Complaints, vet bills halt missions
By: Alexandra Paul
Winnipeg Free Press
The Sagkeeng Spay Neuter Initiative Program has called a halt to volunteer rescue missions to remove stray dogs from Manitoba First Nations.
The volunteer service will shift back to its original focus, which is the spay-and-neuter clinics for dogs it started two years ago, founder Cathie Mieyette said.
The volunteer group reached the decision after a series of rescue missions ended in dog owners accusing volunteers of dog-snatching.
Part of the problem is volunteers from the city don't share the same values as rural dog owners from First Nations who let their animals roam, Mieyette said.
"They're city people. They don't see that in Winnipeg, where your dogs are tied up and in your yard. A dog running loose in the city? Bang. You got to catch it and phone the pound because you know it's a lost dog if it's running at large. It's totally different," Mieyette said.
The rescues have cost her, too.
She now faces $10,000 in veterinary bills for the "broken dogs" volunteers have brought her in the last month.
She has no way to pay without mounting a fundraising campaign.
"We were doing so good. We were doing amazing and all of a sudden (there are) these broken dogs -- that's what we call them -- left for us. I have to pay these vet bills."
By one estimate, 30 dogs have vanished in the past year from Sagkeeng First Nation.
At Black River, nine were taken two weeks ago.
There are no reports from Peguis, Thompson, The Pas and Sioux Valley, which SSNIP also serves.
Different perceptions on the role of dogs have turned the controversy into a battleground on social media for racial, cultural and social stereotypes, pet owners say.
The issue came to a head over a missing boxer from Black River called Rusty.
"They came and grabbed him!" said the boxer's owner, Milly Cook, a worker at the band office for the Ojibwa First Nation, 150 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.
When Rusty disappeared two weeks ago, the Cooks learned a SSNIP volunteer took Rusty along with some legitimate strays.
Cook pleaded on Facebook for Rusty's return, but a site administrator told her that, because Rusty didn't have a tattoo or a microchip, she couldn't prove the dog was hers.
Mieyette is a cancer survivor whose volunteer clinics tour Manitoba First Nations.
She's seen 700 dogs spayed and neutered in the last couple of years.
But in the last year, she's also been troubled by the kind of stories the Cooks reported.
"I don't want to be bashed for what my team has done in the last two years, the 700 dogs later, the $100,000 I have raised to put into this," Mieyette said.
She said the boxer from Black River showed scars and frostbite, so she believed he was a stray. Last week, she surrendered the pet to the province's chief veterinary office so the Cooks can reclaim it.
"As of now, because of this, I won't be getting volunteers to go out and do more work. I'm a cancer survivor and this has taken its toll on me. This is disheartening," Mieyette said.
"The only way we could work that out after this is if the person who owns the dog or the chief phones us up and surrenders an animal. That's the only way to change things so you don't have this same mess."
Corrine Sinclair used to work with SSNIP in Sagkeeng but then she heard about food being left to lure dogs into vehicles, stories about families spotting dogs that looked like their missing pets for sale on Kijiji and strangers bothering people at home about how they treated their dogs.
"A year ago when we started, I was really happy to have them (SSNIP) out here. They were offering spay-and-neuter clinics because people couldn't afford it," Sinclair said. "Then we started to hear people say their dogs were disappearing... And a lot of times you think you know what happened but you can't prove it.
"I think maybe some people got carried away with doing something good."
Sagkeeng Chief Donavan Fontaine defended SSNIP but said the tensions are stirring up disturbing stereotypes on both sides.
"Not all non-native people are aggressively imposing themselves or their views. And vice versa. Not all aboriginal people abuse or starve their animals," Fontaine said.
"It's so stereotypical, the emaciated stray dog, car wreck in the yard and boarded-up windows. The reality is that's a minority now. We have many beautiful animals, properties yards, buildings and infrastructure," the chief said.