ont., returned home one stormy night in early June, she decided to check on the dog she’d taken in earlier that day. But when she got to the makeshift kennel, she found an empty cage with a Frisbee-sized hole where the metal bars had been pried apart. “All I could see was his little hairs on the bars,” she recalls, amazed that the dog she calls “Shadow” had ripped through the metal and escaped.

She should not have been surprised. For four years this particular white husky has been sleeping in abandoned houses and eating dog food left outside for him by locals, and eluding the area bylaw officer’s attempts to catch him. He broke free from Belanger’s, in fact, just six hours after being shot with a tranquilizer dart. He’s rumoured to have first wandered into town when a local man who raises sled dogs abandoned his team, and he’s divided the community of 1,229 people—while some call for his capture, others think he should be allowed to roam free, and are now citing historical precedent.

The dog’s status has even become a political issue in Cobalt. About a month before the escape, town councillor Sue Nielsen presented her colleagues with a petition signed by more than 200 people. The petitioners wanted the town to scrap plans to hire a local bear trapper to capture the dog. It’s been wandering among the former mining town’s rusty headframes for four years without hurting anyone, they say. “[The other councillors] basically just laughed at me,” says Nielsen.

But a few days after the dog’s escape, his defenders returned to town council with a new argument. David Brydges, a poet who was born and raised in Cobalt (he’s also Nielsen’s brother), presented evidence of a precedent for free-roaming dogs. “Cobalt the bulldog,” used to sleep on the sidewalk outside the Cobalt Stock Exchange and would even travel by train to Toronto and back during the last century’s silver boom, Brydges told the crowd. He cited The Dog That Owned A District, a story that Cobalt Mining Museum curator Anne Fraboni has been sending home with tourists for years. It’s unclear where the story was originally printed, but Fraboni doesn’t doubt its authenticity. She says that Cobalt parents have been passing down the story of the travelling bulldog to their children for decades.

Fraboni helped draft and distribute the petition to save the dog—who she calls “White”—because she can’t bear the thought of seeing him locked up. Even the man who shot the tranquilizer dart wants him to be free. Larry Reeves had only ever used his tranquilizer gun on black bears before the Town of Cobalt recruited him for the job. Reeves agreed to catch the dog so he could cut off a tight collar that looked like it was causing the dog pain. But now that it’s off, he isn’t sure whether he’d be willing to shoot the dog again. “He’s got the life every guy wants,” says Reeves. “He’s got lots of girlfriends.”

But too many girlfriends is just one of the complaints the town’s mayor, André Belanger, hears from constituents. He says a local bylaw that requires stray animals be returned to their owners or captured and given to a shelter has been on the books since before he was elected, and he must respect the rules. Jude Monaco, a teacher at the local elementary school, approached the mayor and council last year to voice her concerns. “My neighbour says the dog peed on my raspberry bushes,” says Monaco. She’s also found “deposits” on her lawn. “He’s really doing a lot of damage.”
And yet, the stray has managed to charm even Monaco. “I don’t eat much meat, but I left tofu wieners out for him one day,” she says. “I watched him sniff them and then just move on.” Monaco says she still supports the idea of the dog being captured—as long as it goes to a safe home.

A safe home is beside the point, say supporters. “This dog has a free-spiritedness that people here really identify with,” Nielsen explains. They’re not asking for a repeal of the bylaw, says Brydges, but feel this particular dog should be allowed to live out his remaining days however he sees fit. “There needs to be a place,” says Brydges, “for eccentric exceptions in our society.”




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A town divided over a stray husky

  1. Is the dog harming anyone? Or causing damage? Then leave him be.

  2. Back in the old days, Cobalt always had a lot of stray dogs and they had dog catchers for that sort of thing, that era has disappeared but this is kind of a reminder of the glory days reminiscent of a prospector roaming the town and surrounding areas, being truly free. This dog incites a sense of freedom that most people wish they had and that is appealing. To those who wish to see him caught, lighten up! This is clearly no ordinary dog, he's a savvy husky with natural survival instincts, not Paris hilton's chihuahua. But it's hobnail boots and a flannel shirt In Cobalt town for mine!

