Nunavut's unwanted dogs have something to be thankful for this holiday season, as First Air has partnered with the Iqaluit Humane Society to fly them to new homes down south.
The humane society has a partnership with a shelter in Gatineau, Que., to take dogs when the Iqaluit shelter becomes overcrowded. For the past four years, it had a partnership with airline Canadian North to fly dogs south, for free, but changes to the airline's flight schedule meant the arrangement no longer worked.
"All the press and sharing on social media, even people contacting other airlines on their own asking for them to help, it really [helped]. First Air had actually beat them to the punch," Iqaluit Humane Society president Janelle Kennedy said.
The two-year deal allows the shelter to ship 2 to 4 kennels from Iqaluit to Ottawa every week, but leaves the door open for more if needed. The shelter can also ship a certain amount of kilograms of dog – or cat, too – between Nunavut communities every week.
First Air has a codeshare agreement with Canadian North, meaning that the two airlines sell seats and cargo space on some of each other's routes.
When Canadian North announced their schedule change, Gail Quinn, the airline's manager of sponsorships and events, said that she hoped the "'other airline' will be able to assist with transport of the pets in 2016," referring to First Air.
The Canadian North partnership wouldn't work anymore because the airline moved its Iqaluit-Ottawa route to the evening, so nobody would be at the airline's cargo depot in Ottawa when the dogs landed.
"For us, it's a very noble cause," said Rene Armas Maes, First Air's sales and marketing director. "This is another way for us to give back to the community we have served for 70 years. I think it's a very admirable and noble cause. That's why we jumped on it."
Iqaluit's shelter typically takes in about 25 dogs a month. The shelter is no-kill, but the humane society's president said earlier this month that they'd "never afford" shipping costs, which could run up to $500 per dog, and that they'd "have to make decisions" if they ran out of space.
Publicity pays off for shelter
Since a Globe and Mail video of the shelter's story went viral, eclipsing 1.8-million views on Facebook, Kennedy said the shelter's been flooded with donation and adoption requests.
"Oh my gosh! From as far away as you can imagine," she said. "People are calling asking: 'Do you ship to Missouri? Do you ship to Arkansas? Do you ship to the United Kingdom?' So people are definitely there to help with the adoption end of things."
Kennedy added that since the video went viral, the shelter's raised more than $10,000 in donations
"It's unbelievable. We usually have to work so hard to raise every dollar, and people just poured out their generosity, just like that."
Kennedy says people mostly donated because they wanted to cover cargo fees, and Kennedy says they plan to create a "cargo fund" if they ever get stuck in situation where they'd have to pay to get animals in and out of remote communities. The money will also go to education, spay and neuter programming, and to buy new kennels.