Picture the scene: you’re traipsing through the forest on a quiet, secluded island off the coast of Canada. All around you is silence, except for the sound of trees swaying in the breeze and birdsong overhead. Everything is entirely peaceful — until it’s not. It creeps up on you, slowly at first, but then it gets louder. Closer. A strange sound, edging towards you. A chorus of deep breathing and countless footsteps on the ground. You have no idea what’s making all this noise, and when you finally see it you still can’t believe your eyes. Unless you’re hallucinating, you’ve just been surrounded by a pack of large, fluffy St. Bernards, all roaming free around you. What’s going on?
A place to get away from it all
You just weren’t expecting to see something this... well, weird.
You just wanted to get away from it all for a little while, and this place seemed like it would be ideal for that. Situated roughly 50 miles off the coast of Vancouver, Lasqueti Island is about as off-the-grid as it gets. It’s pretty beautiful, too.
The simple life
The island isn’t entirely free from human influence. It has a population of around 400 people, but these guys live a simpler life than many of us are used to.
There aren’t any paved roads on their island, for one thing, and their lifestyle involves fishing, farming, and planting and chopping down trees.
Living off the land
In simple terms, the inhabitants of Lasqueti Island live off the land. And even when it comes to their energy needs, they make use of sustainable technologies like wind turbines, water mills, and solar panels.
All of this is to say that they don’t do things like most of the rest of us.
Not what you think it is
Still, the locals are keen to stress that their island isn’t this magical place most people can only dream of. As the official website states, “Lasqueti is not some utopian paradise, it is not an ‘intentional community,’ and it is probably not whatever you think it is.
It is just a relatively remote island, populated by a small, tight-knit community of quirky, independent-minded people, with its own unique culture and identity.”
A telling concession
But this concession about Lasqueti having a “unique culture” and being inhabited by “quirky, independent-minded people” is telling, because while it may not be some “utopian paradise,” it definitely has its bizarre features.
And things don’t really get weirder than what can only be described as a pack of free-roaming, forest-dwelling St.Bernards.
What’s going on?
So, what on Earth is going on here? How and why did these dogs come to roam these lands so freely?
It’s not like they were always here: the St. Bernard breed has its origins in Europe. No, someone is responsible for having unleashed these giant, friendly beasts upon Lasqueti.
The person responsible
That someone, it turns out, is one of the residents of Lasqueti. Her name is Tikki Smith.
A dog breeder, she’s known for entering her animals into competitions. And not only that, but her dogs often come away from such contests as winners.
A message to the world
Tikki’s dogs have their own dedicated website called LasquiteSaintBernards.com. Here, the fact these St. Bernard’s are known for taking home first place at dog shows is made very clear, but there’s also great care taken to show that the animals are loved, too.
Tikki clearly wants the world to know her animals are cared for properly.
Family members first
The website mentions that Tikki’s dogs are “top, champion St. Bernards, bred for soundness, temperament, health, and beauty.”
But it also says, “All the Saints who live here are family members first, not kennel dogs... Lasquite’s Saint Bernards are wonderful family members, are great with kids and other pets, plus have the beauty and soundness to compete in the show ring.”
A “huge yard”
The site also mentions the “huge yard” the St. Bernards get to roam around in, which seems like something of an understatement.
These animals have a literal forest to run around and play in. Not every pet dog gets to live like that! It’s really the stuff of puppy dreams.
Five acres to call their own
Now, it’s not quite true that Tikki’s St. Bernard horde has the whole island to play with.
They are actually fenced in, but they still have more than 5 acres to call their own. That’s more than enough space for a big group of hounds to expend all their energy each day.
A place to take shelter
It’s also worth noting that the dogs aren’t just left to deal with the elements out there in the wilderness. If they need it, they do have somewhere to take shelter.
If it’s raining or snowing — or, simply, if it’s bedtime — the St. Bernards can retreat to their enormous, custom-made kennel.
More than enough space
Even though there are dozens and dozens of St. Bernards making up the group, it’s not exactly a squeeze inside this kennel.
Measuring 56 feet in length and 20 feet in width, it’s fair to say the dogs can fit in here together comfortably. And it’s not just space and shelter this place offers them.
Nice digs for dogs
The kennel is split into seven different rooms — or “runs,” as the website calls them — each of which is covered with fresh sawdust on the ground. These runs all have both indoor and outdoor sections, though even the outdoor parts are covered over by a roof.
And maybe the best feature of all in each run is a water dish, which fills up with fresh water on its own!
How did this dog paradise come to be?
Tikki has clearly taken great care to give her pups the best life possible. These dogs have more space to play and sniff around in than they could possibly ever need, and that’s to say nothing of their luxury kennel.
But how did it come to this? Why did Tikki build this canine paradise?
A happy accident
Well, as she tells it on her website, this situation came about almost entirely by accident. Of course, that’s not to say she woke up one day and found her island had inexplicably become inhabited by about 40 St. Bernards.
But it had never quite been her intention from the start.
Modest plans at first
Tikki had initially just wanted a pet St. Bernard for her home.
That’s right: just one. She’d originally planned to get a male pup, but that had turned out to be easier said than done. She was placed on a waiting list and remained there for more than a year, which seems crazy!
The situation flips on its head
It seems the demand for male St. Bernards had been very high during that period, which must have made for a very frustrating time for Tikki.
But then, suddenly, the situation flipped on its head. After waiting for such a long stretch, she learned that an 11-month-old female pup had now become available.
She comes with a catch
The pup’s name was a little wordy — she was called Benbaron’s Iota By Adam — but she was good to go. There was a catch, though: nothing about Tikki’s quest for a St. Bernard would prove simple.
