Those eyes again! The same as last week. Piercing through the brush, watching.
We have all seen them around – the wandering, homeless dogs in First Nations communities.
In the past, the Crees, like many other Indigenous people, shared a deep and respectful relationship with their animals. “Treat your dog well, feed it first, and in return you will eat well.” So the saying went.
The arrival of the snowmobile forever changed this longstanding bond between animals and humans. With alternative methods of transport, the four-legged partners are now often neglected and abandoned. Many have become nuisances, and are sometimes dangerous.
These stray dogs, left to their own devices, bond and form packs. Fertile females deliver litter after unwanted litter. The lack of accessible veterinary services creates an overpopulation problem, which is a real and raw problem in First Nations territories.
Communities wishing to solve these issues had few options in the past. But today they can call Chiots Nordiques for help.
In the spring of 2012, Natashquan, an Innu community on Quebec’s Lower North Shore, looked for a sustainable solution to the local dog problem. Chiots Nordiques, a non-profit organization, was created to respond to the crucial issues of public health and safety posed by dog overpopulation. Their mission is to provide effective, professional support to communities with clinics that sterilize, vaccinate and deworm animals. Setting up four-to-six clinics per year in Quebec First Nations communities, the 20-person team of Chiots Nordiques – the veterinarians, technicians and helpers in clinics and on the land – are all volunteers who have a profound desire to help dogs and communities.
Dr. Daphnée Veilleux-Lemieux is the president of Chiots Nordiques. “Each community is very different, have different needs, different numbers in dog population or territory size,” she said. “Even for a community with a hard problem of dog overpopulation, we cannot do more than a three-day clinic per visit: 50 to 60 surgeries per day on three operating tables with four vets is a huge task.”
The key is the capture of stray dogs conducted by the team, which also ensures they do not have owners. “Some communities have a good grip on their dog population after a few clinics,” Veilleux-Lemieux explained. “Now they only need maintenance clinics. They no longer have loads of puppies, dogs suffering from hunger, and constant dog fights.”
How does the process work? First, the request most often comes from a local band council, board of health or public security department. Before the arrival of the team, the band council has the obligation to inform its community about the upcoming clinics, the capture aspect of the operation, and that targeted sterilization clinics will be required.
One Cree community that is familiar with Chiots Nordiques is Chisasibi. At Chisasibi Animal Rescue, Catherine Rhéaume-Provost and her team are animal-welfare pioneers in Eeyou Istchee. They lobbied the band council to pass bylaws requiring all dogs be registered and to get an annual veterinary exam. Fines up to $200 can be levied against people who leave their dogs tied up outside all the time or don’t feed them properly.
“If someone abandons their dog, they will be fined $150 to prevent that person from just going to get another one,” said Rhéaume-Provost. “The fees cover the cost to ship the dog down south to the SPCA by plane. When an intervention is made, it’s a true community effort as we are supported by the police and by public security departments who give the fines out and make sure all goes smoothly. Sometimes hitting people in their pocket is the only way they will learn.”
The Chisasibi Animal Rescue’s mandate is to also educate people about animal welfare, said Rhéaume-Provost.
“It’s all about a shift in the perception of what is a dog. Folks will leave their working dog breed like the Labrador, Husky, Shepherd outside even at -40º and they will have their smaller breed live inside. It’s to teach them that even the large dog can live inside. That a large dog can get cold and suffer.”
The Animal Rescue operates a shelter for stray or abandoned dogs and offers a $15/day boarding service if someone must leave town for a few days and doesn’t want to leave their dog alone.
“Since Chisasibi had its first clinic in 2016 and a second one in 2018, the difference in dog overpopulation is tremendous,” Rhéaume-Provost noted. “Chiots Nordiques are welcomed, trusted and appreciated by the residents since the clinics make a huge impact.”
Services are very affordable – $60 gives you a complete package of sterilization, anti-parasites and deworming, vaccines and examination. If an owner’s dog is already sterilized and vaccinated, then a complete exam is only $20.
If a community makes the request, Chiots Nordiques sends pallets of dry dog food – donated by the Mondou pet-store chain – to help feed stray dogs. The community pays only for transport. Feeding these dogs is an intervention that is proactive in the interests of public security as a hungry dog is more dangerous.
A large hurdle is certainly the distance of travel – there is a huge cost for lodging and for transportation of gear, food and personnel who set up surgery clinics in remote communities. These clinics can only happen with cost-sharing collaboration between communities and Chiots Nordiques, which has no government subsidies. Fortunately, Humane Society International sponsors the clinics. If HSI didn’t exist, there would be very few clinics up north. To donate money or material goods, please visit their website.
The next clinics will be conducted in Mistissini in May, and in Chisasibi in June.