Thunder Bay

Inside the chaos of caring for more than 100 rescue dogs suddenly stranded by weather in Thunder Bay

More than 100 dogs and puppies were supposed to be relocated from Manitoba to the East Coast, but that all came to halt due to weather and vehicle issues in Thunder Bay on Thursday, leaving a local animal rescue to care for them without any notice.

Volunteers stepped up to care for the animals until they were able to return to Manitoba

volunteers with stranded animals
Volunteers help to feed, water, and walk the stranded dogs in Thunder Bay. (Sara Kae/CBC)

UPDATE: After this story was published, the Manitoba rescue agency brought the dogs back to their foster homes in Winnipeg around 11:30 p.m. on Thursday. Following is the latest news. 

The winter storm hitting communities right across Canada has frustrated holiday plans, cancelled hundreds of domestic and international flights and resulted in many highway closures.

It also left approximately 135 puppies and dogs stranded for nearly 24 hours in Thunder Bay on Thursday.

Chaos ensued.

The dogs were being relocated from Manitoba to the East Coast, where an animal rescue agency was waiting.

They were only supposed to be stopping briefly in Thunder Bay on Wednesday at 10 p.m. for food, water, and a walk, but a combination of bad weather and vehicle issues halted their plans.

Northern Reach Rescue, a Thunder Bay-based organization, found itself helping with what was supposed to be a brief pit stop. But instead, it was left scrambling to care for the animals while coordinating a last-minute effort to find temporary safe homes for them.

A puppy in a cage
One of more than 100 puppies looking for a temporary home before heading back to Manitoba. (Sara Kae/CBC)

It was a chaotic scene at Narvi's Auto Service, where the animals were temporarily being sheltered, as people arrived and were quickly screened before temporarily taking a dog home.

"People are coming and introducing themselves and having a conversation, before they take them until the transport arrives," said Erin Manahan, with Northern Reach Rescue, on Thursday afternoon.

Volunteers were trying to get the word out that more help was needed. 

A volunteer and a puppy.
Members from the community came to help out the dogs while they await transportation. (Sara Kae/CBC)

Lainey Bannon has been volunteering with Northern Reach Rescue for the past three years. She got word of the rescue needing help so she called in from work to dedicate her time to assist the stranded animals.

Bannon said she arrived at the service station on Wednesday to help prepare for the arrival, and had almost no time to leave. 

"I got here [Wednesday] night at 11:30 p.m., and left [Thursday] morning at 5:30 a.m. and now I've been back since 12:30 this afternoon. I don't know what time it is now," Bannon said on Thursday. 

At one point, volunteers embarked on a dramatic search, as one dog escaped from its kennel and had to be tracked down in the blistering winds and periodic snowfall.

As of Thursday afternoon, Manahan said it was unclear how long the dogs would be staying in Thunder Bay, adding it depended on when members from the Manitoba rescue organization arrived to pick them up.

The lack of clear timeline added some challenge with coordinating temporary homes for the dogs to stay. Volunteers weren't sure if they were taking the puppies home for an hour or a week.

In the end, the Manitoba rescue organization hurried over to pick the dogs up Thursday night, leaving from Thunder Bay around 11:30 p.m.

Teresa Ruberto, the volunteer coordinator for Northern Reach Rescue, was grateful to everyone who came out to help ensure safety and care for the dogs. 

"So it started off really sad and stressful and frustrating … you know, we were tired, but it ended up being a good feeling. Especially this morning when we found out that they were back [in Winnipeg],"  Teresa Ruberto said on Friday. 

All dogs returned safely, Ruberto said, and will be fostered in the Winnipeg region until the Manitoba agency attempts the relocation trip to the East Coast once again, whenever the weather permits. 


Sara Kae


Sara Kae is an Ojibway/Cree reporter of Lake Helen First Nation based in Thunder Bay, Ont. She covers stories that highlight Indigenous voices with a special focus on arts and culture.