At the end of May, I spent a day out at Siksika Nation helping with the Deslorelin project.
Deslorelin is a hormone implant that is injected into a female dog (like a vaccination) and can prevent pregnancy for up to 18 months. It is still being tested and monitored, but these are our findings so far.
Marley (above) was implanted a while ago and still no puppies.
Generally speaking, dogs that are born strays or that live in/around First Nations Communities or other rural areas have very short lives. This also applies to the 'street dogs' of places like (but not limited to) Mexico and Nicaragua. They live approximately 2-3 years. They die from disease, predators, getting hit by vehicles and by human hand. The first year of a dogs life is incredibly hard. If they are lucky to make it out of puppy-hood they face another few years of scavenging for food, territorial disputes with other dogs, preventable sickness and hiding from predators. The females have litter after litter because they are never spayed. It's a never ending cycle.
Frequently, a few local organizations have spay and neuter clinics every spring and summer (it's too hard and too cold to operate these during the winter months).* These clinics are enormous to take on. You have to get a vet who is willing to shut down their practice and/or donate their weekend, you have to find volunteers with appropriate skill sets and vehicles that can carry a couple of large dog crates, you have to advertise in the community, arrange a drop off and pick up location, transport scared animals to a vet, perform invasive surgery and hope that the owner will care for the animal when you bring him home. And that's just the short list. A spay surgery cost anywhere from $200 - $700 dollars and these surgeries a hefty cost for any non-profit to put forward.
Enter Deslorelin. One injection costs approximately $50 and lasts almost as long at the expected life span of one of these dogs. It also only takes 3-4 people (including one qualified vet). The dogs are all photographed and recorded, then monitored for pregnancy and are re-injected at or around the 18 month mark. The project all started with 15 females. There is an older post about it and a link to the original newspaper article. The initial project was so successful, that we've done another 50 females since then. We are noticing a drop in the amount of puppies we're rescuing and residents of the First Nations communities we're working with are becoming more open to the idea each time we visit.
My day started at the community centre out in Gleichen, Alberta. ARF's dog program coordinator had put up posters earlier that week telling residents that we'd be there doing free implanting on female dogs. Siksika is 160,000 acres of land, so we were hoping that the posters and word of mouth would help out and cut down on travel time/distance. It did not. The first little while was quite slow, I think we did one dog right away because we saw her walking with her owner down the street near the community center. Then, we waited and talked to a few people and decided to just drive around. We had a resident of Siksika working with us that day and she offered to stay at the community centre and call us if anyone showed up, which was a godsend. We decided to just stay around Gleichen because if we got too far away, it would take us too long to get back. Almost every house we drove past had a dog or dogs hanging out in front. Quite often there was also a litter of puppies not to far away as well. Dogs were missing sections fur (mange?), they were under weight, incredibly suspicious of humans, some were quite territorial with other dogs and some were visibly injured.
These dogs were hanging out around a burger shack, waiting for scraps. They did not want to approach us though.
Some dogs were just roaming and most were suspicious. The one below wouldn't come any where near us, I zoomed in as much as my camera would allow. It circled the area until we were far enough away. Then it came in for food we left on the ground for some of the other dogs.
The light coloured dog in the background was injected and we left food behind for them.
Wakkie (?) was injected and we took her pup into our care. She was adopted very quickly!
We stopped at every house that had a dog out front to see if we could implant their females. Often, there was no answer at the door. Those we did talk to were incredibly grateful for the service and we're hoping that these folks will talk and get more people to change their minds. That would be wonderful!
We got 3 or 4 out of this litter.
Whenever we stopped at a house with a mom and pups, if we were allowed to inject the female, we always asked about the puppies. Do they have homes? Do you want to keep them? etc. More often than not we were able to take the females.
We also got this one that is looking up.
We explained to the owners that we'd take them into Calgary, clean them up, alter and vaccinate them and find them great homes. That day, we got 10 puppies on top of the 30 we already had in the system. With the lack of foster homes, this is a tough decision to make, knowing they could have a much better fate. So, we take the dogs and deal with the foster home shortage later. Luckily, we have a few holding areas that are willing to take under age puppies, usually multiple litters and nurse them until they are old enough to be spayed/neutered and put up for adoption. That's when we need the foster homes!
*More recently, a MASH type spay/neuter clinic has been held on site at the Blood Reserve in a community centre. A place where the animals can be housed, altered and vaccinated without having to be transported by strangers [us], left alone and then transported again after invasive surgery. This is still an enormous undertaking, but way less stressful to the animal. You can read more here.