Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

An easy fix?

Dog overpopulation in rural areas could be solved by mobile spay-and-neuter clinics, but the solution takes money

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The volunteers with Manitoba Mutts Dog Rescue say they've never seen anything like it before.

In mid-October, the non-profit group learned about the plight of Violet, a two-year-old boxer cross with a hint of Great Dane thrown in, running wild around Waywayseecappo First Nation, about 32 kilometres east of Russell.

The emaciated stray was literally starving to death.

"We've seen thousands and thousands of dogs that need our help in Manitoba and Violet was the worst case of starvation that we have seen," recalled Colleen Holloway, public relations and marketing team leader for the three-year-old rescue. "She should have been dead already."

Staff at the community's daycare station reported the dog's condition to Manitoba Mutts, whose network of 250 volunteers finds homes for abandoned, surrendered and abused dogs throughout Manitoba.

"She'd hang around the day care and find whatever she could -- the crust of a sandwich," Holloway says. "She wasn't a danger to the kids. They contacted us saying, 'This dog is getting very very skinny.'

"The local police station was also apparently leaving some kibble out for her on a regular basis. What we have to remember is Violet didn't belong to anyone; she was born a stray."

It was clear the dog would have to be rescued immediately. "She had days before she'd die of starvation," Holloway says. "For her to get to that point, she had to be starving for about four to six weeks. That's pure starvation. No food."

With local residents doing their best to keep an eye on the dog, Violet was easy to track down and she had a positive association with humans, who gave the dog food and didn't hurt her.

One of the directors for Manitoba Mutts, the largest dog rescue outside the Winnipeg Humane Society, raced to the community "and Violet hopped right up into the vehicle."

In Winnipeg, the skin-and-bones dog was taken to a vet to be evaluated and put on a special diet to get her weight back up at a regulated pace, so as not to overwhelm her already-stressed system.

At that point, Violet weighed about 23 kilograms. She should have weighed 32.

"On a dog, that's a lot," Holloway said. "At that weight, her liver and heart were at risk of failure."

She stressed repeatedly it would be wrong to blame the First Nation for the dog's condition.

"The system is the problem, not the people," she said. "This was not an act of cruelty. It was a dog at risk because stray dogs come from overpopulation and overpopulation comes from dogs that are not spayed and neutered. To me, the community rescued her."

Holloway said her non-profit group can't just keep rescuing an endless supply of stray dogs forever. Launched in January 2011, Manitoba Mutts hit a milestone last summer, rescuing its 2,000th dog. "You can't keep bailing water out of a sinking ship," the spokeswoman says. "We have to get to the root of the issue."

Violet's near-starvation is a horrific example of a long-standing problem -- an exploding population of stray dogs on rural and northern communities where there is little access to veterinary services and spay-and-neuter programs.

"The answer is to provide a system that allows for affordable and convenient vet services for rural communities and, more importantly, northern communities," Holloway says. "The communities that have to have groceries flown in likely don't have an affordable vet clinic down the road."

In January, Manitoba Mutts will launch what it hopes will be the solution -- Get Fixed Manitoba, the province's first and largest mobile spay-and-neuter program, in which volunteer vets and technicians will provide free service to remote areas.

"They are going to fly or drive to the communities and set up a temporary vet clinic to spay and neuter as many dogs as they can during that visit and educate people on after-care of their dogs."

She said one vet, Dr. Mani Sra of Southglen Veterinary Hospital, has already stepped forward to volunteer his time and cash. The rescue's goal is to find a permanent corporate sponsor to keep the mobile task force on the road.

"We're looking for strategic, long-term funding partners," she said. "We want stability in the funding for this. Grassroots funding can be unpredictable."

As for Violet, Holloway said the future is looking brighter. "She's gained half the weight she needs to," she says. "If she gains too much too fast, her stomach could tear or her intestines could kink."

The hard-luck boxer cross is now one of about 50 dogs the rescue has up for adoption on its website and would make an excellent family pet, she said.

"She's very affectionate," Holloway says. "She's learning how to be a house dog, a family dog. She has a gentle spirit, considering what she's been through. Humans rescued her and humans are her heroes.

"She'll be very appreciative of whoever is lucky enough to have her. Rescue dogs know a good thing when they find it."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 26, 2013 C5

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