The person offering Iota to Tikki wanted her word that they would breed the dog down the line, with the resulting litter being split and raised between the two of them.
Little did she know...
Tikki wasn’t at all fazed by such a stipulation: she’d been waiting long enough for her pet. Besides, it would be nice to have some puppies running around at some point in the future.
“I thought, ‘No big deal,’ and agreed,” Tikki explained on her website. “Little did I know this was the start of much more to come!”
From one dog to an army
The degree to which this situation would snowball into something else entirely is pretty astonishing. To go from owning a single St.Bernard to raising an army of the happy-go-lucky beasts is really quite something.
But life sometimes has a way of turning out differently to the way you initially expected.
Sowing the seeds of a dog society
The name of the St. Bernard whom the humans wanted to breed with Iota was Sky Meadows The Iceman.
Like Iota, he was a young animal and the puppies that would result from this deal would be his first. Little did everyone know at the time, but these two dogs were about to sow the seeds of a future dog society on Lasqueti Island.
A litter arrives
The dogs did mate, and Iota fell pregnant. She gave birth on March 17, 1997, with 12 puppies arriving into the world.
Sadly, not all of them survived. Two members of the litter didn’t make it, but the rest of them were okay. There were five males and five females that survived.
The O’Iceman siblings
Of the surviving pups, Tikki decided to keep two for the long haul. She finally got that male St. Bernard she’d wanted in the first place, but she also kept hold of one of the females.
The boy pup was christened Benbaron’s Knight O’Iceman and the girl pup was called Benbaron’s Kootenay O’Iceman.
Doggy population boom
It’s all about to get very 101 Dalmatians now, as more and more puppies are quickly going to be introduced to the tale. Try your best to keep track of all the names.
So, we have Knight and Kootenay at this stage, but the latter soon had puppies with a dog called Stoan’s Valiant Bart Of Mica.
More names to add to the list
Tikki also picked up a new dog from the owners of Valiant Bart Of Mica, though she co-owned this pooch with someone else. The name of this St. Bernard was Nelda of Nelba.
Struggling to remember all the different dogs’ names yet? Well, it only gets more convoluted from here.
Nelda meets Knight
Tikki actually took Nelda to Seattle to try and get her to breed with a dog there, but things didn’t work out in that department. So, Nelda needed a new match.
Up stepped one of Tikki’s own dogs, Knight O’Iceman. Nelda and Knight obviously got on, and soon they’d brought more puppies into the world.
A distant memory
This happened in the year 2000: one male and three female pups were born. Of these four, Tikki kept hold of one of the girl pups, who was named Chalice.
The notion that Tikki had originally only wanted a single male St. Bernard was truly a thing of the distant past now.
More and more and more
On and on this story goes, with Tikki’s St. Bernard collection getting bigger and bigger as time went on.
Through trading with other breeders and by breeding her own animals, the puppies just continued to show up on Lasqueti Island. And over time, these dogs started to become competition-winners.
The most intricate family tree
It’s been a couple of decades now since Tikki started out on this crazy endeavor. There’s no way she could have predicted where her desire for a puppy would end up, but here we are.
Now she’s the owner of a huge collection of St. Bernards with the most intricate family tree you could imagine.
Lots of footage
As well as her website dedicated to her dogs, Tikki also has a YouTube channel under her own name. Now, she hasn’t added any videos onto this platform in quite some time, but some of the old clips are absolute gold for any dog-lovers out there.
There’s a mix of videos from dog shows and showing the St. Bernards in their “wild” habitat on Lasqueti.
Dogs built for snow
It’s not unheard of for Lasqueti Island to experience snowfall from time to time, and some of the most fun clips show us how the dogs react to that. Of course, they’re at complete ease!
Given the breed’s provenance in the Alps of Europe, you could say that St. Bernards were built for snow.
Happiest animals on Earth
And the clips prove it. Totally unperturbed by the cold, the dogs can be seen barreling through the snow with glee.
Tails wagging in the air and hopping through the deep snow, it’s difficult to imagine happier animals on Earth. And their joy is infectious, too, if comments under the videos are anything to go by.
“Heaven — pure Heaven”
Some of the comments just bubble with joy. “This is so beautiful and makes me happy,” one person said.
“A lot of dogs out there.” Someone else, meanwhile, referenced their own pets’ reactions to snow, saying, “My two Saint Bernards love the snow; they won’t leave it alone.” Yet another person was even more concise when they posted, simply, “Heaven — pure Heaven.”
The video clips showing off the island’s puppies need to be given the attention they deserve. Because as cute as a pack of adult St. Bernards is to behold, the pups are on another level entirely.
It’s probably not going too far to suggest little else out there can truly compare.
Not the only group
For dog-lovers, Lasqueti Island really is a sort of paradise. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, in terms of all the animals there.
If you’re walking around the place, for instance, not only might you bump into a pack of St. Bernards, but maybe you’ll encounter a big flock of feral sheep, too.
Encouraging the butterflies
The island is also home to a massive range of butterfly species. That’s actually something of which the residents are very conscious: they do their best to preserve and encourage the populations they already have there.
That means keeping their natural areas in tiptop shape, while trying not to interfere with things in a negative way.
A different sort of place
Compared to the ways of life most of us experience nowadays, the residents of Lasqueti are undoubtedly outliers. They live without many of the technologies the rest of us do, meaning everything from power generation to food production is a challenge.
But that’s how they like it, and there’s no question that life there comes with its perks.
The biggest perk of all
The islanders live without many of the anxieties a lot of us feel living in the more developed parts of the world. Their community is, by necessity, very close, which must certainly have its benefits.
But the most unexpected perk of the island, beyond any doubt, is the opportunity to play with dozens and dozens of happy St. Bernards at any time!