Of all the things I imagined doing when I bought my truck, cradling a mama dog on the tailgate by the side of the highway while she nursed her pups was not among them.
And yet, there I was, holding beautiful Emma while her ten newborn puppies clambered over each other to feed, somewhere in the middle of our 1800km drive from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan to Sidney, British Columbia.
And while my rescue partner, Alexis, cleaned poop from the fur of our four older husky puppies, and the remainder of our eighteen dog cargo waited patiently for their turn at a little fresh air.
It was cold; we were exhausted; there was dog poop everywhere. But I dare say neither I nor Alexis would have traded it for anything.
The mission: pick up somewhere between 15-25 dogs, including newborn puppies, and, like last time, drive hellbent from Saskatchewan to the ferry terminal south of Vancouver, a distance of just over a thousand miles, stopping only to feed and care for our animals.
The timeframe: immediately. Like, we got our orders on Saturday night for a noon Wednesday pickup in Saskatchewan. And in between we had to somehow coordinate delivery of all the kennels, puppy food, harnesses, pee pads, towels, blankets, paper towels, masks, gloves, etc to Vancouver from Raincoast's headquarters on Vancouver Island.
After scrambling to clear our schedules and take delivery of all of the gear, Lexi and I set out a little after midnight on Tuesday, September 15th.
Unlike our last trip, where we'd had time for a leisurely, two-day drive to Saskatchewan complete with hotel stopover near Banff, we would need to drive straight through to SK on this go-around, which meant napping when we could, splitting the driving, and staying highly caffeinated.
Our first night on the road was mostly uneventful, save for a few stops for fuel and to use the bathroom. By mid-morning on Tuesday we were in Jasper, Alberta, stretching our legs and enjoying the clean, fresh air--a welcome change from the wildfire smoke that was then choking the skies in British Columbia.
Alexis took over the driving and I curled up in my sleeping bag and napped in the backseat, waking up in the early afternoon just in time for a fuel stop outside Edmonton, and shortly thereafter a detour into Edmonton itself to see our friend Mike and his incredibly handsome pup, Kaos.
Our morale boosted by Kaos's slobbery kisses, we set out again for the roughly six-hour drive to Prince Albert, racing the clock as our hotel was set to lock up for the night at eleven pm--a little less than six hours away.
We drove out of a magnificent prairie sunset, eating fajita wraps that Lexi had packed and prepared for us, and though it rained fairly heavily as night set in around North Battleford, the sky was clear again when we pulled into the parking lot of the (clean, economical and pet-friendly!) Coronet Hotel in Prince Albert, just a few minutes after eleven.
Fortunately, the staff was still there to let us in. We checked into a surprisingly large suite and I passed out almost immediately, exhausted from the long drive and fully aware that tomorrow we would repeat the process, only with the truck crammed full of dogs.
I woke up to my alarm at 10am the next morning and I could have slept for hours longer, but there was no time to dawdle; we were set to meet our frontline rescue liaison--the wonderful Gayle Yungwirth of North of 54 Dog Rescue--in a couple of hours, and we still had to unpack and set up the kennels and figure out how we were going to fit so many dogs into my decidedly medium-sized truck.
Fortunately, it was a beautiful day, and we set up shop in a nearby park and got to work on the kennels, attracting our fair share of attention from passersby before Gayle showed up with a van full of dogs.
Also meeting Gayle were a number of other folks with cats to deliver; it transpired that Gayle would be trading dogs for cats and continuing on to Alberta with seven or eight feline companions while we headed back to Vancouver.
The cats were cute, but our focus was strictly canine, and we had a lovable cargo of hounds. This included the aforementioned Emma and her litter of ten pups:
As well as four Husky pups who we quickly named the Rat Pack (Sinatra, Davis, Dino and Crosby):
A boisterous young fella named Tug:
An absolute poster child of a pup named Daisy, who charmed us all with her energy and sass:
And an older husky mix named Buddy, who in my unbiased opinion was the sweetest of the lot:
It seems like there is always one dog you bond with more than the rest on these trips, and Buddy was my guy for this one. Just a super chill, affectionate, very lovely pup. I hope he finds a wonderful forever home.
At 3pm or so we had the dogs packed into the truck and it was time to set back out westward toward tidewater. This return leg, though, was complicated by the fact that our puppies would need to be fed every four hours or so.
We couldn't risk letting the pups ride with Emma in the bed of the truck, lest she accidentally smother them amid the chaos of the drive, so we would have to pull over and let her nurse them on the tailgate before continuing onward.
I'll admit that I was nervous. The pups were barely a week old, and tiny, helpless little balls of cuteness whose vulnerability was quite obvious.
I knew that Alexis and I would take the most care that we could during our frantic drive home, but I still worried that disaster might strike.
There was nothing to do but start driving, and trust that we knew how to keep our precious cargo safe.
To be continued...
PS: Check out Raincoast Dog Rescue Society for information on how to donate to these puppies' care, or to learn how to foster or foster-to-adopt one of our traveling companions!