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Year of the Dogs

"We'll just drive out there and get them."

That's how it started. I'm not even sure we were serious.

My friend Alexis wanted to adopt a puppy. But there were no dogs available, at least not in Vancouver. There were a ton of dogs in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, but no way to fly them here during the pandemic.

So we suggested to Raincoast Dog Rescue Society's founder Jesse Adams that we drive the dogs back to the coast instead. And to our surprise and delight, Jesse accepted.

All of a sudden we were loading up my truck with dog kennels and food and supplies.

Fast forward. A year has gone by. And all of a sudden we've done seven more rescue missions to the prairies.

All of a sudden we've helped rescue, foster or rehome nearly 200 animals in the last year.

All of a sudden, we're rescuers.

I've been writing about our rescue missions throughout the year, but the blogs always end when our mission is over, when we deliver the dogs to Jesse and Jodie at Raincoast, and the foster families and local volunteers who shepherd our cargo to their eventual forever homes.

For me and Lexi, that's almost always where the story ends. But for the animals, it's really only the beginning.

Those eight critters we brought back from the Little Red River Reserve on our first mission have had extraordinary journeys since we unloaded them from the back of my Tacoma just outside of Victoria in late May of last year. Here's what they've been up to since:

Our resident cat, Jesse, has been renamed Chili and found her forever home. Her new family writes:

"Chili has the sweetest disposition and when she is not curled up close to one of us, she enjoys playing with her mousey toys and spending hours looking out the window (or as I call, watching Catflix)."

Our big pup, Sugar, was renamed Kermode and has happily settled into his life on the coast.

As has his buddy, Shadow.

Kodiak went to an amazing foster mom who quickly realized she was in it for the long haul. She writes:

"Kodi has been nothing but the sweetest and happiest boy since day one. Originally Kodi came into my life as only a foster boy, but within days I knew I was going to be a foster fail! Kodi wins the hearts of everyone that he meets and has loved being able to make new pup friends around town. He has been nothing but a complete joy to have on all of our outdoor adventures, and I look forward to the lifetime of fun we will be able to have together."

I fell in love with Matilda the minute she climbed into my arms in that northern community. She was a wild one who seemed to calm immediately as I held her to my chest. And throughout the trip home, I really felt like we bonded. There's one on every mission, and Matilda was my first.

Matilda (and baby Bentley; more on him later) came back across to Vancouver on the ferry with us after we'd dropped off the rest of our cargo. And in fact, Alexis wound up fostering her for some time after her original foster fell through, and we both were just absolutely charmed by her wonderful personality, her energy, her smarts and her love.

Eventually, Matilda moved to a long-term foster, and, lo and behold, that turned permanent, too. Foster fails are certainly not a rarity in this business! She's now living her best life in a wonderful forever home, and our only complaint is that it's not closer to where we live, so we could visit her.

Caramel's poor condition was enough to bring Jesse to tears when we unloaded her after our journey. This lovely girl showed signs of abuse and neglect and was just covered in ticks, but she still seemed unbowed by the hardships she'd faced, and just so, so resilient.

After spending some time at the vet and even surviving being hit by a car, Caramel went to an amazing family, who renamed her Honey and adopted her immediately. They've gone above and beyond in her care, and shower her with love.

Of the dogs who stayed on Vancouver Island, Toby was our most serious medical case. This scrappy youngster had sustained a broken leg sometime in his youth, and hadn't received the medical treatment he needed. Additionally, he was dealing with an affliction in one eye that left it clouded over.

None of this affected his enthusiasm and energy, though--or his voice. Toby was a howler when we weren't paying him enough attention.

Toby had a long road ahead after we delivered him. After Raincoast consulted with veterinary specialists, it was determined that Toby's best opportunity for a happy life would require amputation of his injured leg.

Before and after his operation, Toby spent time with two incredible, dedicated fosters, who sat with him through his pain and confusion until he'd recovered and gotten used to this new normal.

These days, Toby (now Odyn) is a happy, healthy tripawd. He's found his own lovely forever home, and his family wrote this beautiful piece about him:

Sometimes life places things in our lives that we weren’t looking for. And yet the timing is perfect. Dogs have a way of finding the people who need them. And loving them fills an emptiness.

2020 has been a year of challenges for everyone. But for an animal, oblivious to what the universe has made us humans endure, he had obstacles of his own. Although we weren’t fully privileged to his start in life, we do know, that thanks to Raincoast Rescue choosing to help him, his new journey will be momentous…

Something about Odyn struck us from the very beginning when Jesse first posted him. We had just lost our old girl Shyloh to cancer and didn’t think we were ready. But there was something about this guy that made us think twice. Upon meeting him he touched us. We had just lost 2 young family members suddenly to unfortunate circumstances (as well as our old furry gal) and our hearts had giant holes. Odyn seemed to come along at the perfect time to fill those.

