Support the North: An eye-witness experience – The trip
Guest blog by Cindy Cherry, Don Cherry’s Pet Rescue Foundation
It all started a couple of years ago when I met Nikki Burns, past president of the Northern Spay Neuter Program, at the Ontario SPCA and Humane Society’s Educational Conference in Niagara Falls. The Society was kicking off its Year of the Northern Dog program, which brings awareness, attention and action to the lack of animal wellness resources in the North and the issue of dog overpopulation.
She proceeded to try and educate a “city slicker” like myself to the plight of not only the dogs, but the challenges faced by the people in many Northern communities. Of course, I could not personally relate to these challenges.
Nikki, her close friend Judy Decicco (a long-serving Ontario SPCA board member) and Lori Clace (president of Northern Spay Neuter Program) convinced me the only way I was going to change my attitude and expand my horizons from my narrow way of thinking about this ongoing problem was to experience it. Okay, I told them, and I soon found myself heading to an Indigenous community northeast of Thunder Bay for a mobile spay/neuter clinic.
Thank goodness they all lived in Thunder Bay and could hand-hold me through the process. I loved telling my friends that this was what I would like to do with my spare time. No sandy beaches for me. No going to some far-off country. Nope, this is what I wanted to do. I was going to prove I could walk the walk and be a part of trying to make the world a bit easier for both people and their pets. As the time came nearer, I kept thinking, what have I gotten myself into?
I had no idea what to expect when I met everyone at Lori’s house. There were veterinarians, animal care technicians, and volunteers like me. Everyone was a busy beaver getting supplies ready. I felt like a fish out of water. Then we went to a huge storage unit to pile more supplies into a trailer. It was there that I realized that the hierarchy that I had expected did not exist. I thought there would be more of a “pecking order” of who did what. At this stage it was just muscle work, and you couldn’t tell who were veterinarians, technicians, or people like me. Another myth shattered.
We then drove to Nipigon and checked into the hotel, aptly called The Beaver. We set up all the supplies in a community hall. I still did not know where I would fit in. But my Dad always told me it’s an art to look busy doing nothing. So, I did my best. I was told I would assist with check-in.
This process was ground zero in getting the animals through with all the correct paperwork and to keep track of them. Each animal was to get a numbered kit. In this kit was a minimum of six different info sheets that had to be filled out individually. Then an I.D. chip was inserted, with its separate paperwork. Following that, a vaccination tag, an I.D. collar and a clip with that number to put on the animal’s cage. Then you had to weigh the animal, take its photo for identification purposes and record that information. After putting the animal in its kennel, you had to put all the info on the “board,” which holds all the vital stats of each pet. One slip up and the whole system is thrown off. Such pressure!
I really tried not to look like a rookie, but my fear of doing something wrong was a dead giveaway of my angst. The check-ins came in waves. So, when I had a breather, I’d learn to work the autoclave, or how to set up the vaccines, plus learn what to look for as the patients came out of their anesthesia.
My favourite thing to do was groom them when they were still under. It’s sort of cheating, but it does make life easier to do it that way. Cleaning ears, cutting nails – and my speciality – removing any matted hair. I find little lapdogs have it the hardest. It’s a challenge for owners to keep long-haired Shih Tzu-type dogs from matting up. Imagine the task if you don’t have the correct equipment to do it, or access to a professional groomer. I really got satisfaction in clipping around their face and clipping away all the matted hair around their feet.
The days were very long but they seemed to go by quickly. Our fearless leader, Lori, thought of everything. Since there was no restaurant or food delivery service in this remote community, she had to bring food. With vegetarian options, she brought two types of shepherd’s pie, lasagna, as well as sandwiches. A great leader, she had it all figured out. And, she had the patience of Job, as my mom used to say, referring to me and my dad.
Once all the dogs and cats were picked up by their owners, then the real work began; packing up. We started at about 8 a.m. and finished loading the trailer about 10 p.m. We were famished. Thank goodness we found a truck stop that closed at 11 p.m. where we could get supper. I felt so sorry for the waitress who had to serve this big, hungry group right before close. Needless to say, we tipped her well.
It was a real bonding experience with these ladies. We were all in it together. We had the same goals and no matter who you were, you got the job done. However, to see those veterinarians work under conditions that were unique to them and rise to the occasion was a marvel to see. It reminded me of the TV show M*A*S*H (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital).
On the way home we stopped at the Terry Fox memorial in Thunder Bay. I didn’t know this was the place where he was forced to stop his famous journey. It is in places such as this that I am glad I vacation and spend my spare time in Canada. This country has so much to offer in its beauty, culture and traditions. That is why I am so happy I chose to step out of my comfort zone – the secure box I have created for myself. It was a learning experience and a test to myself to expand my horizons.
So, I will continue to expand my horizons. Maybe that means my next trip will be into a more remote fly in community. Somehow all I can think of is, “What will I wear?”
Three cheers for the volunteers!
Three cheers for the volunteers! Keep doing wonderful work, thank you!