(Danielle Brown, AVC 2016, travelled to Natuashish, Labrador in June 2015)
The 2015 Chinook Project is well underway, and, with a couple days worth of flight cancellations and delays, we have been able to get an excellent glimpse into the lives of dogs in Natuashish. Upon arrival, we were constantly greeted by dogs where ever we went and every where we looked, a dog could be spotted. An animal lover's dream come true.
Prior to the trip, my expectations for the dogs in Natuashish were that they would be the definition of a stray, straight from the Sarah McLachlan SPCA commercial that makes me cry every time it comes on. However, that couldn't be further from the truth.
There was a lot to take in on our fist day. Even as a Labradorian myself, I haven't visited a community with roaming dogs. I expected my heart to be aching for them all. Of course for some of them it has, but not nearly to the extent I was anticipating as a large number of the dogs in this community are happy and healthy.
The majority of dogs in Natuashish are extremely friendly and some with only a touch of nervousness around people. Most were easily won over with a couple pieces of kibble and some cuddles, which quickly resulted in companionship. The dynamics of the dog population in Natuashish are very intricate. Some dogs roam alone or with a closely bonded friend while others roam in packs with upwards of ten dogs. Some packs show fluidity, while others stay strictly the same. For example, close to the place we are staying, there is a large pack of dogs taken care of and fed (very well!) by a neighbor. They are incredibly territorial and any dogs that wander onto the property are quickly enlightened to the fact that they are not welcome. Other dogs seem to have a particular attachment not to a specific area, but to one another.
On our second clinic day and every day thereafter, a closely knit pair visited us at the fire hall, our temporary veterinary clinic. One had the perfectly suited name of "Blue Eyes", having the most striking blue eyes I had ever seen in my life, and a large tumor on her shoulder. The other, a larger male, we fitted with the name "Buddy". On the third clinic day, we took Blue Eyes to surgery to remove her tumor and kept her in a kennel overnight to ensure optimal recovery. When we arrived the next morning, Buddy was patiently waiting outside for his best friend, having spent the night at the firehall door. Upon reuniting, Buddy was gentle around Blue Eyes, as if he knew she was sore.
I quickly fell in love with Buddy and Blue Eyes, looking forward to their daily greeting of wagging tails and playful barks. I fed them some kibble and any of my leftovers every day. As I sat snuggling with them outside, I couldn't help but wonder what had brought the two of them together and how they formed such a tight bond. It was clear that these two had decided they were a perfect fit, and that they would never go another day without the other by their side. It was a beautiful connection that I am grateful to have witnessed. (editors note: these 2 dogs have been together since 2010 when Chinook first visited Natuashish)
As the days passed, I became increasingly aware of the fact that these dogs did not need to be "rescued" or taken away from the community to be re-homed. They were content with their lives and appeared healthy, and had relationships with the people around them. Of course there were individuals I wanted to take home with me and it was a struggle to say goodbye, but the positive aspects of their quality of life in Natuashish - independence, mental stimulation and lots of social interaction - made it easier to let them go. Population control and regular veterinary care - services the Chinook Project aims to provide - would only strengthen their quality of life. I am eternally grateful to have had the opportunity to provide these services to the deserving animals of rural communities in Labrador and now that I have had a sliver of this experience, I can already see my further involvement in such endeavors throughout the remainder of my veterinary career.