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Dumped puppies are not a rare occurrence

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When a litter of 10 puppies was found on the side of a Manitoba highway last week, presumably abandoned on purpose, local news stations were quick to pick up the heart-wrenching story. At least one network ran it as the top story during its evening newscast.

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Opinion

When a litter of 10 puppies was found on the side of a Manitoba highway last week, presumably abandoned on purpose, local news stations were quick to pick up the heart-wrenching story. At least one network ran it as the top story during its evening newscast.

Though it was noted in the broadcast that, according to animal advocates, dog dumping occurs in Manitoba on a weekly basis, this particular story was deemed top-newsworthy. Likely it’s because those 10 puppies appear to be purebred golden retrievers.

I couldn’t help but wonder, after watching the news, then seeing the subsequent outpouring of shock and adoption offers from people online, what local animal rescuers must have thought seeing the headlines. They deal with similar circumstances day in and day out, without much media fanfare.

“We see dogs all the time that are discarded,” says Lindsay Gillanders, a spokesperson with Manitoba Underdogs Rescue, a group that works mainly with rural and First Nations communities. “There are so many dogs needing homes right now.”

For Gillanders and the many other companion-animal rescuers in Manitoba, dealing with pet dumping and relinquishing, and with the overall crisis of dog and cat overpopulations in the province, is an everyday battle. And the problem, Gillanders explains, is multi-layered.

A top concern is lack of accessibility, for people living outside of Winnipeg, to spay and neuter services and other vet care. “There are so many people in rural communities who do not get their dogs spayed or neutered because accessing that care is a huge expense,” Gillanders explains, pointing not only to the cost of the surgery, but also lengthy commutes to clinics as well as overnight accommodations.

Accessing safe options for relinquishing animals is an additional problem for those in rural areas. “We are getting tons and tons of calls from people who want to relinquish pets,” she says, because other groups and local shelters are full. “We see dogs thrown away by their owners, abandoned because they don’t have options.”

In a recent statement, Winnipeg Humane Society CEO Jessica Miller confirmed that “with full shelters and rescues across the province, we are seeing an increase in discarded animals.”

Unregulated breeding and the sale of puppies online is further feeding into the dog overpopulation and dumping crisis. “Backyard breeding needs to stop,” Gillanders asserts. “No one should be able to breed single-breed dogs and then sell them like commodities on Kijiji.”

Additionally, the pervasive cultural attitude that purebred dogs are somehow of more value than, say, the typical “Manitoba special:”— a.k.a. shepherd and husky mixes — only exacerbates this problem.

Finally, there is simply not enough support for such groups as Manitoba Underdogs that work without any government funding to set up mobile spay and neuter clinics in rural communities, rescue strays, educate the public, and find homes for countless animals.

“We have such a lack of resources we just can’t help those most in need,” Gillanders says. “The number of things dog rescues in this province accomplish with no funding is insane. Imagine what we could do with a little bit more help.”

Ultimately, 10 golden retrievers dumped on the side of a highway in January are symbolic of a massive problem regarding companion animals in Manitoba. Perhaps they were bred to be Christmas presents, and were then costing their breeder more money than they were worth. Perhaps they were an accident, and with rescue groups and shelters already bursting at the seams, the owner felt there were no other options.

Either way, let us take this rare opportunity, as dumped dogs make headline news, to reconsider how we deal with companion animals in this province. As Miller states, “Keeping animals safe is and should be a community effort.”

Let us consider that in communities such as ours, where pet populations are so out of control that shelters are full and dogs are being abandoned in the cold, the social norm should be that we all look to rescues and shelters first — if not only — when seeking new animal companions.

And that we shift our thinking, to consider animals, of any breed, not as for-profit commodities and not as garbage to be thrown away on the highway, but as sentient beings in need of our collective protection.

Scott-Reid is a Winnipeg-based writer and animal advocate.

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