PRINCE ALBERT, Canada — A call for help from the Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan has saved the lives of more than 150 dogs and cats.
The Prince Albert-area reserve approached the Canine Action Project to avoid a cull in the community.
At the end of October, volunteers with CAP and the First Nation undertook the massive effort of canvassing homes to discover how many pets and strays needed to be re-homed.
Over the course of four days, 144 dogs and 19 cats were taken from the reserve to different animal rescues throughout Western Canada, with more scheduled to be taken on Wednesday.
CAP's founder Kelly Phips emphasized they are not a rescue group, but says the situation in Sturgeon Lake was viewed as an emergency by members and the community itself.
For years, Sturgeon Lake has struggled with its stray population, with dogs often forming into packs.
Over the last two years there have been about 15 dog bites and almost half have been to children, says community health nursing student Bailey Nikolaisen.
When she first started working in the Sturgeon Lake, Nikolaisen was alarmed to see the dog packs — some who have even bred with wild coyotes — and the health issues they cause in humans, including rabies.
She has also had to treat children for worms, which she says is likely contracted when children played in areas where an infected dog had defecated.
As an animal lover, Nikolaisen started taking in dogs and connecting with animal rescues to find them homes, but before long realized she couldn't help the many strays in Sturgeon Lake by herself.
Recently Jeff McLeod, animal control officer in Sturgeon Lake, alerted Nikolaisen that for a number of years, Sturgeon Lake has had a cull in the fall to deal with its out-of-hand population.
"They were starting to be in heat now, the dogs, and they were having puppies. And it's going to be cold soon and the puppies are going to freeze, and the dogs are just going to get pregnant again,'' says Nikolaisen, saying she became determined to put a stop to the cycle.
McLeod says the effect of the mission has been immediate.
"It was the first time in a long time, this past Halloween, that a lot of kids were able to go from house to house without being chased by dogs or their parents weren't carrying sticks or like, logs to protect their kids or protect themselves,'' he says.
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