Among our cargo were ten newborn puppies, their mother (Emma), four older husky puppies (Sinatra, Davis, Dino and Crosby), as well as Daisy, Tug and Buddy--a sassy puppy, boisterous juvenile, and chill adult husky mix, respectively.
The newborn puppies were the complicating factor. They were barely a week old and would need to nurse from Emma every four to six hours, necessitating extra pit stops and care on our 1800km drive to the Raincoast Dog Rescue Society headquarters in coastal British Columbia.
But every pit stop would lengthen our time on the road, and given that we aimed to drive through the night and make our destination without stopping to sleep, it behooved us to make our pit stops as quick and efficient as possible.
We made our first stop in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, after a couple of hours on the road. It was a little after 5pm on Wednesday evening. This first stop would be our learning experience.
The smell of fresh poop permeated the back of the truck as we pulled over at a highway rest stop, and we opened the canopy to find our Rat Pack of husky puppies had made a tremendous mess.
Moreover, Tug and Daisy were clamouring to be out of their kennels, and Emma was understandably anxious to see her puppies. None of the dogs had collars on at this point, or harnesses; I had nightmares of one of our more energetic companions making a jailbreak.
We quickly unpacked our gloves, puppy kibble, water and cleaning supplies, sorted through the harnesses and leads and hashed out a plan of attack.
It's here that it became quite obvious that the true secret to a successful pit stop is a good rescue partner. My friend Alexis is an absolute superstar on these missions; she's down for the long hours, bad food, early-morning driving shifts and most importantly, she isn't fazed by dog poop--or by my sleep-deprived grumpiness.
Between the two of us, we quickly got Daisy, Tug, Buddy and Emma out for a quick walk and some food and water. Then we turned our attention to the husky pups, who even in their messiness were completely adorable.
Finally, we tried to coax Emma to lie down and nurse her pups, but that was a taller order than we'd suspected, and I eventually had to sit with her and cradle her as we swapped the puppies in, five at a time, and hoped they were all getting their fill.
Honestly, a pretty awesome and unexpectedly moving experience, though by that point I was mostly focused on the long road ahead.
That first pit stop was no ballet, but we got it done, and after an hour or so we were back on the road and driving into a hazy prairie sunset, hoping to make Edmonton within some reasonable amount of time.
After a quick stop at the world's worst Dairy Queen in Vegreville, AB, we pulled into Edmonton, where my friend Phill had heroically agreed to deliver us a fresh pack of latex gloves, which we were already running desperately low on.
We met Phill for a brief intermission, took delivery of the gloves and then kept moving, finding a vacant lot in which to set about our second pit stop of the journey.
This time it was Alexis's turn to help Emma nurse her pups, while I cleaned the (still messy) Husky pups again and then foolishly set them to the food dishes, which would come back to haunt us (again) later.
This pit stop went easier, and after a visit to a McDonald's drive-thru we were back on the highway around midnight, heading west into the darkness of the night.
I won't tell you how close we came to running out of gas, except to say that there really ought to be more all-night service stations on the Yellowhead Highway.
We survived, found fuel just in time, and Alexis napped as I drove us into the Rockies. I felt pretty good, fuelled as I was on caffeine, arctic-blast air-conditioning and ear-splitting dance music. I don't know how she slept at all, but she was asleep enough to miss the elk, deer, coyote and fox we passed in Jasper Park.
At 0500 or so we pulled over in Blue River, British Columbia, for another pit stop as the sky slowly lightened above us. By this time we'd settled into a rhythm and banged out the chores in pretty good time, though the huskies had made yet another mess in their crate and for some reason it still hadn't occurred to me not to let them eat so much.
I figured I could keep driving from Blue River toward Kamloops, but quickly realized I couldn't keep my eyes open and pulled over to let Alexis take the wheel as morning dawned.
I won't tell you how close we came to getting a speeding ticket (or worse) during the next leg of our drive, but suffice it to say if that slow-moving (i.e. law-abiding) Honda hadn't merged in front of us at the start of that construction zone we may have found ourselves standing awkwardly at the side of the Coquihalla highway with 18 dogs in kennels as the Mounties impounded my truck. Yikes!
Luckily, we avoided the radar gun and made it to Hope, BC, for one last ultra-efficient pit stop and driver change before we bombed it across the Fraser Valley to the ferry terminal at Tsawwassen, just in time for the 2pm ferry to Vancouver Island.
On the ferry our motley collection of puppers attracted plenty of attention and we fielded a lot of questions and interest from fellow passengers, one of whom even passed along the contact information for her family in Saskatchewan in case we ever needed anything. People are awfully kind when they see that you're rescuing animals in need.
We got the dogs out for a little more air and some water and then the boat was docking and we were back in the truck, headed to our delivery point just ten minutes from the ferry terminal on the Saanich Peninsula.
Jesse and Jodie from Raincoast Dog Rescue were there to meet us and take delivery of our cargo, all of whom survived the trek in good health and reasonable spirits.
The puppies and Emma headed to a foster home together, where Emma will stay with them until the pups have grown up enough not to need her anymore, at which point she'll be spayed at Raincoast's expense and returned to her family in Saskatchewan--potentially in the back of my truck!
Meanwhile, the Rat Pack headed to their own foster family and a much-needed bath, while Buddy, Daisy and Tug also had fosters waiting, and an already-growing list of applicants to adopt them all.
Lexi and I bid goodbye to our charges and headed back to the ferry, where we caught the 5pm sailing home under spooky, smokey skies. We ate Indian food that night and were reunited with my own Raincoast alum, Lucy, and then it was time to catch up on all of the sleep we'd missed.
I figured I'd had an hour of sleep in the last 36 hours, so I definitely was running a deficit that I intended to rectify. But as it turned out, there wouldn't be a huge amount of time for rest and recuperation: another rescue mission was already in the works, more dogs needed driving, and our services would be needed again in just a few days...
Hit up Raincoast Dog Rescue Society for information about how to contribute to the lives of our eighteen dogs, including donating, fostering, or even adopting one into your own home.