The trucks from Hamilton Burlington SPCA are already there at Toronto Animal Services waiting for the delivery from Montreal. Twenty nine dogs and three cats are coming, rescued, many a hair's breadth away from euthanasia. Usually, TAS would be taking in a bunch but not this time. It's got lots of dogs waiting on health checks and speuters already and then there's the closure over Christmas, so this time all the animals will be going to HBSPCA.
The truck from Montreal is late - missed the DVP turnoff and they need to turn around. I go inside the facility and go upstairs to get Kipper, the red Doberman, to take him out for a walk. I like Kipper. He's young, energetic, just ever so slightly ill-mannered and friendly in that Velcro Doberman type of way where he makes sure that a part of him is always in constant contact with you.
I see a family in the adoption office. The older son has one of the puppy mill Shih Tzus cradled in his arms. An older woman is fussing over the dog, brushing it. Another woman, younger is overlooking. "Are you taking him?" I ask even though I know the answer and she says, "Yes," with a big smile and I say, "Congratulations." The boy holds onto the dog who is a little overwhelmed, I think, by all the attention but he'll do fine. The family is already in love with him.
I get Kipper and take him downstairs. He slips a bit on the smooth floors in his puppylike eagerness to get outside.
In the main foyer, a woman hands over her Boxer. Her eyes tear up but she gets no sympathy. She's leaving the country and can't be bothered to take her dog. "Will he get a new home?" she asks. "We'll do what we can," says the staffer. The woman reaches out for the dog, who is wagging its tail thinking it's on some great new adventure, and the staffer turns away with the dog and leads it upstairs to its cage.
The Boxer will get a chance at a better home but there have already been five owner requested euthanasias this morning. They were all old dogs, unhealthy dogs but not necessarily at their last breathe. It's Christmas, though, and I suppose it must be inconvenient for these people to keep old dogs around when there's so much shopping and celebrating to do. Who wants to be reminded of the precariousness of life at Christmas when there is the sanctity of consumer orgies and feeding frenzies to attend to?
Kipper and I go outside. The air is cold, getting colder. The trucks from Hamilton are still waiting. They've been waiting for an hour now. One of the drivers sees Kipper and she opens her door and she tells me that if her sister saw Kipper, she'd take him home. We talk about dogs for a few minutes and then I move on. Kipper is getting impatient.
Half an hour later, we are back inside TAS and Kipper is sitting beside me on the new sofa, quite happy to watch all the comings and goings. Another dog walker sits and we talk for a bit. A man walks by and tells us that the people upstairs didn't give him the dog he wanted because he didn't have a letter from his condo landlord giving him permission to keep a dog in the building. He seems a bit pissed. "I thought my word would be good enough," he says. The other dog walker asks him when he's going to bring the letter in and the guy says he's not going to. It's too far to go. How far? she asks. It's like 40 minutes away, he says. This is the guy who earlier said he wanted a white Shih Tzu because his kids are afraid of dark coloured dogs (referring to the tan coloured Shih Tzu). They think darker coloured dogs are evil, he said and I had wondered if maybe he was talking about his own preferences.
Someone runs in and announces that the truck from Montreal has arrived. I put Kipper back in his kennel and head outside.
The back door of the truck is open and the barking of dogs fills the air. Chow Chows, Labradors, Great Pyrenees, Boston Terriers, Jack Russell Terriers, Chihuahua, happy mutts, Great Dane, Huskies, unidentifiable puppies, Shih Tzus, I can't remember them all. Twenty nine dogs all excited, nervous, happy, scared. The members of the TV crew from Global are moving around, the cameraman trying to get the best angles, the reporter trying to get the interview.
The volunteers get to work uncrating the dogs, taking them for quick pee breaks, then recrating the dogs to be transported to Hamilton. One of the guys from HBSPCA likes the bigger dogs, you can tell. He spends a bit more time them, let's them hang out just a bit longer on the grassy patch. He's got the Great Dane with him. The dog has open sores on his body, mostly at pressure points like at both his hips as the bone rubs through his too delicate and undernourished skin. About a third of his tail has recently been torn off, a knob of flesh protrudes, slimy and bloody.
Someone unloads a beautiful Pyrenees mix and hands him to me. He is thin, with black speckled white curly hair. His coat is urine stained but otherwise he seems healthy. His demeanor is that of the ideal family dog, something in his open attitude, the way he carries himself. I bring him over and hand him off to one of the HBSPCA workers.
There is an old Chow Chow staring out at me from the back of the HBSPCA van. He was just taken out of the crate he arrived in from Montreal and put into the HBSPCA crate. The bottom of his original crate was covered in thick gobs of feces. His hair is filthy, matted. He stinks of course. How could he not? His face is graying, the corners of its eyes drawn downward in what seems like an impossible mask of sadness for a dog. I want to reassure him, tell him that this will be a Merry Christmas for him. I want to promise him that, that he and all the rest will be saved. I wish there was a way I could do that. I wish I knew how to do that.
Newsreel at Global Toronto.
Much thanks to all the workers and volunteers at Companion Animal Adoptions Centres of Quebec, Hamilton Burlington SPCA and Toronto Animal Services. The caacQ's French Connection Highway of Hope has rescued 433 dogs to Toronto since it started in May 2008.