#ProjectPuppies: Cannonball Run

"Let's make a pact," I told Alexis, somewhere early in our 3700km rescue dog cannonball run to northern Saskatchewan and back. "No matter how cranky we get with each other, whatever we say when we're sleep deprived doesn't count."

It was mostly me I was worried about. After an exhilarating and adrenaline-filled day on the Little Red River reserve just north of Prince Albert, SK, we'd packed my truck full of seven dogs and a cat and set the GPS to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal just south of Vancouver...some 1800kms distant.

Our plan was to do the drive to the ferry in one fell swoop, stopping only for gas, food, and bathroom breaks for us and the animals. It was 3pm and we'd been awake already since 5:30 that morning.

I was worried we wouldn't complete the drive in time to catch a ferry across to Victoria, where we were due to deliver our cargo to the Raincoast Dog Rescue Society team. And I was worried that the sleep deprivation would make me cranky and that I would take out that crankiness on my copilot.

Riding in kennels crammed into the bed of my Tacoma and the backseat behind us were seven animals. They were:

Caramel

Shadow

Matilda

Kodi

(Our name for him; he was nameless when we got him)

Toby

(Our name for him)

Sugar

(Since renamed Kermode)

Jesse the cat

Meanwhile, riding on Alexis's lap was for the majority of the voyage was a precocious and very personable little puppy we quickly named Bentley, and who bonded with Alexis immediately and demanded cuddles from her for the duration of the drive.

Our time with the dogs on the reserve was pretty hectic, so we didn't know much about our critters and their personalities when we loaded them into the truck.

We quickly learned that Shadow and Matilda (who'd been placed in the backseat of the truck) were pretty vocal complainers, while Jesse (whose crate we'd installed on top of Matilda's) didn't seem to mind this new adventure one bit.

By about 6:30 in the evening we'd reached North Battleford, SK, where we stopped for fuel and to feed and pee the dogs.

This first stop was a humbling experience; we had to fit harnesses on the dogs, and find leashes, and coax them out of their crates, and in the process we discovered that both Caramel and Toby had been messily sick in their crates.

Toby, too, was suffering from a badly-set broken leg that hadn't healed properly, and some issues with his left eye. But Kodi was happy as a clam, and though Shadow was scared at first, he perked up immediately when we brought out Sugar to play with him.

Alexis heroically took on the task of cleaning out the crates while I tried to convince our skittish charges to do their business on a nearby patch of weeds.

Meanwhile, the cashier from the gas station very kindly donated twenty dollars of her own money toward cat food for Jesse, and a young girl and her mother fawned over baby Bentley and the rest of the dogs.

The whole stop was a confused and messy interlude that took longer than either of us had planned, but we worked pretty well as a team and we figured the next stops would be smoother.

We drove west into a lovely prairie sunset and reached Edmonton just after dark, and with fuel in the tank and much ground to cover we pushed on to Edson, Alberta, which we reached just after midnight.

In Edson we fuelled up and let the dogs out again, and Caramel seemed to be feeling better though Toby was still sick to his stomach...and howling plaintively whenever anyone wasn't paying attention to him.

We got the animals taken care of as quickly as possible and packed them away again lest someone in the small town phone in a noise complaint.

At Edson we fuelled ourselves up, too, at the McDonald's drive through, and then Alexis took a nap while I pointed us toward Jasper and the Rockies.

To this point I'd done all of the driving on our journey, but I knew I'd run out of steam at some point. I'd brought Red Bulls and energy shots but since I don't drink caffeine I found that a steady supply of Coca-Cola was enough to keep me going across the Alberta/BC border and through the wee hours of the night.

Finally, as daylight began to show over the mountains in Blue River, BC, I pulled over for gas again and let Alexis take the wheel. It was 4:30am local time, 5:30 in Saskatchewan; I'd been awake for 24 eventful hours and I needed a rest.

I slept fitfully, the fatigue of the journey nearly overwhelming me, but Alexis took over the graveyard shift and piloted us like a champ through Kamloops and over the Coquihalla Highway into the Fraser Valley.

We stopped for gas once more in Hope, BC, at nine in the morning and just a couple of hours from the ferry. We'd hoped to make the 3pm ferry, so we were making incredibly good time.

In fact, we made it to Tsawwassen with ample time before the 1pm ferry, so we parked in the lineup and set out to feed and care for our charges one more time before relinquishing them to Raincoast and their foster families.

Our ragtag menagerie attracted quite a crowd in the ferry lineup, including one gentleman who very kindly donated a leash to our efforts.

We caught the 1pm boat. I'd hoped to sleep on the ninety minute crossing to Vancouver Island, but Matilda had other ideas.

Due to the coronavirus situation, passengers were encouraged to stay in their cars instead of going up to the lounges, which gave Matilda a captive audience when she decided to start howling.

I discovered that one way to calm her was to take her out of her crate and cradle her like a baby, so that's how I spent much of the voyage.

At quarter to three or so we disembarked on Vancouver Island and drove to a meeting place near the ferry terminal, where we met up with Jesse and Jodie from Raincoast, as well as a foster family who'd agreed to take on three of the dogs.

There, we introduced our cargo to the people behind their rescue, and as the adrenaline of the drive began to wear off the reality of what these dogs had been through began to take hold.

Caramel, in particular, was covered in ticks and signs of abuse. Despite all of this, she'd been a very lovely and gentle girl on our journey and seemed to bear no ill will toward anyone.

On the contrary, she was trusting and friendly, wagging her tail and mooching treats even as Jesse pulled just tons of gross, blood-engorged ticks from her body.

We delivered five dogs and one cat to Raincoast and foster families on Vancouver Island. Baby Bentley and sweet Matilda would make the return voyage to Vancouver in the truck...Matilda bound for a foster on the mainland, and Bentley for Alexis's apartment.

She'd fallen in love with him and was determined to continue that bond. But Bentley's journey, really, was just beginning, and the hardest part was yet to come.

It was nine in the evening when our boat docked again on the mainland. And it was closer to 11 by the time we'd dropped Matilda with her foster and made it to my apartment, where Alexis and Bentley said their goodbyes and headed home.

We'd covered 2300 miles in four days and helped rescue eight wonderful animals from lives of uncertainty and neglect to futures filled with love.

Our dogs all still have a long ways to go before they realize their potential, and some, like Toby and Bentley, are dealing with health issues that need to be resolved, but we're confident they'll all find their forever homes someday soon, and we're damn grateful to have been part of their journeys.

And on the plus side, we didn't even get cranky with each other!

Stay tuned for updates on all of our dogs.

Our trip was paid for Raincoast Dog Rescue Society through donations and adoption fees. If you'd like to contribute, or apply to adopt one of these lovely pups, visit their website here.