  3. It starts with one dog,then 4 then 100…who will take responsiblity for those dogs well being, food, water, saftety etc…Those dogs may not be as street smart or gentle….that's why there is laws sadly.

  4. The White Dog or Ghost Dog of Cobalt is a reminder of this town's incredible past. The town has always been a frontier, a home for the restless and those too independent or cantankerous to settle anywhere else. In its early days, the town boasted street car lines, pro hockey teams and a stock exchange. The original Cobalt the Dog used to roam freely including hopping on the train to Toronto and returning when it suited him. Cobalt the Dog was welcome in every hotel, restaurant and Bling Pig in the district. People look on the Ghost Dog in the same manner. They love his spirit and believe he symbolizes something of the spirit of the original pioneers.

  5. I agree with (ibivi) … let him be free …

  6. let him be free, their is not an overabundance of unwanted puppies in town, so leave him alone he is more afraid of people then they are of him…

  7. I am not a believer of Reincarnation, but think about it,, who's to say he is not someone's grandfather, (miner) or a direct descendant of Cobalt the Bulldog,
    Peed on the rasberry bushes, come on, really, I think I saw someone leave the MIners after a drunken night and do that it wasn't the dog at all.
    There are more important things in life, like FREEDOM.
    Leave him be

  8. THE TOWN JUST HAS NOTHING BETTER TO DO THEN NIT PICK EVERYBODYS YARDS AND HARASS THE WHITE DOG. IF THERE NOT AT THE MINERS THERE NOT HAPPY,

  9. I totally agree. Leave a free spirit alone. If some people have nothing better to do that to nit pick about an old dog than their life's are pretty boring and they need to create drama in their lives but not at the expense of an animal who is more afraid of people than they are of it.

  10. I do not live in cobalt now but it is my home town. I say leave the dog alone. If you don't want any presents on your lawn then fence in your yard.

  11. So it is great to say let this dog roam free. I have 2 small children and one of them is afraid of dogs. My son comes running in the house everytime it roams by my house which is pretty often. This dog often has "friends" traveling along with it so great now we are up to 2 or 3 dogs roaming freely. Why should my son who is afraid of dogs have to run in the house to protect himself when this dog comes along. OH WAIT the dog has all the rights because 100 years ago there use to be a dog that roamed free and he should be allowed to be a free spirit well people times have changed. I am not a believer that kids are meant to be seen and not heard as they were like 100 years ago. My son has a voice and his voice says tie the dog up like dogs are suppose to be.

    • How about teaching your child there is nothing to be afraid of. I understand the fear but you as a parent needs to help him not just help him breed into him more fear.

    • i hope your son gets over his fear of dogs because his life may be filled with them. In the meantime, the white dog never even came close to humans. do you think, perhaps, that he is living out your irrational feelings towards animals?? Just a thought.
      Guess you don't really have to worry about that dog anymore now do you??

  12. I have seen that dog several times and he was so scared of me that he ran like a bat out of hell. He has survived being shot by his master as 2 others didn't sadly to say and he managed to escape so why not let him live his life in peace and harmony until he meets his maker God. He is one of God's special creation and has no voice but those that believe he has a right to his freedom and to enjoy what time he has left. Cobalt believes if one doesn't fit in their standard of social structure they should be condemned and don't have a right to live in Cobalt and this is how they are treating "Shadow" which I had come to call and can relate to "Shadow" and I feel so sad and distraught that people have nothing better to do than harass an innocent animal trying to survive the best way he/she can. Let him live the remainder of his life in peace, harmony and have his freedom till his time has come.

  13. Taday he was found dead…He will be sadly missed!!!

  14. sadly the White Dog had to be euthanized. He went into renal failure, toxic poisoning (antifreeze) may have been the cause. A very unfortunate situation and offensive to us dog lovers.
    A memorial service was held in it's honour; many of the locals attending.
    It may seem silly but, in fact, it was quite the opposite …

  15. I often think of Shadow, the Cobalt dog. When I first moved up to the James Jay coast,
    a white husky was roaming the streets. I told my son that the Cobalt dog’s spirit is alive and well. My children were very sad the day they found out about his death. He is still the topic of conversation with much fondness.

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