SAGKEENG FIRST NATION -- Cathie Mieyette was on her death bed when she was inspired to tackle the stray-dog problem on Manitoba First Nations communities. She was in hospital receiving aggressive chemotherapy and a stem-cell transplant in her third bout with cancer.
You might expect her to be depressed and thinking only of herself. Instead, she was thinking about the many dogs at Winnipeg rescue shelters that have to be euthanized because they don't have homes.
"I thought if I live, I want to do something for dogs in the rescue world. I saw where a lot of them are coming from. They're coming in from reserves. So I picked Sagkeeng as a reserve to work with," she said.
On Monday, Mieyette, two years removed from her cancer treatment and feeling "amazing," opened the first mobile spay-and-neuter clinic ever tried in Manitoba, on Sagkeeng First Nation, about 110 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.
The first customer? A male German shepherd cross that wandered in "without an appointment" just before the doors opened at 8 a.m. "It was funny. He was like, 'Am I first?' "
The Spay and Neuter Initiative Program (SNIP) uses a mobile unit housed in a large trailer at the Sagkeeng bingo hall. It is operating from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today, as well.
The mobile unit belongs to veterinarian Dr. Keri Hudson Reykdal, who is performing the surgeries. She is based in Ashern, where she's more accustomed to delivering doggies -- i.e., calves.
As of Monday morning, Sagkeeng residents had already scheduled 23 dogs for surgery.
The first time Mieyette drove into Sagkeeng, she counted 35 dogs running loose on the road and in ditches. She would transport Sagkeeng dogs to Winnipeg for surgeries -- 75 were treated -- before she learned of mobile unit veterinary clinics.
Mieyette has held bake sales, silent auctions, and a Snipping It In the Bud, Spud, and Steak Night to raise funds. People bringing in their dogs to be spayed or neutered are only asked to make a donation. The program is run independently of the Winnipeg Humane Society.
"We needed the help. It was good they came in," said Sagkeeng Chief Donovan Fontaine. "We've always had issues with the dog population and stray dogs."
The band is trying to control the dog population before a child is mauled, like what has happened on some reserves, Fontaine said. Band constables have had to shoot dogs in the past.
The council hopes to have every dog spayed or neutered. It is also running a public awareness campaign about controlling the dog population, said Fontaine. He added some of community members have been taking it upon themselves in recent years to pick up stray dogs and take them into Winnipeg, either to get spayed or neutered or to put them up for adoption.
Mieyette said she hopes enforcement takes root at Sagkeeng and other reserves. "We want a control reserve with a bylaw enforcement so there are not a million dogs being born on the reserve," Mieyette said.
As for strays, Mieyette said SNIP will first try to find an owner. If not, it will snip-snip with efforts made to find the dog a home. Local residents have also been on the watch for stray dogs as candidates for surgery.
Mieyette said she is not aboriginal, although she is distantly Métis, and has no family connection to Sagkeeng.
Cats can also have the surgery but owners have to pay.
-- with file from Geoff Kirbyson