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.