It's a dog's life, they say. In the case of dogs in such remote communities of northern Ontario as Attawapiskat, Moose Factory, and Moosonee, that life is all too often short and brutal. Their predicament came to the attention of Sharron Purdy nine years ago, and the Muskoka, Ont. area resident responded with real passion and energy. She and her husband Paul founded Moosonee Puppy Rescue in 2003, and their tireless work has resulted in the rescue and re-housing of over 900 threatened pups and dogs from the north.
Purdy recently told Samaritanmag of the event that triggered it all. After she and her husband retired and built a house in the Muskoka bush, she volunteered to walk dogs for the local SPCA. "When I had to cram a dog into a crate that was too small for it overnight, I just refused to do it," she recounts. "That was the first time I ever fostered a dog. I took it home with me, as I just knew I couldn't leave him there.
"Toby turned out to be one of the most remarkable dogs we ever met. He had a lovely disposition; he was hopeful, joyful and gleeful. He blended with my dogs beautifully, and became devoted and loyal right away. We'd have kept him, but he was already spoken for."
When Purdy was told by the shelter that the dog was one of many brought down south by a woman from Moosonee, her curiosity was piqued. She phoned the young woman, Heidi Pratt, and immediately arranged to go up and meet her. That happened in May 2003, and involved a six-hour drive to Cochrane and a five-hour train trip on the Polar Bear Express. Once there, Purdy and her husband were shocked to see the treatment of dogs there.
"When I heard that dogs are rounded up and trapped, put in crates, taken to the dump and shot, that just blew me away," she recalls. "I try hard not to pass judgment, but there truly is no longer any need for the northern dogs to be trapped and shot. The dogs are not appreciated up north, so they can be abused and neglected and abandoned on a regular basis."
The absence of veterinary services in these isolated communities means the dogs aren't spayed and neutered. "The dogs are not usually taken into the house, so they are free to roam and breed," says Purdy. "If they're chained up outside, they're just gang-raped. One way or another they're breeding. There are a lot of problems in the world, but this was one I could do something about."
Sharron and Paul came home with two pups -- and their lives changed.
Firming Purdy's resolve to do everything she could for these dogs was their temperament. "Unless you've had one or met them you can't truly appreciate their spirit. They're much calmer than the dogs we tend to have here in the south," she believes. "We've never had a nasty or vicious dog. We've never had to destroy a dog."
The dogs come from a wide range of breeds and mixes. "There is husky in most of the dogs we get, but we also rescue retrievers, collies, shepherds, shih tzus, Jack Russells, and more. I'm expecting four labradors from Moose Factory soon," reports Purdy. "We do take dogs from down here too. We don't discriminate, but our focus is on dogs from northern Ontario."
Moosonee Puppy Rescue place its dogs for adoption through Petfinder.com. The final step of the adoption process is a home visit in which MPR bring as many pups as possible for selection and socialization purposes. Their adoption fees are $250 for a puppy and $350 for a spayed or neutered adult.
Purdy, who has been self-employed most of her career, says she was always involved in some kind of community work. "I lived in Orillia after moving from Toronto. In a small town, it becomes very easy to contribute and become involved. I have always done that, but it didn't involve dogs," she says.
She acknowledges being quite unprepared and a little naive when she started Moosonee Puppy Rescue. "I'm a business trainer. As someone who helps other people write business plans, I certainly didn't have one. I thought I'd just get to play with puppies all the time, but we soon learned the hard way about parasites and amputations and serious illnesses, and all kinds of bad things that come with rescue work at times. But the good certainly outweighs the bad."
The charity is run by the Purdys and about 25 volunteers, many of whom bring the dogs down from the north by plane or train to be collected by Paul in Timmins or Cochrane. "It's far better if the dogs come from someone within the community," she says. "It doesn't seem as obtrusive and we try to be very respectful that way."
The Purdys provide veterinary care for the rescued dogs as well as sending medications and vaccines to the rescue workers on the front lines. The dogs are looked after in Muskoka before being handed over to suitable homes throughout the province.
"We have a little one-room cabin with a wood stove in it that we use when we have a lot of dogs," says Sharron. "There's a doggie door out to a fenced-in area, so no dog is in a cage or run. We can have 17 puppies running in the bush. When I call them, they come running. When you have to give them up, we need to know the dog will be comfortable in that home, so we won't place a dog without doing a home visit."
A current focus for Moosonee Puppy Rescue is the raising of funds for a spay and neuter clinic in Attawapiskat, a very expensive but much-needed proposition. "We have to step it up a notch. To prevent some of this, not just deal with it," says Purdy.
Moosonee Puppy Rescue has gradually been gaining more support and attention. That will be illustrated on June 7 at a fundraising event, For Dog's Sake, to be held at Gibson Guitar Canada in Toronto 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tickets are $35 (available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org) Purdy calls it her charity's biggest such event to date. Performing there will be Low Level Flight (led by inaugural Canadian Idol winner Ryan Malcolm) and Two Cents Short, while a silent auction will feature items donated by the likes of Barenaked Ladies, Nickelback, and Terri Clark. "We have companies like The Keg, Bacardi, Steam Whistle, and Palais Royale all donating their services," says Purdy. "People are responding so quickly. I am grateful every single day."
Finding adopted homes for the rescued pups is becoming easier, thanks to word of mouth about their good nature. "I think we have 40 dogs in the Roncesvalles area of Toronto alone. I'm in touch with the majority of those adopting our dogs and they're our testament to what the dog is," says Purdy.
One such happy owner is Toronto music publicist Yvonne Valnea, proud mom to Twigs, a lab and shepherd mix now eight months old. "My Moosonee pup is the easiest dog I've ever had," she tells Samaritanmag. "So sweet, relaxed, devoted and loving."Air Jordan 1 Retro High OG 'Chicago' White and Black-Varsity Red For Sale