WEATHER ALERT

For the love of dogs: helping to care for pets in fire zone

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When 2,000 residents of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation were forced out of Pukatawagan because of a wildfire in July, they had to leave their beloved pets behind.

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Opinion

When 2,000 residents of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation were forced out of Pukatawagan because of a wildfire in July, they had to leave their beloved pets behind.

“Sometimes people are evacuated for two weeks to past a month, and they’re not allowed to bring their animals and it hurts them and it’s upsetting,” said Jennifer Medlicott, a volunteer with Manitoba Animal Alliance.

Eight people stayed behind. One resident, Desmond, has worked tirelessly to care for his animals, including the ones left behind in locked homes. His efforts have undoubtedly saved lives, but the situation is far bigger than what he can do on his own.

SUPPLIED Manitoba Animal Alliance pulled 31 vulnerable dogs out of the community of Mathias Colomb Cree Nation in Pukatawagan, and have fed and cared for hundreds more in the community.

“We thought: what can we pull together to help? It’s chaotic, but somehow we all manage to work jobs and still put in a ton of hours into helping these dogs,” said Medlicott.

The dog population crisis is high in Pukatawagan. The community has never had a spay-and-neuter clinic. The alliance is committed to doing that in partnership with the First Nation once residents return home. For now, they are feeding animals, and pulling out sick and vulnerable dogs from the community.

“Every time we enter a community it’s with permission from the council, or the chief or the band,” she said.

The alliance wants to build trust with local leadership to “provide affordable, accessible vet care… I think the need is there and I think people want it, they just have to know we’re there for them and not just the animals.”

For years the rescue has gone to First Nations to give strays sterilization implants, a small chip inserted with a needle. The implant prevents pregnancy for up to two years. This buys the rescue time so they can partner with a vet to set up mobile spay-and-neuter clinics.

Medlicott and another volunteer went to the community last week to care for animals left behind, thanks to Custom Helicopters, which supplied free transportation. They took 4,000 pounds of food (2,000 lbs on the helicopter and 2,000 lbs on the train). The first batch of food ran out quickly, and the second shipment is nearly gone.

Initially the priority was to care for pets locked in homes, since they had no way to access food or water. However, once Medlicott and her partner saw the stray dogs in need of food, they knew they had to help them. too.

“You can’t turn a blind eye to the strays,” she said.

Medlicott estimates about 90 per cent of the dogs she encountered were suffering from mange, and many of them were malnourished. They had to round up puppies and small dogs, because they can’t fight off larger dogs during feedings.

Thanks to the generosity of donors, the rescue was able to purchase and send a third shipment (roughly 2,000 pounds of food) to Puk. Given the number of animals they have to feed, it won’t be enough. Pet owners did the best they could in impossible circumstances, leaving piles of food on the floor in their homes for their animals.

“We did, with owners’ permission, break into houses to take care of animals locked inside—birds, guinea pigs and turtles,” Medlicott said, adding they’re working with displaced residents through a Facebook group. “We couldn’t get to them all. It was just one day for just two people and the help of the people on the ground.”

They were able to get into seven of the 14 houses on their list.

SUPPLIED

Volunteers help round up sick and vulnerable dogs from the community of Mathias Colomb Cree Nation to reunite with their owners, or put them into foster care until they can be adopted.

“They have no power, they have no running water, they have no cell service, so it was a very challenging trip. We have to truck in water just so the dogs can have clean drinking water,” she explained.

“The entire northern store, all the food was going to rot, so they gave the food to all the people to help feed the animals and the people who stayed behind. It’s just kind of desperate and I wonder, do people really know about this?”

With the help of community members, the skeleton crew of volunteer firefighters and RCMP officers, Medlicott and her partner pulled 31 vulnerable animals out of the community. Of those, 11 have been reunited with their families. They pulled another 20 animals with the help of volunteers and put them on a train to Winnipeg. Some of the dogs will be reunited with their families, and others (strays) will be fostered until they can be adopted.

Medlicott says the rescue is in desperate need of donations. Cash is best, as it’s easy to buy dog food in the Pas and then transport it rather than shipping it from Winnipeg. She says the rescue has maxed out its foster network and needs people to foster rescues on a short-term basis.

“One of the reasons that I love this group is because it’s not just about the animals, it’s about the people and the community,” said Medlicott.

To donate or learn about becoming a foster, go to www.manitobaanimalalliance.com

Shelley.cook@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter @ShelleyAcook

Shelley Cook

Shelley Cook
Columnist, Manager of Reader Bridge project

Shelley is a born and raised Winnipegger. She is a proud member of the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation.

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