(Originally published December, 2010)
A Bracebridge family gives northern dogs loving homes
By Tamara de la Vega
Retirement didn’t keep Sharron Purdy and her husband Paul still for very long. After retirement, Sharron became involved with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and started volunteering for the organization when she met Toby, a mixed-breed dog that would undoubtedly change the Purdys’ lives.
They were asked to give Toby a temporary home until a foster family could be found.
“We had never really seen a dog with his intelligence and disposition before,” she explains. “To take a dog that had been crammed in a crate in the basement of the SPCA for four days and bring him home and have him so agreeable, so calm and trusting… he got along with our dogs, he came when we called him and he slept next to the bed… he was just an amazing animal and the spirit that he gave off was really impressive.”
Eventually, the SPCA found a permanent family for Toby. But when Sharron returned him, she couldn’t help but want to know more about this loveable dog.
“They told me that some girl brought him down from Moosonee and my husband was aware of what a journey that was – it’s a five-hour train ride plus about a six-hour car ride, so to bring these dogs down was quite something.”
Purdy called the young woman – a teacher in Moosonee – to find out why she had felt the need to bring Toby and several others like him on such a long journey out of the area. She discovered that the young woman removed an estimated 16 dogs from the northern community every time she travelled to Gravenhurst to see her parents. That phone call was enough to inspire Sharron and Paul to plan a trip up north.
The couple travelled to Moosonee and Moose Factory, spending three days in the area. What they found was disheartening. There were packs of dogs surviving in a very harsh environment with temperatures in winter reaching minus 45 degrees Celsius, surviving on any food they could find, without veterinary care or a warm home to call their own.
As their numbers swelled, they met their fate through gunshot wounds, considered by some residents to be a method of population control.
Over the years, teachers and nurses have helped get the dogs out of the area and set up spay and neuter clinics. As a result of their efforts, the perceived need for shooting the animals has disappeared, according to Purdy.
“And yet it continues. They literally round them up, put them in crates and shoot them. There’s a big pit at the dump where the bodies are thrown and if you go to the pit you’ll see puppies, you’ll see older dogs with collars on,” she explains, adding that the exception seems to be in certain neighbourhoods where professionals live. The dogs in these neighbourhoods are safe as long as they don’t wander too far.
As for the other dogs, their fate is to either survive through sheer perseverance, or perish.
“Put together the harsh conditions, the abusive treatment, and the dog shoot and these dogs who are being born under houses and at the garbage dump and among debris need to be rescued,” says Purdy. “So once we saw firsthand what they’re subjected to, I spoke to city officials and the dog catcher, who was trying to make a difference in Moose Factory but didn’t have the support of the people that he needed, we decided to start bringing them out ourselves.”
The Purdys returned from that trip eight years ago with two puppies and have been rescuing dogs from those northern communities ever since. By the end of 2010, they had rescued and found homes for 750 dogs through their organization, Moosonee Puppy Rescue. It’s hard work, with the dogs staying with the couple until adequate homes are found. And according to Purdy, it’s always difficult to let them go.
The Purdys have also started an annual fundraiser, which takes place at the Riverwalk Restaurant in Bracebridge, to help with the transportation, food and veterinarian bills associated with rescuing the dogs. It’s an event where the community comes together, donating event space and items for silent auction, so that dog lovers can gather to raise funds for their canine friends.
The Winter Dogs fundraiser typically happens in November, a time when the Purdys are busy trying to rescue dogs before winter hits and newborn puppies freeze when the mercury falls below 30 degrees Celcius.
Despite the hard work and heartbreak, the Purdys are determined to give these dogs a happy ending.
“They’re what I call a true and honest dog. They’ve been treated badly by mankind, but mankind hasn’t tampered them with. No one out there decided ‘I’d like your tail to be shorter, I’d like that your ears be pointier,’” says Purdy of the dogs, which come in a mix of various breeds and sizes.
“It’s an honest breeding process and only the strong survive. Even if they’ve been abused when they come to us, they are still so hopeful. I’ve never had a dog we couldn’t bring around, learning to trust people,” says Purdy. “With all the breed mixture you’re getting a well balanced dog, they tend to be far more relaxed than the dogs we’re used to seeing down south and they are very, very intelligent.”
Wherever the Purdys go, if there is a dog in need of rescue, they can sense it.
“They’re like a breed unto themselves,” she says, referring to the way they carry themselves, their temperament and personality. That knowledge has spread through the years as dog lovers seek out Moosonee Puppy Rescue when they hear of their story and meet other rescued dogs either in their neighbourhoods or dog parks.
There is an adoption fee and an interview process to ensure the dogs end up in a loving home. The Purdys will also follow up with the new owners to ensure everything is going well.