In the trenches – Lakes Animal Friendship Society, Burns Lake

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September
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In our efforts to raise awareness of the animal welfare issues facing companion animals in BC, we have invited our rescue partners to share stories of the work they are doing to provide a first hand account of the issues, challenges and successes they have experienced.

We are pleased to share our first post by Alistair Schroff and Valerie Ingram from Lakes Animal Friendship Society in Burns Lake. The work done by LAFS and their community partners can be utilized as a best practice model for other remote and northern communities struggling to respond to the dog and cat over population crisis.

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Unwanted puppies thrown into the river to drown, packs of hungry dogs stealing sandwiches from children at the school playground, abandoned cats with frostbitten ears and tails huddled under a rusting car. Scenes like these are repeated in many communities across the rural north, and drove volunteers to form the Lakes Animal Friendship Society to improve the welfare of animals in and around the Village of Burns Lake.

Dogs in Need

One of our earliest efforts remains one of our most successful: education. Both with local students, and the community at large. Valerie Ingram delivered lessons about animal care, compassion and bite safety to local schools. Keeping children safe and improving awareness of the needs of animals and increasing the level of care were the focus. The education was reciprocal. The students and their stories helped us to understand the state of animal welfare in our community. There were many happy stories, but there were also disturbing ones of animals being abused, neglected or killed, and of the attitude held by many that animals were disposable.

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We then began working with local volunteer, Hayley Neilsen. Hayley would help shuttle unwanted animals to new homes or animal shelters and delivering dog and cat food to animals in need. Our work with Hayley focused on building and distributing insulated all weather dog houses to animals in need. Dog House 9
While we were happy to be improving the lives of these dogs and cats, we realized that the sheer overpopulation was causing so much suffering and we weren’t doing enough to address the causes. Too many animals were being born, and there weren’t enough good homes in our small population base. We needed to figure out how to stop the flood of animals, and to find a ticket out for animals in the meantime.

Turtle Gardens, our closest dog shelter was doing their best to help our area but were inundated with dogs from all over northwest BC. Other rescue groups faced similar challenges. The closest BC SPCA shelter, in Prince George 227 km east of Burns Lake was most often full or committed to needs in the Prince George area. We heard of the BC SPCA program “Drive for Lives” and had several discussions and meetings with the BC SPCA to see if the program could be expanded to our area, at least on a trial basis. While we were initially encouraged, we were ultimately disappointed as it became clear that the BC SPCA would not be working with us to address the logistical issues involved and move forward.

We realized we were on our own to deal with this massive dog over population crisis. This overwhelming burden motivated us to reach out to the Canadian Animal Assistance Team (CAAT). CAAT sends teams of volunteer veterinarians, technicians, and assistants to remote areas (including First Nations reserves). They carry out on-site spay / neuter, health checks, vaccinations and deworming as well as community education.

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We are so grateful to Dr. Lois Martin of the Burns Lake Veterinary Clinic and her veterinary colleagues, including the College of Veterinarians of BC for being receptive to CAAT’s work in northwest BC. Despite having access to excellent veterinary care in Burns Lake, a variety of barriers – including education, cost, and transportation – a large proportion of local animals were not getting proper veterinary care including spaying and neutering. At the time we applied to CAAT in 2010, Dr. Martin of the Burns Lake Veterinary Clinic indicated that in some communities perhaps 1 to 2% of companion animals were their clients. This included two communities within 2 km of the veterinary clinic!

CAAT’s first visit to our community In May 2011 resulted in the spay and neuter of over 200 cats and dogs in eight clinic days on or near First Nations reserves. Setting up large scale clinics on reserve helped remove some barriers – including cost (by donation), transportation (volunteers were available with crates and vehicles and most people could walk in with their animals, and education (pre-event information was distributed intensively and lots of one-on-one education opportunities for the whole family occur at the clinics). The team has returned several times since (each year in spring). There were 20 surgeon days in 2011, 18 surgeon days in 2012, 8 in 2013 and 6 in 2014. Finally, in 2014 we got to the last day without having to turn anyone away.

The large-scale spay neuter effort in the Burns Lake area got another huge boost in 2013, thanks to a progressive partnership with the BC SPCA. A substantial grant from PetSmart Charities of Canada ® allowed the BC SPCA to create a program to tackle community cat problems in BC communities. The model for this program included the above funding, provincial administration and tracking by the BC SPCA, the participation of the Burns Lake Veterinary Clinic to carry out spay / neuter surgeries at a reduced rate, and Lakes Animal Friendship Society volunteers for the colony monitoring, outreach, trapping and returning of cats to the colonies. The Mother Millie Fund / Simonds Sanctuary (operated by the Burns Lake Veterinary Clinic) looked after rehoming of adoptable cats and kittens. As of this fall this program will have helped over 400 cats as part of this program and stopped the out-of-control population explosion and suffering in colonies where the problems had seemed insurmountable.

Making a real and lasting difference takes commitment, and also a willingness to work together on the various issues. Once you decide on the destination, you have to go around, under or over the barriers or blow them up.
We look forward to working with Paws for Hope and its partners, and groups like the BC SPCA to build “communities of care” across BC, including the rural northwest. With cooperation and commitment like we secured for the Burns Lake area, within a few years we could have a lot to celebrate – together.

Alistair Schroff and Valerie Ingram, Lakes Animal Friendship Society
valerie@lakesanimalfriendship.ca (250) 694-3696

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