A dog rescuer who has visited a number of Manitoba First Nations is petitioning the provincial government to help remote communities manage stray dogs.

Jasmine Colucci, who works for K-9 Advocates Manitoba, carried out dog rescue operations in Dakota Tipi First Nation, Sandy Bay First Nation, Norway House and Long Plain First Nation in January.

She took photographs that show frozen dogs, animals lying in heaps with bullet holes in their heads and homeless dogs taking shelter in dumps.

"It is honestly like a Third World country," said Colucci, who is a member of Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation in Newfoundland.

"There's dogs everywhere — emaciated, skinny, skinny dogs … and they're full of parasites, worms and living off garbage."

Dog rescue

Jasmine Colucci believes these dogs that froze to death in winter on a Manitoba First Nation. Colucci wants remote communities to implement laws requiring dog owners to provide fences, housing and food for their animals. (Jasmine Colucci)

Colucci has seen dogs chase large rats living in the dumps and she has taken in puppies that were being eaten by the rodents, she said.

She and fellow rescuer David Brooker head out to the communities several times a week, responding to calls from band members for help. Their organization is one of several volunteer rescue groups in the province that are overwhelmed by the situation.

A number of Manitoba communities are without bylaws, catchers and licensing programs to manage the dogs, Colucci and Brooker said. In four months, they've cared for 150 dogs, and all rescue operations are at capacity and in debt, they said.

The two want a preventative approach to dog overpopulation, but said much of the work they do is responding to emergencies, and getting ahead seems impossible.

First Nations chiefs also expressed concern about the situation.

Long Plain First Nation Chief Dennis Meeches said he's implemented a rule that prohibits more than one dog per household, but community members do not always follow it.

"It's a bit disheartening," he said.

The community had a contract with a dog catcher in Portage la Prairie, Man., but that ended when dog owners became upset.

"The company chose not to come back to Long Plain because they were being threatened," Meeches said.

Now free-roaming dogs are more abundant than ever, Meeches said, and he worries they could attack community members, including children.

Province understaffed: Colucci

Under the Animal Care Act, the Manitoba government must uphold a law that requires dog owners to make sure their animals are not abused or neglected.

People can report mistreatment to the Office of the Chief Veterinarian, which is expected to investigate, but Colucci said that's not always possible given the demand.

There are four full-time animal protection officers (APO) in a province where thousands of dogs roam remote communities.

A spokesperson for the Office of the Chief Veterinarian said there are a number of other people, including police, who can enforce the act, however it's on an "as-needed basis," meaning a complaint must precede the investigation.

"The amount that we call them is unbelievable, and there's not enough staff. It will take days," Colucci said, noting by the time there's a response, the animal could have died, particularly in –40 C weather.

As self-governing bodies, First Nations in Manitoba should implement laws to manage the situation, she said.

"So that we don't have to go there and find the dog like that. It shouldn't even be an issue in the first place." 

$25 per tail

Jasmine Colucci

Jasmine Colucci rescued and adopted Fozzy after he was kicked in the face and suffered a broken jaw. (Facebook)

Some of Manitoba's First Nations have resorted to dog culls to control the problem. Though Meeches said his community is not one of them, Colucci said it happens in others.

She and Brooker said they want to collaborate with elders, chiefs and councils to minimize the number of dogs being killed.

"They were dumping the bodies just randomly in the forest," Colucci said. "You can see the chopped-off tails, because that's what they're getting paid for." 

Dog bounty money could be used to pay for a spay and neuter clinic, she said.

But Dakota Tipi First Nation Chief David Pashe said that approach may not work in his community.

Dog rescue

Jasmine Colucci shows the effect of frostbite on a rescue dog. (Jasmine Colucci)

"A lot of our people are dog lovers.… They hate to see that [spay and neutering] happen to the animals," he said, adding indigenous populations believe dogs to be sacred animals.

Colucci added that spaying and neutering is only effective when a community has regular access to a veterinarian, and owners want the procedure and can afford it.

She plans to circulate her petition online in the coming days with the hope that it will save dogs' lives.

"Every time I have to euthanize a dog because it's been abused or so far gone that we had no choice [but] to euthanize it, it never gets easier," she said.

"I will equally be as heartbroken every time."