A microchip containing a contraceptive could be implanted in female dogs to curtail overpopulation in northern communities.
It would mean an end to shootings and surgery.
It's working in Alberta and Labrador so Winnipeg rescue worker Debra Vandekerkhove and the Norway House Animal Rescue are going to take the implant program to Norway House, about 800 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
The program involves imbedding a contraceptive microchip beneath the skin of a female dog. When it runs out after 18 to 24 months, dogs that have survived the challenges of their outdoor life can be spayed or implanted with another chip.
"It's a first step," said Vandekerkhove, whose program will target 150 dogs in March.
"The implant might be a solution for them at this time and then we can follow through with a spay and neuter clinic and get a partnership going. People in Norway House seem to be on board with that."
The program targets dogs that roam free or are loosely owned, which means they are sometimes being fed by people nearby or live on someone's property.
Many northern communities have hundreds of stray dogs that can form packs and attack people. They often don't have access to veterinary care so dog shoots are sometimes held to reduce the population.
"People I've talked to there care about what happens to a lot of these dogs, even if it's just a dog living near their yard, they don't want them to be shot," Vandekerkhove said.
She said the implant procedure can be done for about $80 per dog as opposed to the $300 fee for surgery.
The Norway House plan is based on the program developed by Dr. Judith Samson-French of Bragg Creek, Alta. Samson-French's program, called Dogs With No Names, is endorsed by the international research body the Alliance for Contraception of Cats and Dogs (ACCD). All dogs are monitored and she has five years of data from projects in Alberta and Labrador.
"This is the best solution that we have at this moment to prevent the birth of so many unwanted dogs," said Samson-French.
"We calculated that putting 100 implants, with an average of eight puppies per female breeding at 10-month intervals over a 40-month period, that's 100,000 dogs not born."
She said the most efficient use of resources is to imbed the chip rather than spay during the first visit to a community because there is at least an annual 20 per cent loss of dogs to the elements, illness or injury.
She said the implant contains the drug Suprelorin, which is used commercially in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, often in show dogs.
In North America, it is used in zoos but is relatively new for managing the dog population.
Her data show a five per cent chance the implant can put the dog into heat, so dogs are carefully selected -- young or lactating females are the best candidates -- and are implanted only in spring, in case they do have a litter.
"We want the community to be engaged in the program. They need to put a dog registry in place like they did in the community in Labrador. They were fantastic and we want to work with those people who want to make a change," Samson-French said.
"It's not just the implants, it's a comprehensive program. We're asking them to put in a dog ban, not allow any more imported dogs or they have to be spayed before they are brought in."
The Norway House dogs will also get identification microchips.
Vandekerkhove and her volunteers will be back three months later to track the dogs electronically and record health information and other data.
"We're hoping that with success here, we can make a working copy of something that I can share with other groups and get them onto the same thing," she said.
If you want to help, go to the Norway House Animal Rescue Facebook page or email firstname.lastname@example.org. She wants to raise $10,000 for the program at a waffle breakfast Sunday at 9 a.m. at the Caboto Club.