Among them was Rosie, unquestionably the sickest dog we'd had to transport yet. Mangy, lethargic and in obvious pain, this poor puppy was headed for a slow, excruciating death.
Luckily our frontline angel--Gayle Yungwirth of North of 54 Dog Rescue--had snapped her up, and together with Dawn MacDonald of Almost Home Canine Rescue had arranged transport from Saskatchewan to Calgary. Which is where Lexi and I came in.
The trip had come together at the absolute last minute. We were due to meet Dawn in Calgary on Thursday around lunchtime, and it wasn't until Wednesday afternoon that we were meeting a pair of Raincoast volunteers at the Tsawwassen ferry terminal outside of Vancouver to take delivery of the kennels and other supplies we would need to transport the pups.
At 5pm or so we left the Lower Mainland, with about a thousand kilometres between us and the pickup point. My plan was to drive as far as we could into the Rockies, then pull over for a quick nap in a roadside rest area before waking up early and continuing the drive into Calgary.
One hitch: as night fell around us and the mountains rose above the highway, we received word that Dawn intended to arrive in Calgary earlier than expected: around 0900, in fact, which would seriously cut into our sleep time.
No matter. We pushed into the night, stopping in Revelstoke for a quick bite of dinner and then driving on over Rogers Pass through some rainy weather and absolute wilderness darkness until, at about 0200 Mountain Time we arrived at the Kicking Horse Pass rest area east of Golden.
I curled up in my sleeping bag in the backseat and caught three hours of shut-eye before my alarm was sounding and it was time to hit the road again. We motored through Banff as the sun rose, and Lexi caught some more sleep in the backseat as Calgary approached on the horizon.
Once we got to Calgary, we picked our way through the city until we'd reached the Almost Home headquarters on the southeast side of town. There, we set up our kennels and I stole a little bit more sleep as we waited for the dogs to arrive.
And then, suddenly, Dawn was pulling up with a whole trailer full of rescue dogs, and an army of volunteers to help her get the dogs situated.
These wonderful folks helped Lexi and I figure out which canines were the twelve we'd been allocated, including poor, sweet Rosie, as well as a pack of six puppies:
Meara and Stacey, a mother and her pup:
A pregnant mother named Poppy who looked just about ready to burst:
And my soon-to-be favourite, Dakota, an energetic, free-spirited and *loud* pupper with whom I would bond immensely over the course of our journey:
We got the dogs situated in the truck as best we could, and then it was off to the Fish Creek Pet Hospital on the south side of town for a quick checkup for Timbit.
Once the little guy had a clean bill of health, we pointed the truck west again and navigated (slowly) the brutal Calgary traffic until we were out of the city.
It was about 3pm when we set out, and we figured we would be driving all night to get to Tsawwassen again in advance of the early ferry Friday morning.
But pups need pit stops, and so we made our first stop a couple of hours later at Dead Man's Flats in the shadow of the Rockies.
Here, we got our dogs stretched and exercised, peed and pooped, and made sure those who were hungry and thirsty got food and water. The skies threatened rain but never delivered, and our dogs were happy and well-behaved; it was as close to a textbook pit stop as you could get.
Poor Rosie, though, stayed asleep in her crate. We didn't have the heart to move her, so we resolved to let her wait until our next stop to get out.
Then we were driving again, motoring westward through the Rockies and then over Rogers Pass again as darkness fell. By late evening we'd come through Revelstoke and were pulling over in Salmon Arm for the requisite Dairy Queen stop, and our second pit stop for the pups.
This time, once the other dogs were fed and watered and had relieved themselves again, we turned our attention to poor Rosie.
With her skin condition and general ill health, we would have to exercise extreme caution when handling her so as not to pass anything on to the other dogs, and I volunteered to take care of her while Lexi monitored Poppy, our pregnant cargo.
It took some time to coax Rosie even out of her crate, and even then her legs were too weak to permit her to walk very far. I carried her to a patch of scrubby land near where we'd parked and set her down; she lay on her side and didn't seem to want to do much, though she ate and drank eagerly from my hand when I held a bowl to her mouth.
Finally, I was able to convince her to walk a few feet and have a bowel movement, and then I carried her back to the kennel and installed her inside again, as comfortably as possible. The poor girl stared at me with such sadness that my heart broke a little, and I was eager to get back on the road again and get her to Raincoast and proper medical attention as quick as we could.
So we drove through the night, fuelled by caffeine and energy drinks, air conditioning and loud music. We drove and didn't stop except for bathroom breaks until we'd reached the ferry terminal south of Vancouver, at roughly 0300, where in a bitter rainy wind we got the pups out for one more pit stop on the causeway before lining up at the tollbooth and trying to sleep a little ahead of the first sailing at 0700.
I got an hour or so of sleep before the terminal opened up. Beyond that, I was too paranoid we'd miss the sailing, so I stayed awake and waited until the ferry gates opened and we were allowed to drive onboard.
The weather was rough on the water; perhaps the roughest crossing I've done. We let the dogs endure the voyage in their crates--except for Dakota, who I'd quickly become attached to and who I took for a walk and a sniff around the vehicle deck.
She rewarded me with two prodigious poops, but luckily there was a spare mop and bucket nearby.
At around quarter to nine, the ferry docked on Vancouver Island and we packed up, perked up and drove onto shore again, headed for the delivery point a few kilometres south of the terminal.
There, Jodie from Raincoast was waiting (with coffee) and Jesse soon joined, with more volunteers and foster families to help with the dogs.
Jesse was horrified at Rosie's condition and rushed her immediately to an emergency vet clinic. Meanwhile, Poppy was handed off to her foster family to prepare to give birth to her litter, and Jodie took the rest of the pups to place them in their own foster homes.
It was a whirlwind of activity; Lexi and I mostly stood back and watched. But soon enough the dogs were dispersed and our little role in their rescue was complete; we closed up the truck again and set out for the ferry home, absolutely exhausted but satisfied that we'd done what we could to give twelve more dogs (plus Poppy's puppies) a better life.
PS: In the days after our journey, Rosie received top-notch medical care and has already begun to recuperate nicely. And Poppy gave birth to a healthy litter of eleven (!!) brand-new puppies. She'll be spayed and returned to her family in Saskatchewan once the puppies have grown up a little bit.
Follow along with Raincoast Dog Rescue Society to keep up with the progress of all of these dogs, and to donate to their continuing costs of care, or to foster or apply to adopt one for yourself.