November 3, 2014
When Michael Met Farley
What were you doing up in Opitciwan?
HSI/Canada went to Opitciwan, a First Nations community in northern Quebec, to work alongside Chiots Nordiques—a group of veterinarians, vet techs, dog handlers and dog lovers who volunteer their time to travel to remote, often impoverished, northern communities which do not have access to veterinary care for their companion animals.
Without veterinary services, including spay and neuter programs, these places are faced with an overpopulation of dogs, many of whom are living in the street without access to reliable food sources. Unfortunately, this results in illness and injuries that often go untreated.
The community was so warm and receptive—people were lined up at the hockey arena, where our temporary clinic was based, to bring their dogs to us. It was the first vet visit of their life for many. Often, people ran out of their homes to flag us down in the street asking us to bring their dogs into the clinic. The local council works closely with Chiots Nordiques to help publicize the clinic and explain the importance of the program. This trip, we were even put up in the homes of some of the local residents.
What are the conditions like for dogs up there? What do you know of Farley’s life in particular before you met him?
For the most part, people truly love their dogs and treat them as well as they can afford to, but we are seeing issues of neglect and abandonment, which culminates in this overpopulation problem and diseases spreading. While many of the dogs are “owned,” they almost all live outdoors, in doghouses, under sheds or anywhere they can find shelter, and many more are without anywhere to call home. They are fed scraps and whatever pet food can be afforded, but most dogs are left wandering the streets, foraging for a meal or supplements. For the most part, the dogs make up an important part of the culture and their suffering is more often due to a lack of resources and excess wealth.
I do not know all that much about Farley’s life before we met, other than that he was abandoned, quite hungry, and living on the street at only about five months of age.
This was the team’s second visit to this area. Did you note any progress?
Diseases and parasites are not as rampant thanks to vaccinations and the street dog population is stabilizing. This is so important, as the village faces a harsh winter and there simply is not enough food to give to litters of puppies and adult strays. As there are no vets living on-site, annual trips to Opitciwan (and other locations like it) are sorely needed just to help provide regular vet services, but the goal of this program is to make the population manageable, so that the dogs that are living there are healthy and living comfortable lives within the bounds of the available resources.
What did you think when you first met Farley? You see so many animals in your line of work—why did he grab your attention?
He was the quietest puppy in the shelter and was sitting in his cage looking quite sad and with not much of that puppy energy, but of the hundreds of dogs we had seen up there, I was smitten from the get-go. He voraciously ate his evening meal and when I took him outside for his walk, he was so well-behaved and good around the other stray dogs that I immediately began inquiring about adopting him—it truly was love at first sight. As it turned out, he was abandoned and after spending three days in the shelter with him sitting in a cage, I could hardly wait to bring him home with me.
How did he react on arriving at his new home?
So, I kind of surprised my partner with him when I got back to Ottawa; she has wanted a dog for a long time and I knew she would be instantly enamored of Farley, but I met her after work in a park, and they fell into each other’s arms immediately. We have two cats, both of whom have been around plenty of dogs, but Farley has had some learning to do with how to behave around them.
On Farley’s first day in Ottawa, I took him to the pet store to outfit him with all the essentials: his first collar, a real leash, puppy food, and plenty of toys. Being a street dog, he's apparently never seen so much as a tennis ball, so it’s taken some coaxing to get him to learn how to play, but now he can fetch with the best of them. And he already knows how to sit, stay and come after only a few days with us! Though he responds best to treats, really. At our local dog park, we can barely walk five feet without getting stopped by strangers admiring him, and of course, I have to share his incredible story with each of them.
For the most part, he is adapting quite well to a more domesticated life, though we have to be very careful with him around our meals, as he still has his scavenger instinct.
Any cute anecdotes to share?
The other day, I had to chase him around the house when he absconded with a whole apple I had just polished and left on the counter. Try keeping a straight face with a puppy running around with a whole big red apple half shoved in his mouth! So now, I have to slice up an apple for him for his dessert. Become a Street Dog Defender.
Michael Bernard is HSI/Canada's Political Officer.