Thursday, November 25, 2010

When it's 30 below zero.

Warning: there is a graphic image in this post, viewer discretion is advised.

Tuesday, November 23rd marked the coldest day of the year (so far) in Calgary. Official reports are mixed, but it was at least -30. It was also rumored that we were, at one point, the 2nd coldest spot on the planet. Inside the city limits, the temperature is always warmer. There are buildings and vehicles that emit exhaust and block wind keeping the city temperature a tad higher. Outside the city limits though, that is a different story. If you've ever been outside of our city you will know that we live in the prairies. There are vast expanses of land and the eye can see for miles. No buildings, few trees and the wind here can slice through you like a hot knife through butter. The -30 temperatures out in rural areas can be more unbearable and people can die of exposure within minutes. Inside the city, Calgarians were staying indoors as much as possible and definitely bundling up when they went outside. I'm sure most of us were quite careful with our dogs, taking them out only if needed. I know my two were less than impressed and could only handle about 10 minutes of outdoor play before their feet got too cold and full of icy snowballs (which are quite painful).

So, what happens to stray dogs when it's this cold? Well, simply put, they die. Our city is bordered on the east and west by two massive First Nations Communities, where ARF gets most of their dogs, puppies, kittens and cats from. We do travel further in all directions if need be, but this is where the majority of our animals come from. Typically speaking, most dogs are not spayed/neutered and left to run at will. The majority of them are strays and have to forage for food and seek their own shelter. The stray dogs breed at will and usually have litters of pups under someones steps or in a shed, anywhere they can find some sort of shelter. The mothers are usually too malnourished to properly feed their young, giving the pups a lower chance of survival.

Last week, ARF's Dog Program Coordinator, Julie Felber, went out to find puppies. It was already starting to get cold on top of all the snow we were getting, and she knew that if there were any new litters they weren't going last much longer. She did come across one litter of 3-4 week old puppies. They were cold and scared, and she did catch 4 of them, but the other 3 got away from her and hid somewhere.

On Tuesday when temperatures plummeted and Calgarians were warm and snug, Julie and another Volunteer headed out into the freezing weather to see if they could find more puppies. They happened upon another litter of 3-4 week old puppies living underneath a cement slab staircase. They grabbed the 3 smallest and weakest puppies because they were easy to catch. Unfortunately, the 5 remaining pups were hiding in a tiny hole too far back for any arms to reach. They tried digging them out and bribing them with canned dog food, but their efforts were in vain as the ground was frozen solid and covered in ice. They soon realized the 3 pups they already rescued needed to be seen by a veterinarian immediately in order to survive, so they left the rest of the litter and rushed the little ones to a nearby animal hospital. On their way to the hospital they spotted two adult dogs running along the side of the highway. When they pulled over to leave food for them, they realized that these two were also strays and extremely malnourished. They likely wouldn't make it through the winter. Fortunately, one of them was smart enough to know a good thing when he saw it and he hopped right into the van! The other dog soon followed suit. Once they dropped everyone off at the vet they had to try again for the remaining pups.

These are the two dogs that were running along the highway, now safe and sound.

On their way back to check on the pups under the stairs, Julie and her trusty sidekick decided to stop by the place where the 3 remaining pups from last week were hiding, hoping to find them and rescue them too. Unfortunately, 2 of them did not make it and were laying nearby, frozen. The one surviving pup was in bad shape, so they got him into the van and tried warming him up as quickly as possible. The volunteer took him home with her that evening, waking up every 3 hours to feed him canned mush and to brainstorm ideas on how they could get the other 5 puppies that were living under the stairs. All she could think about were her own dogs who didn't even want to go outdoors to pee, never mind the 4 week old puppies out in the cold, all alone.

 These are the two that didn't make it.

The only plan they could come up with was to try and fish the puppies out of their hole with butterfly nets. So, they went and purchased some nets on Wednesday and off they went. When they arrived at the location, the puppies were outside but once they saw the van, they started to run back towards their hole. The volunteer couldn't bear the thought of having to leave these guys again, so she jumped out of the van, while it was still in motion (please don't try this at home) and rushed to the stairs. She was able to push them out of the way and grab the smallest ones, blocking the hole with her body. One puppy managed to escape, but he was quickly found hiding under a nearby tarp. All five of the puppies were immediately brought to the same hospital as their siblings and are being fed goat's milk until they can get on solid food.

The puppies that were rescued in this two day span were very lucky. They will receive medical attention, be spayed/neutered as soon as they are old enough and will be placed in loving forever homes.

The seasons in Alberta can be incredibly unforgiving to animals out in the elements, especially if they are left to fend for themselves. In the summer, our temperatures can soar into the +40's and in the winters they can plummet as low as -40 (not including the wind chill). Julie is faced with rescue challenges like this on a regular basis and she is frequently looking death straight in the eyes. We are currently at capacity and have been for months now. Yet, when she sees a dog who is going to die, she's not thinking about what foster home can take it, she's think about a life she can save. This is true dedication and compassion and I know it is not a job most of us would ever be able to do.

 This fellow was the remaining dog from the first litter partially rescued last week.
He's now snug as a bug in a rug!

The winter months are quite possibly harder for the stray animals out there and we can only save as many as we have room for, but you can help more dogs and cats have the same happy ending. Consider fostering a dog or cat to help our at-capacity foster system to take more animals in from the cold. To find out more about fostering, click here. If you are not able to help out by fostering, you can still help ARF dogs and cats by donating or volunteering.

Alternatively, we are raising funds to purchase/build our very own facility for emergency situations like this. Learn more about how you can have an impact on the lives of many animals through our "Pad for Paws" campaign.

Please, stay warm and give your pets a nice pat on the head for me!


  1. this is so sad :( that picture of the puppies that didn't make it most definitely made me cry. some day when I don't live in an apartment, fostering is number 1 on my list of things to do. I think what you guys are doing is so great, and so important. I can't wait to be a part of it, in whatever way I can.

  2. You know, fostering isn't the only option! We are always looking for volunteers who can dedicate some time to our organization. We have many initiatives on the go right now, one of which being the "Pad for Paws" campaign, to raise money for a permanent shelter. If you are interested in helping in other ways, we would love it! Visit either website and fill out a volunteer application if you'd like. or

  3. I just read this story and saw picture of Hannah and Faelen who I'm lucky enough to foster (among the rest of poor little pups I also got last week). They both love people and Hannah's tail never stops wagging. Even when she's eating or drinking. Her wag involves her whole body she's so sweet. They're both thin and need a little work on manners in the house but I'm just glad we can help even a few of these poor pups and dogs but it's so hard to see the pictures of the ones we can't save. Any of the fosters I've had are always so grateful for the "better life" and become accustomed to it so fast. I only wish it is possible to help them all. There's nothing more wonderful than taking a malnourished scared dog or pup in, seeing them transform into happy go lucky loving pets who want nothing more than to love someone and have someone love them. When I see them "adopt" their family and head off with their tails wagging and confident as can be I know there's no better feeling!