Canada's Underground Railroad for dogs
Two dogs, one a Jack Russell and the other a Corgi-Chihuahua crossbreed, sat in cramped dark cages, awaiting certain death by lethal injection that would stop their hearts and breathing, their date with the executioner set for August 1.
But with less than 24 hours to live, both Sandy the Jack Russell and Calvin the cross-breed were plucked from their cages at East Valley Shelter near Los Angeles, their rescuers filling out paperwork and driving them to a vet for medical checkups.
On the evening of August 1, they were put on an Air Canada flight to Calgary and freedom, escaping death by the skin of their teeth, thanks to the efforts of an Underground Railroad of volunteers who donate time and money spiriting animals over the border.
“If they hadn’t found anyone to adopt them last week, both Sandy and Calvin would be dead by Monday morning. As soon as new dogs arrive at that shelter, old ones die, it is a death sentence,” said volunteer rescuer Krista LaFreniere from Provost, Alberta.
As for Sandy and Calvin, they can both look forward to new lives on the wide-open Prairies of Saskatchewan. Calvin was adopted by a family in Saskatoon, and through him Sandy also won a new lease on life, despite not yet having been matched up with an owner willing to adopt her.
This is all because Netherhill resident Dhyann Keller, who works at Kindersley’s Body Fit Gym, called up fellow rescuer Cambria Hankin down in Los Angeles to see if she could save another dog at risk of death, which turned out to be Sandy, and both dogs flew north to Prairie freedom.
At Calgary airport, LaFreniere and boyfriend Ron Emisch picked up both dogs and drove them to their home in Provost for the night, before arriving in Kindersley next day. Keller took over both dogs in Kindersley, waking up early on the morning of Aug 2nd to take Calvin on the final leg of her journey to Saskatoon, while Sandy remained at Keller’s farm house outside Netherhill, where she’ll stay until a new owner is found for her.
“If anybody wants to adopt a dog from East Valley Shelter I can pick their dogs up from the airport in Calgary,” said LaFreniere, who was keen to rescue more endangered dogs from south of the border.
LaFreniere became a volunteer for the Underground Railroad bringing up endangered and abandoned dogs from the States back in April, when she adopted a pit bull called Meeka. She’s now rescued two dogs from shelters in California, and one from a SPCA home in North Battleford, where dogs aren’t at risk of being put down.
“It’s the most wonderful feeling to see a dog running free, happy, and knowing that she would be dead if you didn’t step up and rescue her,” said LaFreniere.
The modern-day Underground Railroad bringing dogs up to Canada, mostly from shelters in California and Ohio, is increasingly active since the recession began in 2008, as many American pet-owners are dumping their pets in a bid to save money as they lose jobs and homes.
But even before the recession began, shelters were still crowded with unwanted animals whose owners didn’t bother to spray or neuter, a problem that can only be solved by educating pet owners, according to shelter workers and rescuers Stateside.
Also fuelling rescue attempts are pets with deformities such as shrivelled limbs being rejected by owners, as dog-owners in U.S. cities like Los Angeles tend to be more image-conscious than those in Canada.
“We’re very picky with our dogs, but Canadians love them regardless. One pit bull called Asia has a deformed paw, no-one wants her down here, but she’s found a loving home in Saskatoon,” said volunteer rescuer Cambria Hankin by phone from California.
She’s part of an animal rescue organization called Hands, Paws, and Heart, who put dogs at risk of being put down on their ‘New Hope’ list for adoption in Canada.
Hankin’s role in this group is to pull dogs from shelters, filling out the paperwork, arranging medical checks, and using her contacts in Saskatchewan and Alberta to carry out home checks of prospective pet adopters, in order to determine their suitability.
“I usually fly up with the dogs but my passport has expired. However, Air Canada is great for cargo, we’ve used them for the past two weeks now,” said Hankin.
“We’re always looking for donations as flights and crates aren’t cheap.”
Helping Hankin save dogs is East Valley Shelter worker Veronica Perry, who works as a rescue liaison, and is in touch daily with rescuers in an effort to save as many animals as possible from their date with death.
“I’m responsible for picking dogs and processing their paperwork, and getting photos and bios ready, which is a rough list for the people on the receiving end so they know even before the dogs arrive,” said Perry.
At time of writing, East Valley alone was holding some 230 dogs and 120 cats, and are overcrowded with abandoned pets, some of whom have suffered neglect or abuse from their previous owners, and new animals arrive all the time.
“We just don’t have the space,” said Perry.
But help is on the way for at least a few condemned dogs in the form of Saskatoon local Jessica Mills, who’s helping Keller fly dogs up to Calgary then drive them to their new homes in Canada.
“We currently have two we are waiting for to be adopted plus two more who flew last Friday and two this weekend,” said Mills.
She was involved in local pet adoption until introduced to Keller, and since then some “90 per cent,” of Mills’s dogs are rescued from Los Angeles-area shelters.
One of her rescue dogs is an eight-month old pit boxer called Hillary, another former East Valley resident who no-one wanted to adopt as she had a cherry eye.
“We fell in love and agreed to take her and get her surgery done here. Brilyn from Prairie Pooches rescue was in L.A. and brought her back for us. The shelter vet offered to do her cherry eye surgery for us at the same time as her spay so that was a real blessing,” said Mills.
“We were originally intending to keep her but now we are so overwhelmed with other rescues, as well she jumps our fence and has taught our other dog to jump the fence and dart in front of traffic, so she is now in foster care till we can find her a home.”