“The wilderness is healing, a therapy for the soul.” – Nicholas Kristol
For most, the vast expanse of wilderness can be a daunting thought. Yet by stepping off the beaten track and venturing further into the wild, nature provides us with a world of unparalleled beauty. For Ari, the wilderness was her playground, her home.
Around 400 miles north of continental Norway lies Svalbard – population 2,642. This remote cluster of islands often finds itself tucked under a duvet of snow, while temperatures can plummet to between –20°C and –30°C. This can mean it takes on the appearance of a winter wonderland, but roaming into the wilderness can pose dangers such as avalanches, frostbite and an encounter with the resident polar bears.
Nonetheless, Svalbard proffered an unmissable opportunity for Ari and her owner, Lisa. “The reason we loved Svalbard was definitely because of nature: mountains, glaciers, rivers, snow, the cold and much more. We had this big island that we could explore almost to ourselves.” And explore they did on glacier and mountain hikes, fishing trips and snowmobile tours – with Ari either running alongside or on the snowmobile leaning into Lisa.
Their favourite adventure together though has to be a cabin trip they took with some of Lisa’s friends. One evening after work they set out on the four hour hike to the cabin with Ari and Charlie, a Border Collie. Aware of sightings of two polar bears in the area, the group were being extra cautious. It was a great start to the hike, a lot of laughs, a lot of fun. Visibility was so clear that they could see no danger and no reindeer in the immediate area, so they let the dogs loose to enjoy the freedom.
All of a sudden, Charlie, with his amazing eyesight, spots a reindeer at what must have been over one kilometre ahead. Off he runs and disappears over a rise. Shortly after he returns with some more reindeer, herding them into a group with between seven and ten reindeer in total, before returning to the group very pleased with himself to roll around in the moss. From then on, albeit with no reindeer harmed, Charlie was kept on the lead for the weekend. Throughout all the excitement, Ari remained with the group; as Lisa says: “her pack is more important than wildlife.”
The group continued their hike to the cabin, growing hungrier and more tired as the daylight slowly darkened into dusk. The group was getting closer and the cabin was even in sight, but they knew that to reach the cabin they had to cross a river first. After searching up and down the river for somewhere to cross they decided to try at one point before turning back halfway as the river was bigger than they expected. A decision had to be made: continue trying to find a way across in the dying light or head back and try and find another cabin. The group made calls and after some failed attempts managed to arrange a new cabin that they managed to locate with the help of GPS. All the while Ari was there by their side to show support any group member was feeling weary, spurring them on.
Eventually, the group reached their newly arranged cabin and in the end had a very memorable weekend; for Lisa, one of the best to this day.
Ari just loves the wilderness of Svalbard, and sometimes the wilderness loves her back. On Svalbard there is a healthy population of Arctic Fox, just as wily as their flaming orange counterparts most will be familiar with. One day while on a walk with Lisa, Ari spots an Arctic Fox on an outcrop above. The fox runs back and forth along the ledge teasing Ari, the two chasing each other from one end to the other. Lisa let the two be playful for a while before calling Ari back. Ever since, Ari has loved Arctic Foxes and will whine whenever she sees one, wanting to go play.
Many memories were made and adventures had on Svalbard. However due to the coronavirus pandemic, a move from Longyearbyen to Lisa’s hometown of Molde on the Norwegian mainland was necessary for the two friends and came with a few challenges. After two years with the near solitude of Svalbard, the hustle and bustle of a mainland city would take a little getting used to, especially for Ari. Even their wardrobe needed an overhaul as Lisa could do without all her Svalbard winter clothes and Ari no longer needed her winter coat. But the two are starting to enjoy aspects that the mainland can offer that Svalbard couldn’t like forests.
But what drew Lisa to a White Swiss Shepherd in the first place? Lisa admits that it was while researching the German Shepherd and its health issues that she discovered the breed. She was still in love with the thought of a German Shepherd, but the thought of the health issues discouraged her. “Suddenly the White Swiss Shepherd pops up on google and I’m in awe. I started reading and fell more and more in love; this breed was meant for me,” she says. Still she didn’t rush the decision to opt for a White Swiss Shepherd. After a further few years of researching the breed and visiting some breeders the decision was made; and just in time for a move to Svalbard.
So does Lisa have any tips on finding a White Swiss Shepherd and knowing if they are right for you? Lisa has only one golden rule: research! She says, “Like with any other breed, do your research, talk with different breeders and ask, ask, ask.”
And on looking after a White Swiss Shepherd? Lisa stresses that this is her opinion only and says that she believes they are a gentle and smart breed, but need plenty of exercise and training. It would work well if you like being active, as the White Swiss Shepherd needs exercise and lots of stimulation. If Lisa were to be too lazy for too many days Ari would get restless and show her owner that she needs some form of stimulation, most likely by destroying a pillow or her bed. Give them the exercise, love and attention they deserve and they will be forever by your side.
Keep up to date with Ari and Lisa’s adventures over on Instagram. (Photography by Lisa Hatlen-Stokke)