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Controversy dogs animal control in remote regions

D. Lily Su holds Blue who was shot in the mouth in northern Saskatchewan. The dog was turned into the SPCA and brought to the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon on February 10, 2011. Dr. Su said the dog will likely recover and have a good quality of life despite having only half a jaw.

David Stobbe for the Globe and Mail/david stobbe The Globe and Mail

His name is Blue and, after escaping his executioner, he has gone from being just another mutt in the crosshairs to a symbol of a discomfiting reality of rural Canada - the unregulated cull.

The year-old husky-collie cross was among about 200 feral dogs that Saskatchewan's remote Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation placed a bounty on this month, hiring a local man to kill them. The band saw the dogs as a health and safety risk - a young girl was mauled by a wild dog on the reserve last year.

But Blue evaded his fate: Earlier this week, instead of killing Blue, the local gunman sent pellets tearing through his lower jaw. The dog darted away and, for an estimated two days, coped with his injury before being found.

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Now he was no longer a target, but a victim: Blue was driven more than 500 kilometres south to a veterinary clinic in Saskatoon, where he underwent surgery Friday. SPCA and hospital officials in Saskatoon say they've never had a patient like Blue, but don't doubt there have been many more like him who have gone untreated.

In the aftermath of last month's revelation of a sled dog cull in Whistler, B.C., Blue's case highlights a macabre truth: Dog culls are common in Canada, done out of necessity with little or no regulation and at the whim of the executioner.

"To not be able to track it and finish the job is unacceptable, really," said Tiffiny Koback, director of the Saskatoon SPCA, which took in Blue before he was transferred to the nearby veterinary hospital. "What we really want to avoid are situations like this."

Chief Darrell McCallum, who leads the Cree nation, said the band has no other choice. "We don't know any other way to do it - but to shoot them - with the limited resources we have," he said.

The RCMP say they too are asked to kill dangerous wild dogs. "It's not uncommon up here at all. We don't have the amenities up here like a vet or an SPCA service," said Constable Angus Kelly of the RCMP detachment in Pelican Narrows, where Blue was found.

Ms. Koback sympathizes with the situation, and wonders why more can't be done. "We get that this happens," she said. "What we don't necessarily get is why there aren't more resources put into proper animal management in these communities."

Blue has been forfeited by his owners, who kept little watch over him. Jacques Messier, director of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital treating Blue, said doctors have elected not to reconstruct his lower jaw - dogs can function without a full one. Once Blue recovers, he'll be put up for adoption.

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"Overall it should be a good ending for this poor dog," Dr. Messier said.

Blue's case is among several across the country.

In early December, teacher Nadia Persaud was visiting friends in another Saskatchewan community, Buffalo Narrows, when she let her three dogs out into a yard in the morning.

They escaped, and only hours later had been rounded up and killed by the local dogcatcher - despite wearing tags with Ms. Persaud's cellphone number on them. She found them in a local dump.

Ms. Persaud has since launched a series of complaints against the unregulated nature of the deaths, questioning why the dogs weren't held for three days, as the province's Animal Protection Act requires.

"It seems they're doing dog culls on any dog. It doesn't matter if they're owned dogs. It's ridiculous," she said.

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A month later in New Brunswick's Tobique First Nation, where more than 200 wild dogs roam among the reserve's 1,500 residents, Caroline Ennis's pet dog was attacked and killed by two wild ones.

She has called for more dogcatchers. The band has one, but with mixed results - Assistant Chief Brenda Perley's own pet dog was rounded up and hasn't been seen since.

"Even though we thought we brought in someone we thought could help us with the situation, I think we opened up another problem," Ms. Perley said.

Ms. Ennis calls the dilemma - feral dogs posing a risk, but few humane ways to kill them - a national problem with no easy fix.

"If you're in a community with very little money, very little resources, hardly any infrastructure, you can see that probably controlling dogs is a very low priority," she said. "But it's still not right."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Josh is a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa. Before moving to the nation's capital in 2013, he covered provincial affairs in Edmonton and throughout Alberta. He joined the Globe in 2008 in Toronto before returning to his home province in 2010. More

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