The name Odyn in Greek mythology represents strength and power. He sacrifices his eye in order to see everything that’s happening in the world. In the Avengers, the character Odyn is a supreme warrior, a force to behold. And so our little three legged one-eyed warrior became a superhero to us.

That leaves us with Bentley. And what a journey he's had.

It was love at first sight, with Bentley and Alexis. As Alexis says: "He wasn’t the first puppy we caught. Not the youngest even or the fluffiest. But when one of the other rescuers put him in my arms I was a goner."

Over the course of our twenty-plus hour drive home from Saskatchewan, Alexis and Bentley bonded inseparably. He seemed to have chosen her just as must as she'd chosen him, and there was no question that she would adopt him.

But the fairytale took a turn, almost as soon as we arrived back in Vancouver. Bentley was listless. He wasn't eating. In Alexis's words:

"By the time we got back to Vancouver my heart told me something was wrong. RainCoast trusted my gut and told me to take him to the emergency vet hospital. We waited 3.5 hours in the parking lot because of COVID to get seen and tested and diagnosed.

At midnight we got the worst news possible. It was parvovirus. The most contagious and deadliest disease a puppy could have. He’d contracted it on the Reserve and if he was still there he had a 91% chance he would have been dead within 4 days. They had no vet care at all available there and no way of knowing. At least now he had a fighting chance, but there was no antidote. They could only treat the symptoms and keep him hydrated and hope his immune system was strong enough.

He was put into puppy-quarantine and I wasn’t allowed to see him. They wouldn’t give me any information, even tell me if he made it through the night; I was just his foster to them and he belonged to RainCoast. Day in and day out I waited by the phone for Jesse to call. I was a mess. He had my heart."

Incredibly, amazingly, Bentley survived, after nearly a week in the hospital and thousands of dollars of Raincoast's funds. Even healthy dogs get vetted, vaccinated and fixed when they come out of these northern communities, and all of these costs are paid for by Raincoast through donations.

When there are emergency cases like Bentley, or major operations like Toby, the costs only go up. Nobody is getting rich in animal rescue. But I've learned in the last year that money won't ever stop Raincoast from doing everything they can to help an animal, and baby Bentley is a prime example.

Bentley recovered fully, and settled into life with Alexis, and with me and my dog, Lucy, who became his big sister. And having a puppy around really did wonders for Lucy, who's getting up there in years and clearly really appreciated Bentley's youthful energy. It wasn't long before the two were inseparable.

Unfortunately, Bentley's journey hasn't been all flowers and rainbows. He is a happy, loving, wonderful boy who brings so much joy to everyone who he meets. But he's also an anxious dog, and his anxiety and the aggression that sometimes stems from it have become a major focus of Lexi's life, and mine and Lucy's as well.

I'm not sure Bentley knows it, but he absolutely won the lottery when Lexi found him on that reserve. This incredible, compassionate, generous woman has devoted thousands of dollars, hours upon hours of training time, and all of the love she can possibly give to help Bentley work through his mental health issues, which his vet behavioural specialist reported are in the top ten worst cases she's seen in her career.

I'm confident in saying that if Bentley landed anywhere other than in Alexis's home, he'd be dead already. There simply aren't many people as loyal and dedicated as my best friend, and Bentley's life would have turned into a succession of homes and people giving up on him, and probably a worsening aggression that would eventually cause someone harm.

And that's a real shame, because Bentley is a wonderful dog. He's not an easy dog, but he's full of love and playful, puppy energy, and you only have to spend a few minutes with him before he captures your heart. He wants to be a good boy, and with Alexis's help, he's getting there, day by day. We're hopeful that he'll learn to master his anxiety, and when he does it'll be because he's had an awesome trainer and a mama who never gave up on him.

Those were our rescue animals, the first of hundreds to come. The year that followed this first fateful, terrifying, incredible, life-changing trip has been one of the most meaningful and worthwhile of my life. Alexis and I have grown into a real role with Raincoast, not only in the Saskatchewan missions but in rescue operations around the Lower Mainland as well.

In a future post, I'll introduce you to some of the local dogs and cats we've helped. But right now I have to prepare for another long drive. Saskatchewan awaits, and with it another precious cargo of pups.

These rescue missions are funded entirely by donations! Check out Raincoast Dog Rescue Society for information on how to contribute, or to learn how to foster or adopt one of our mission alums!


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