Nameless and homeless dogs have an unlikely hero in Dr. Judith Samson-French. Judith first encountered the plight of these hapless canines at her hospital, Banded Peak Veterinary Hospital, in Bragg Creek, AB, some 12 years ago, as critically wounded animals would be brought in by Good Samaritan passers-by.
“We were getting lots of dogs in that had been hit by cars, some needing amputation, dogs with faces full of porcupine quills, injured and hurting dogs who needed care, but had no caregivers,” says Judith.
The problem of where to send the dogs once they were treated for their injuries naturally led to ceaseless searches for foster or adoptive homes.
But, explains Judith, “Adoption of the truly feral and semi-feral dogs is fraught with difficulties, due to the fearful nature of most of these dogs, not to mention the shortage of welcoming homes. The feral dog population is a real problem … and it was in the hopes of reducing the suffering of unwanted dogs from being born in the first place that Dogs With No Names was born.”
In addition to writing the book, Dogs With No Names, chronicling the plight of a domesticated species gone feral — not tame enough to be companion animals nor wild enough to healthily survive on their own — Judith started researching animal contraception, and now pilots the world’s first feral dog contraceptive implant scientific study from her hospital in Bragg Creek.
The idea is simple enough: non-surgical sterilization, implanted in young female dogs, in the field, in a procedure that takes about a minute to perform.
“There’s no way we could take all these feral females into a vehicle and bring them into the hospital for surgical sterilization — they’re too wild. In the field, we can insert the contraceptive implant and tracking microchips for the study in just a minute.”
Contraceptive implants in animals have been used in zoo populations across North America for years, but this is the first time the innovation is being scientifically studied in a wild animal populace. It’s an act of mercy for animals that have a hard life, such as it is, and preventing more breeding of future feral generations destined to the ravages of an undomesticated life.
“When we started the study, three years ago, we didn’t know how bad the mortality was,” says Judith. “The sad fact is that a dog with no name and no home probably doesn’t live for more than three years, if they even make it that long. Sadly, during our study, we’re discovering that many dogs we implant don’t even live as long as the contraceptive device works, 16 to 18 months.”
In the first year, Judith and her team implanted 14 dogs, watching for any problems or side effects. In the second year, they implanted another 50 dogs, and expect to complete another 50 implants in 2011. During the course of this study alone, some 100,000 unwanted puppy births will have been prevented.
Preventing fertility using contraceptive implants is an economical solution — about one third the cost of spay surgery — to a problem that can’t be measured in dollars and cents. But it still is an expense with no apparent party responsible for covering. And once again, necessity breeding innovation, Pearls for Paws was born.
“My husband and I were trying to figure out how to raise money for the implants and the food we provide for the animals we treat. We recognized that there’s such donor fatigue out there, for so many worthy causes, that we came up with the idea of selling pearl earrings, with all proceeds going directly to the care of the animals we’re trying to help.”
The earrings are freshwater pearls, (available in 12 colours) mounted on sterling silver posts, and presented on a bookmark featuring photographs of a few of the dogs with no names that Judith and her team have served. For the investment of $15, buyers are guaranteed the delivery of one kilogram of dog food to homeless dogs in the feral populations most commonly found on First Nations Reservations.
“Already we’ve purchased 6,000 pounds of food,” says Judith, “And we’re aiming for 10,000 this year.”
Hills Science Diet has jumped on board the Pearls for Paws legacy, donating 2,000 pounds of food to the project. “We’ve given food to the Cochrane Humane Society, Misty Creek Dog Rescue in Calgary, Heaven Can Wait Animal Rescue in High River, and, through ARF (Animal Rescue Foundation). When we go to the Reserves, we just leave food where we know there are dogs.”
For more information on Dr. Judith Samson-French’s work with Dogs With No Names, visit www.dogswithnonames.com, and to support Pearls for Paws, visit www.lotuslines.ca.