Dog days on the Underground Railroad
The Pomeranian-Keeshound dog was dumped at the Los Angeles shelter by his drug addict owner, and left in a cage for the next few days, before the mentally unstable woman returned to demand the dog back.
As this unnamed woman was the original owner, staff at East Valley Shelter were obliged to hand the dog Sampson back to her, instead of letting animal rescue groups spirit her to a new life up in Canada.
But Sampson was saved from more years of abuse and neglect when the lady who took him to the shelter, high on drugs, failed to complete the required paperwork and threw a fit when shelter staff refused to hand him back, while adopters in Canada scored a golden chance to mount a rescue on August 12th.
“Before he was returned we had an underground group looking to find him a home. We wouldn’t want him to go back to the drug addict as he’d go back into a life of misery and abuse,” said Dhyann Keller, who’s organized the rescue of dozens of dogs from American shelters, many of whom were in danger of being put down.
Keller posted pictures of Sampson on a Facebook message thread, and contacted Kindersley resident Tammy Francis, asking her if she would like to adopt him, and she at once agreed.
“Within minutes he was pulled for adoption for Tammy by rescuer Cambria Hankin. We usurped the drug addict,” said Keller.
But for Sampson the journey north to freedom had only just begun. Pulled out of East Valley with two other abandoned dogs called Bugsy and Gerry, they needed a safe place to stay in LA while Hankin organized veterinary checkups, necessary travel documents, and animal crates for their flight up to Edmonton.
Quite often the dogs must be spayed, neutered, and given up to date vaccinations such as rabies before the vet in LA signs the paperwork that’ll let them into Canada and start their new lives.
Bugsy, a Beagle-Chihuahua crossbreed, was in particularly bad shape before he left LA, as his eye was popped out of its socket, either from abuse or a dogfight. As no-one Stateside wanted to adopt him, his photo was tagged by rescuers on Facebook and he joined the rescue flight.
“It depends but usually if I pull the dogs on Tuesday and it’s not spayed of neutered they’ll usually fly on Thursday, as we like to give them a day’s rest when they come out of surgery, and it also depends on other people’s schedules up in Canada,” said Hankin.
Making her job slightly easier is LA vet Dr. Jones, who offers free consultations for rescued pets.
Dog trio Sampson, Bugsy, and Gerry flew up to Canada last Friday after being given the all-clear from the vet, but there was still the challenge of the plane ride itself, stressful enough for human passengers but a nightmare for dogs stuck in cargo.
“Dogs are packed onto the plane with the cargo and of course unloaded with it. It’s very loud and scary especially for the little dogs with all the plane engine noises, and you’re just at the mercy of airline personnel to make it as bearable as possible,” said Keller.
The dogs are packed into a heated part of the aircraft hold to prevent them freezing at altitudes of up to 40,000 feet, but to prevent overheating and heatstroke they can’t fly if weather on the ground is above 24 degrees C, after which it is too hot for many dogs.
The dogs can’t usually fly in the dead of winter either, as many airlines including Air Canada ban live cargo during the freezing months, again to prevent pets from dying in their care.
“If the animal is extremely distressed you might want to sedate them, but we try not to do that as they could die and there’s no vet on the plane,” said Keller.
Only Air Alaska fly dogs during winter months, but their Calgary service, once a lifeline for rescuers, was recently cancelled, leaving Vancouver as their only destination, or sending people on WestJet flights to escort pets up, which can be prohibitively expensive.
Even during seat sales, a typical WestJet ticket price is $750 for a person and $50 per dog.
Nonetheless, Sampson, Bugsy, and Gerry held out relatively well during the three hour flight to Calgary and connecting service to Edmonton, but when Keller adopted her pitbull Moo Moo from LA a few months back, she was so distressed rescuers almost sedated her, but in the end given a special blanket called a 'thundershirt' that covered her body and calmed her down during the flight north.
When they reach other end, rescued dogs must stay in their crates inside the airport cargo terminal until all documents are checked by Canadian Border Service agents, which is a problem after long flights as many dogs need the bathroom.
“Once the paperwork is cleared they’re allowed out to pee, thank God,” said Keller.
Once inside Canada, it was smooth sailing from Edmonton to Kindersley. Volunteer rescuer Brilyn Jiricka picked up the dog trio at Edmonton Airport on Friday night, driving them to Biggar the Saturday morning.
From Biggar, Tammy Francis’s husband Todd drove them down to Kindersley for the final leg.
Sampson will stay in Kindersley with Tammy, while Gerry was claimed by fellow Kindersley resident Chantel Bannerman. Bugsy is still being fostered by Francis at time of writing.
“It’s awesome, I’m glad the dogs got a chance to have a happy life,” said Francis.
To make a donation or get involved with pet rescue call Dhyann Keller on 306-463-1914.