Working Dogs

Bear Dogs in Eco-Resort
By Cassidy Nunn, July 2010

Not many people commute to work on a boat. Even fewer can boast they travel to their job in a helicopter. But for Karma, boat trips and helicopter rides are all just a part of her job as a bear dog in the remote Canadian wilderness.

Karma is the first black Labrador to work at the Nimmo Bay Resort, a luxury helicopter adventure and fishing eco-resort on the coast of British Columbia. She and Oatie, an 11-year-old yellow Labrador, protect the guests and staff at this high-end resort when they’re out hiking in the woods or exploring the surrounding areas. The Nimmo Bay lodge is nestled in the Great Bear Rainforest, accessible only by helicopter or boat, so bear sightings are a frequent occurrence, especially during the fishing season, when they come down to the ocean and nearby river to feed.

Before life at Nimmo Bay, Karma had a rocky start; for the first two years of her life, she bounced from owner to owner. Then the resort’s owners adopted her and put her to work.

Though not your standard “bear dogs,” Karma and Oatie fulfill their roles with enthusiasm. On the trail, they race ahead, noses to the ground, then turn back when the coast is clear in order to check in with their hiking buddy. If they catch the scent of a bear, their body language changes dramatically; they stop, raise their hackles, and go ballistic with barking and growling. Oatie has even charged at some of the more stubborn bears and sent them on their way.

While the dogs are on the defensive when hiking, around the lodge they relax and become happy-go-lucky Labs again. They can often be seen perched in the front seat of a double kayak or balanced on the boards of a surf bike as they travel back and forth across Nimmo Bay, to and from trails and the tiny islands that dot the Broughton Archipelago area.

Last summer, Karma mastered the art of tightrope-walking the log booms that hold the floating lodge together, scaling them with a stick clenched between her teeth. She and Oatie enjoy daily baths in the glacier-plunge pool beneath the waterfall, and guests delight in throwing sticks off the floating wharf into the ocean for the dogs. 

Karma and Oatie are best pals when on the job at the Nimmo Bay Resort—they even cuddle at night in their shared bed—but the off-season is another story. The two big dogs don’t do well when confined together in close living quarters with no wilderness to escape to during the day. And so, through a series of connections, Karma came to live with me in the city of Victoria on Vancouver Island.

City life took some adjusting to: Karma had rarely worn a collar, let alone been on a leash, which makes going out for a walk an adventure every time. She charges ahead of me, straining against the leash until she’s wheezing. When we reach an intersection, she barrels ahead, desperate to stay in the lead to look for bears.

When the beginning of the summer fishing season rolls around, Karma heads back to the Nimmo Bay Resort. Although it’s hard for me to say goodbye, I know that she’s living the ultimate in doggie life, out in the wilderness, collar-free, protecting others in one of the most beautiful and pristine places in the world.