When I look back at the animal stories I've written in the past year, it's the people who jump off the page.

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This article was published 29/12/2015 (2376 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Opinion

When I look back at the animal stories I've written in the past year, it's the people who jump off the page.

I'm talking about people who, with no thought of personal reward, dedicate themselves to improving, and often saving, the lives of animals in desperate need.

I'm talking about people such as Katie Powell, a plucky 27-year-old paramedic with the Interlake-Eastern Regional Health Authority.

In her work life, Powell's Whitemouth-based day job involves rescuing the victims of everything from camping and car accidents to mishaps involving snowmobiles and ATVs.

In her time off, this human firecracker is dedicated to helping abused, abandoned and neglected dogs through her Winnipeg-based non-profit, the Save a Dog Network.

(Find out more at facebook.com/SaveADogNetworkCanada.)

Powell's charity provides food and supplies to dog rescues working in isolated communities throughout Manitoba, but she isn't afraid to get her hands dirty.

I first met her in 2013, when the feisty paramedic rescued, then adopted Dooley, a young Rottweiler cross that had been badly injured while running wild with a pack of strays near a Kenora-area First Nation.

Katie Powell of the Save a Dog Network.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Katie Powell of the Save a Dog Network.

Along with giving Dooley a home, Powell fought hard to raise the cash needed to amputate the playful mutt's badly mangled hind leg.

In 2014, her network collected and distributed 170 bags of dog food, 46 bags of cat food and 120 cases of bottled water to southwestern communities hit hard by flooding.

This past summer, Katie and a volunteer colleague were in Virden picking up a dog with a severe case of mange when they received an emergency call about a young dog lying under a picnic table for days and inundated with blood-sucking ticks.

Despite racing to his rescue, the year-old German shepherd Katie came to nickname Gunnar didn't survive. The ticks were the final straw for a dog already in poor health.

"We were devastated," she told me at the time. "We thought we'd caught him in time and that he'd pull through. At least he didn't die out there all alone under a table, covered in ticks."

Determined to spare other dogs the same fate, she teamed up with Virden's Strays That Can't Pay rescue to launch the Gunnar Project, a campaign to raise awareness and buy tick collars and other treatments for strays and pets of low-income families in at-risk areas.

Like Powell, there's a lot of things 16-year-old Josh Muyal could be doing with his spare time -- video games and homework leap to mind -- instead of raising money to improve the lives of dogs in distress.

In March, I sat down with Josh, then in Grade 11 at the Gray Academy of Jewish Education, at a local Starbucks to help him promote his advocacy group, Dogs Who Need a Home. (Find out more at dogswhoneedahome.com or facebook.com/dogswhoneedahome.)

What began as a Facebook page has morphed into something far more ambitious -- a charity with the goal of holding monthly events, mainly raffles, to raise cash for the ever-growing legion of animal-rescue organizations in Manitoba.

Josh Muyal and his two dogs, Cooper (left) and Casey.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Josh Muyal and his two dogs, Cooper (left) and Casey.

"The reason I do it is because I've seen my share of abuse toward animals," the compassionate teen told me at the time. "I've been exposed to animal abuse through fostering. We've had starved, underweight dogs whose entire life was lived on a chain, and their collars were on so tight they started to grow into the neck area."

Like Katie and Josh, Dr. Jonas Watson is one of those rare people whose commitment to caring warms the hearts of animal lovers.

An associate vet at the Tuxedo Animal Hospital on Corydon Avenue, Jonas invited me to spend the day with him at a doggie blood-donor clinic conducted by the Canadian Animal Blood Bank.

Even a seasoned columnist like me became a tad misty-eyed watching half a dozen hounds, led in by their owners, donate to the Manitoba-born, not-for-profit group that provides blood products to vets throughout Canada for dogs needing transfusions for any reason imaginable.

"Each donation (of a full unit of blood, about 500 millilitres) has the potential to save the life of three dogs -- between the plasma, the red cells and all the other components," Jonas, a director of the blood bank, told me as a tail-wagging sheepadoodle named MacGregor was lifted off the surgical table.

The blood bank was formed in 1996 when city vet Dr. Kenneth Mould convinced the Manitoba Veterinary Medical Association and Red River College of the desperate need in Canada. It has a network of donors, but at least 85 per cent of the blood collected comes from dogs in Winnipeg and the surrounding area.

Which somehow brings us to this Christmas, a season when the blood bank -- which can't keep donations on the shelves at the best of times -- struggles even more than usual.

"The holidays have historically been a challenge for us at the Canadian Animal Blood Bank," the veterinarian told me earlier this month. "Pet owners' busy schedules make them less available to bring their dogs in to donate.

"Yet the need for blood products by veterinarians is always there, so most years it's hard to keep blood products on the shelves throughout December and January. At this time of year, we're very eager to recruit new dogs to our pool of active donors."

(You can get more information, or register your dog, by calling 204-632-2586, or visiting canadiananimalbloodbank.ca.)

These are just a few of the heroic humans who inspired me in the past 12 months. Which is why I'd like to give them the one thing they never asked for -- a heartfelt thank you!

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca