In the relentless battle to rescue, rehabilitate and rehome lost, abandoned or owner-surrendered dogs and cats, the Frontier Animal Society in Quebec’s Eastern Townships is a success story. Placing animals in forever homes is at the heart of their mission, and hundreds of once-homeless dogs and cats now live comfortable lives with loving families.
That’s wonderful news, but it means that sometimes the shelter has empty dog stalls. What better use to make of them than to fill them with homeless dogs from outside their immediate neighbourhood, needy dogs their rescue network promotes and seeks help for? Many of these dogs, most of them young and docile, come from First Nation communities in Eeyou Istchee aka James Bay, where life isn’t easy for canines and can be abruptly terminated in cyclical culls.
In the North, the best stray dogs can hope for from most humans is indifference, but disdain and outright dislike are much more common. Northern dogs must rely on their own resources, and it’s survival of the fittest. Even in sub-zero winter temperatures they have no shelter, and at all seasons they eat what they can scavenge, often going days without food. Because there are no veterinarians to spay or neuter them, they reproduce prolifically. And, because they are not vaccinated, some carry diseases that alarmed humans fear they will spread to other animals and to humans.
When a community decides it is overrun with dogs, or when packs of dogs have either attacked humans or are suspected of harboring contagious disease, the usual procedure is to announce a “dog-shoot,” when dogs not identified as someone’s property are shot.
But recently, dog-shoots are being replaced as the usual solution to these problems. After much time and effort devoted to create trusting and respectful relationships with them, several First Nation communities now turn to outside groups they invite to “extract” or remove large numbers of dogs who are then transported and adopted out in the South, and to spay, neuter and vaccinate as many of the remaining dogs as they can.
Among these groups is Sarah Saintsbury and her Forever Homes Rescue, which community representatives have repeatedly invited to “extract” large numbers of dogs to be taken South to enjoy new and easier lives. Several times a year since 2010, Forever Homes volunteers make the long trek up to Eeyou Itschee, a grueling trip in any season and even worse in winter, when they have to drive through snow storms and over icy, rutted roads in a caravan of trucks filled with empty crates that will soon transport dozens of lucky dogs to safety.
Forever Homes, the source of the Frontier Animal Society’s Northern dogs, adheres strictly to the protocols mandated by the local community Band Council. These protocols include letters of permission, advance notice to community members by way of radio, local newspaper and public posts throughout the community weeks prior to arrival, escort by Public Security Officers at all time throughout the extraction period and owner surrender forms for those giving up their animals to rescue. Any dog picked up in error is neutered and vaccinated, and then returned to its owner.
As soon as the truckloads of crated dogs reach home, the Frontier Animal Society and other rescues open their doors and hearts to the Northern dogs. Many are timid and fearful in their strange new world, but it takes very little time for them to respond to the comfort of their spacious stalls and exercise runs and – most remarkable of all – reliable supplies of nourishing food and water. Before long they are eagerly welcoming the volunteers who evaluate, groom, train and socialize them into the eager-to-please and loving dogs whose adoptive families almost universally rave about their great good natures and adaptability. As FAS volunteer Caroline Kemp observes, “Despite being born into such harsh conditions, these dogs just want what every dog wants: love and companionship.”
To date the Frontier Animal Society has taken in nearly three dozen Northern dogs, including pregnant dams and their litters. One trusting nursing mother even led her rescuers to the hole in the ground where she had hidden her puppies, who then joined her on the road trip to safety.
Gentle Jenny, whom Kemp remembers as “an incredibly sweet German Shepherd Dog mix,” was rescued in the fall of 2014 and days later, gave birth to a litter of ten healthy puppies. Three weeks later, Jenny and her pups arrived at the FAS, her first real “home.” At first Jenny shied away from people, “but we could see how desperately she wanted to settle in and be loved,” Kemp says. “And though she was a wonderful and patient mother, Jenny was so tired! As soon as we could, we weaned her pups from her so she could take some well-deserved time for herself.”
The pups were quickly adopted, some of them reserved for approved families even before they had been weaned and could leave the shelter. Finally Jenny, estimated to be between four to six years old, could recuperate from the travails of her past and of motherhood. She was also spayed, because the FAS promotes sterilization, “the best way to prevent overpopulation of cats and dogs,” as a key feature of its mission.
The FAS began to interview applicants to adopt Jenny. The family chosen includes two young boys who adore their new companion, and Jenny reciprocates their affection. She loves to play ball, her people report, she loves to be brushed, and she is very friendly with other dogs. Like so many of her fellow Northern dogs, Gentle Jenny has overcome her rocky beginnings to embrace life as a cherished family dog, and as an ambassador for all those Northern dogs who will be transported South to seek their fortunes with families just like hers.