06/07/2013 02:44 EDT | Updated 08/07/2013 05:12 EDT

Birth control implants will curb dog populations in Labrador Innu communities

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Contraceptive implants will prevent the births of thousands of puppies in Labrador's remote Innu communities, says a veterinarian who volunteered this week in Sheshatshiu.

Judith Samson-French, a Bragg Creek, Alta.-based vet with the group Dogs With No Names, said more than 60 female dogs had received an implant by Friday. The hormonal devices are about the size of a grain of rice and are slipped under the skin between the dog's shoulder blades.

Samson-French said the implants will prevent litters of puppies for about 18 months.

The female dogs, and at least 100 males, were also microchipped for identification, vaccinated for rabies and dewormed, she said.

Samson-French said the work was important from two points of view.

"From the welfare point of view for the dogs, and also for the people," she said in an interview. "It is a safety and health issue to have dogs roaming around so that's why we're doing it."

There is no permanent access to spay or neuter services in Sheshatshiu, about a 30-minute drive from Happy Valley-Goose Bay, or in Natuashish — a far more remote community on Labrador's northern coast.

Jack Penashue, social health director for Sheshatshiu, said most of about 1,300 residents love and care for their pets.

"But there are dogs that are straying because of a lack of responsibility by owners, or even just dogs that are born with no owner and are strays because of that."

Penashue said there have been instances where outsiders not linked to official rescue or veterinary efforts have driven into the community and taken dogs that are wrongly assumed to be homeless.

"A friend of mine actually had his dog stolen, that he cared for and loved, from his driveway."

A four-member provincial veterinary team based in St. John's will head to Natuashish on Sunday for a week.

Packs of stray dogs there are a more serious public safety concern. Fears escalated in March when a young girl was bitten in the face by a loose dog.

But fire officials in the former Davis Inlet community raised a public outcry when they announced plans to start shooting stray dogs.

Chief Simeon Tshakapesh responded by saying he would instead work with SPCA volunteers to find homes for many of the animals. There were also plans to use humane traps to catch and, if necessary, euthanize the wildest and most dangerous dogs.

Chief Veterinary Officer Hugh Whitney said the province expects to spend about $30,000 for airfare, supplies and other costs for its efforts in the two communities.

Officials have for years dealt with the fallout from a lack of veterinary services in the most isolated parts of Labrador, he said.

The Chinook Project through the Atlantic Veterinary College has offered spay-neuter clinics in various communities in recent years. But it takes a lot more time and equipment to perform those surgeries, Whitney explained in an interview.

Using contraceptive implants to at least get some control of dog populations as a first step is a welcome approach, he said.

In the meantime, another planeload of Natuashish pups will arrive Saturday in Halifax courtesy of FedEx Express Canada volunteers. The company said it's absorbing costs of the one-time charter in response to a request from Tshakapesh.

About 70 dogs and puppies are expected to land at Halifax Stanfield International Airport at 11:30 a.m. local time. They will be delivered to Litters 'n Critters, a rescue group in Halifax, before being offered for adoption.