U.S. rescue dogs escape death in Canada
Up to 80% of pets euthanized in so-called 'kill shelters' are healthy, U.S. Humane Society says
Maxwell is a wide-eyed, three-year-old, hyperactive Chihuahua.
His nervous behaviour is normal for a dog of his breed, but the tiny pup has another reason to be on edge this evening: He has travelled eight hours with 10 other dogs to Whitby, Ont., from Ohio and is about to get a bath.
Maxwell is what is known as a rescue — a dog that had been in a animal shelter that would have euthanized him if no new owner had come along — and his two-tone fur is bald in places where stress has left his skin exposed.
He and his travel companions were driven across the Buffalo-Fort Erie border earlier this month by Susan Steiner and David McDonald, who run LotsaDogs Rescue out of their home in Whitby, Ont.
Steiner, who is, ironically, allergic to dogs, started the non-profit five years ago when she noticed a willingness on this side of the border to help unwanted and abused dogs.
She has since placed more than 1,400 dogs — most originating from so-called kill shelters in the U.S. — with new families in Canada.
"The reason we're bringing them in is because they're getting killed — end of story," she told CBC News. "I want the universe to be a really good universe for them."
She's not the only one who feels this way. In fact, Canada, known for its no-kill shelters, has increasingly become a haven for America's unwanted pets to escape death row.
The U.S. Humane Society estimates that of the three million cats and dogs euthanized in the country each year 80 per cent are healthy or treatable and can be adopted.
In Canada, only six per cent of the dogs and cats euthanized in 2013 were healthy, according to a survey conducted by the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies.
However, many animal welfare groups warn that an accurate number is nearly impossible to track.
Too many dogs, too little money
Steiner said part of the problem is the surplus of unwanted pets and a lack of funding in the U.S. As a result, American shelters make the tough decision to put healthy pets down.
"They're in rural areas where people can't afford to feed their kids, so they're sure as hell not going to feed their dogs" or pay vet bills, she said.
Pam Hrycyk, from NOLA Labrador Retriever Rescue, another non-profit group that attempts to find homes for American dogs in Canada, came face to face with that same reality five years ago.
She and her business partner, Kim Breaux, who lives in New Orleans, initially planned to focus their rescue efforts in Louisiana, but finding in-state homes became too disheartening.
However, in Canada, "we have an abundance of really great homes here," said Hrycyk, who lives in Burlington, Ont.
Over the border they go
Transporting dogs over the border is not a simple matter.
Besides the full day of driving, Steiner said, there are many hurdles to clear before a van full of rescued dogs can cross the border.
These pets fall under the commercial imports category, so rescue organizations must queue up with their trucks, sometimes for hours, and have an import licence. They must also have the proper paperwork, including customs forms and proof of rabies vaccinations, and pay duties plus an inspection fee.
It's the latter, which is billed per dog, that Steiner objects to most.
"The dogs have no reason to be taxed. They don't have any value. I make nothing," she said.
Back in Whitby, Maxwell the Chihuahua has yet to be adopted (Steiner said small breeds can take longer). Until then, he is content to lie contently on the grass in the LotsaDogs Rescue yard, soaking up the sun.