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The International Fund for Animal Welfare’s (IFAW) “Northern Dogs Project” is a campaign designed as part of the organization’s companion animal projects in Canada. For the past 12 years, IFAW members have worked to help Northern Canadian communities manage their dog populations in a sustainable and humane way. The issue of dog homelessness is a very serious matter when dealing with the frigid temperatures of Northern Canada.

By working with local communities, IFAW helps to educate the population on the problems they have with homeless dogs and works with them step by step to help develop solutions that work best for them. The Northern Dogs Project provides annual veterinary clinics to the communities they work with, outreach efforts, assistance altering bylaws to include measures for dog population management, and rehoming programs for homeless dogs.

Working With Local Communities

While there are certain breeds of dog that have evolved to handle the climate of Northern Canada, many breeds that are not as genetically fit for survival have been introduced to the region. When guardians neglect their pets, or abandon them, this is essentially a death sentence as they are not adapted to living in snow and freezing temperatures. By educating local populations about better solutions to their pet problems, such as spaying and neutering, and establishing pet rehoming programs, the Northern Dogs Project is working to greatly reduce the number of homeless dogs in this harsh region of Canada.

Janice Hannah, manager of the Northern Dogs Project, tells OGP, “Each community is different but over the past 12 years of working together, we have seen patterns.  Of course, larger communities tend to have more dogs, smaller ones have fewer but most are pretty consistent in numbers year to year. ”

The Northern Dogs Project, Helping to Manage Canada's Dog Populations One Paw at a TimeIFAW

The impact of the annual clinics run by the Northern Dog Project is quite incredible. In this year alone, 137 dogs were spayed/neutered, over 300 were vaccinated. This all occurred over the span of five days taking place in three communities across the region. These numbers alone illustrate how vital this project is to provide the necessary care for the massive dog populations, as well as to instate preventative measure to ensure populations don’t spiral out of control.

The Northern Dogs Project, Helping to Manage Canada's Dog Populations One Paw at a TimeIFAW

Hannah tells OGP, that this year as part of their efforts, the Northern Dogs Project, “ran public service announcements that were developed by First Nations for First Nations, and visited the elementary schools in each community.  This year we brought down around 250 dogs for rehoming.”

Working to develop solutions to dog homelessness that are tailored to individual needs of a community, the project has helped to effectively save hundreds of dogs from life in the cold in the form of new forever homes. Since this project has been carried on for the past 12 years, Northern Dogs Project staff have developed strong connections and affection for the communities they work with.

Happy Endings

Hannah recounts the story of “Pancake,” a dog who came into one of the clinics nine years ago to be neutered, “He’s become a bit of a legend for the team and whenever we see him while doing data collection or he visits the clinic, out comes the phone to take a picture to text to any teammate who is not on the trip.  Everyone on the team knows Pancake!”

While some of the cases workers see in these clinics are more standard than others, they have seen their fair share of extremely desperate cases.

“There are so many stories at the clinics.  Dogs arriving on ATVs, cats in pillow cases or bird cages, litters of day old puppies, interesting and difficult surgeries, wagons being used to carry post surgery dogs home,” says Hannah.

One remarkable example of the work members of the Northern Dogs Project have encountered came in the form of a litter of puppies the team helped to deliver on their most recent trip up North.

Hannah retells the story to OGP, “There was a dog who was brought in at the end of the last day of the clinic last year who was having trouble birthing her puppies.”

If not given immediate care, this situation could prove disastrous for the unborn litter and mother. Hannah continues, “In the back, the vets carried out an emergency c-section and as each pup was pulled out, s/he was handed to a tech or volunteer to rub, swing, rub, swing in order to start them breathing again.”

The Northern Dogs Project, Helping to Manage Canada's Dog Populations One Paw at a TimeIFAW

The sight of the community of project workers pulling together to save these pups is quite incredible.

“When you walked into the surgery, it was just a bunch of women with wee pups in their arms trying to get them to breathe,” says Hannah,  “What was amazing, other than the superb work of the vets, was the time it takes to make a pup breathe.  First one peeped, then the next one peeped and so on until all but the first one were alive and breathing.  That was an exciting end to the clinics for sure!”

The Northern Dogs Project, Helping to Manage Canada's Dog Populations One Paw at a TimeIFAW

Influencing a Lasting Change

In her 10 years working with the Northern Dogs Project, Hannah tells OGP that the most important thing she has learned from her experience is, “that everything is about relationships – being open, compassionate and honestly curious.  We are successful, or not, based on how much we recognize, and learn from, our own biases and limitations, and our ability to enjoy not just the dogs but the people we work with.”

Not every community in Northern Canada views dog guardianship the same way that we might traditionally think of this relationship. Hannah explains that many dogs are “free-roaming” but that does not mean that they don’t have a guardian, it means they are “not contained.” Much like an outdoor cat, dogs are allowed to roam and explore with other dogs, but they still know where their home is and can be seen following their guardians.

Hannah explains, “I have learned that we don’t all have the same values but we all have something to learn from one another.  I have also learned how much I love these dogs because they have been able to be dogs in the best sense of the word.  They are uber amazing!”

Hannah says this system,”translates into excellent dog skills and people skills.” But the downside of this freedom is population control and disease. By making sure that all dogs are spayed/neutered and vaccinated, this open system of dog guardianship can continue in a more sustainable manner.

According to Hannah, “Dog issues are part and parcel of other community stresses and challenges.” By continuing the Northern Dog Project, “we hope to build an integrated approach to an integrated issue.”

To learn more about IFAW’s Northern Dog Project, check out their website here. For information on donation options, click here

Image source: IFAW

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