Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Be a Tree in Northern British Columbia

We are very pleased and proud to tell you about the accomplishments of Doggone Safe member Valerie Ingram and her husband Alistair Schroff and their efforts to educate children and families in remote communities in northern British Columbia, Canada. Valerie herself educates about 700 children per year using the Be a Tree program and has been able to procure 26 Be a Tree teacher kits for distribution to other remote communities. In addition to bite prevention education, Valerie and Alistair through the Lakes Animal Friendship Society, organize a large annual event to provide spay/neuter for local animals, to educate native communities about humane education and the importance of reading for children and to provide dog houses for dogs that live outside.

From Alistair:
In the beginning we were inspired by a little dog we called Honey Bear. Honey Bear was from a batch of pups on a First Nations reserve west of Burns Lake. The story is that the owner was told he already had too many dogs and to get rid of the puppies, so the seven puppies were thrown into the river - in the middle of winter. These little pups were Labrador crosses and were able to swim to shore where they huddled together in the cold. A passerby heard the whimpering puppies, found them on the shore and loaded them into his truck, and took them to Turtle Gardens. Turtle Gardens is our only shelter for about 150 miles. Valerie and I heard about the pups at Turtle Gardens and decided to adopt one, who became Honey Bear. Sadly, Honey Bear suffered health problems almost from day one. She nearly died as a pup and suffered various ailments over the next three years until she had to be euthanized, which was heartbreaking.  
We hope that our continuing efforts, particularly the humane education (focussing on care and compassion and bite safety) and the spaying and neutering projects mean less animals will face hardships like poor Honey Bear did.
From Valerie:
I have been working for 5 years, volunteering in my local schools, twice a year.  And only discovered your fabulous resources through Judi a year ago.  My goal is lofty.  I want to get volunteers from each community (even the little rural ones and schools on First Nations reserves) to get into schools to talk about bite safety, care, compassion etc.  I want to get more materials in teachers hands, and any youth group leaders.  The last two years, I've been leaving activities with the teachers.  This is the first year, I finally got a grant and can afford to buy more materials and organize a workshop.  I plan on eventually driving to all communities on this 400 mile corridor to connect with and encourage volunteers to get into schools.  There are a suprising number of people who WANT to get into schools, but are intimidated, or don't have the proper tools.  And that's where Doggone Safe comes in!!!  You HAVE the tools.  Now, I pray people come to the workshop Judi and I are holding in Burns Lake, saving me going to them!  
Well, people did come to the workshop and spay neuter clinic this summer. It was a huge success thanks to the efforts of many, including the Canadian Animal Assistance Team.

Doggone Safe is very proud to have been able to play role in helping to educate children and families as part of an ongoing effort by many volunteers including Valerie and Alistair and our British Columbia co-ordinator Judi Dowson of Canines with Class

Here is the press release describing the event:

In 2011 the Lakes Animal Friendship Society hosted the largest spay / neuter event in BC history, with close to 250 animals spayed and neutered over an eight day period. It was a huge success, but due to the overwhelming response dozens of lower-income families had to be turned away. The Canadian Animal Assistance Team, which is made up of volunteers from across Canada, was eager to return and help these families, and got permission from the College of Veterinarians of BC to hold another animal health event in the Burns Lake Area from May 28th to June 5th.

Families Lined up Early

As expected, families brought their pets and lined up even before the doors were open each day. In the end, the Team spayed and neutered 183 animals and performed health checks, vaccinations and de-worming on 125 more. Only a handful of lower-income families were turned away on the last day when the surgery schedule was full. Laura Sutton, the team leader and registered veterinary technician from Ontario was encouraged by the response. “The numbers of spays and neuters were down a bit from last year, and we hope that means the trend is in the right direction. We had more clients for the other services, and many of those pets had been spayed and neutered at the event last year. Talking to the community members, there is an amazing level of awareness of the needs of animals, and people are very grateful for the care we provided. All of our Team members loved to talk to the guardians, meet the pets, answer questions and provide helpful advice.”

Free Events are not Really Free

Community members were encouraged to make a donation of whatever they could afford. “A lot of time, effort, and money go into holding an event like this” says Valerie Ingram of the Lakes Animal Friendship Society. “No one at the event is paid. The volunteers are taking time away from their families, their pets and their jobs to be there. The Canadian Animal Assistance Team members pay their own travel costs. Local groups are providing facilities, food, accommodations, supplies and support. It is not “free”. It is important that people understand the value of health care for all members of the household, including the four-legged ones. Being a guardian has costs that need to be considered when you are thinking about bringing an animal into your life.”

Dog Houses

The Lakes Animal Friendship Society also distributed dog houses that were built by the College of New Caledonia Residential Building Maintenance class. These houses were painted by Susan Russell’s grade 3 / 4 / 5 class at Grassy Plains School, using paint that was donated by the community. With the distribution of these houses the Society has provided warm, dry shelter to 82 dogs in the Burns Lake area. “We built the first 14 houses from scratch in 2009” says Alistair Schroff. “After that we refurbished 23 more, doing repairs and insulation on old houses donated to the Society. Between the CNC class and Dirk Hofer’s industrial arts class at the high school, 45 houses were constructed in the last 8 months!”

Local rescue groups Turtle Gardens Animal Rescue and Mother Millie stepped forward to take in any animals that were surrendered during the event. “We are very thankful to have these amazing local groups to rely on when an animal needs to find a new home” says Schroff.

Raising Community Awareness

Raising community awareness of bite safety, animal care and compassion is a primary goal of the Lakes Animal Friendship Society and a focus of the Community Animal Care Event. Valerie Ingram is a certified teacher and classroom volunteer. “I speak to about 700 students in our area, usually twice a year” says Ingram. “Last year a number of students came out to the event to see the Canadian Animal Assistance Team in action and learn more about animal care. This year we really wanted to encourage participation and we offered buses for classes to visit the event. Hundreds of students from elementary and secondary schools travelled to the event, asked lots of great questions, and helped out. We hope the students are inspired to make a difference and maybe even pursue a career in animal care! The students even helped come up with a new name for the 2012 event. Ava Nealis from William Konkin Elementary School made the winning suggestion: Great Big Love for Furry Friends Event”.

Education is Critical

The very successful education program in Burns Lake is catching the attention of other community groups. On June 1st and 2nd, the Lakes Animal Friendship Society held humane education workshops for school staff and volunteers who work with youth across BC. “Education is a pillar of any program to keep children safe, improve animal care and increase compassion for others. These workshops and follow-up mentoring will help bring humane education to more schools and communities, including remote locations like Dease Lake. Poor understanding of dog behaviour and lack of training leads to kids getting bitten and dogs ending up in shelters, so we also invited certified master trainers Judi Dowson (from Canines with Class) and Bev Kerr (from Houndsense) to share their knowledge. Doggone Safe and the BC SPCA helped provide educational materials for the workshop attendees. ”

Spay/Neuter and Planned Pethood International

Jeff Young, a veterinarian from Denver, Colorado is a long-time advocate of spaying and neutering programs. He has performed over 165 000 surgeries in his career and supports programs for spaying and neutering through his charity, Planned Pethood International. Dr. Young was hosted by Dr. Lois Martin at the Burns Lake Veterinary Clinic for training and demonstrations of spay / neuter and other preparation and surgical techniques. Dr. Martin and her staff are very supportive of local animal welfare projects and operate the Simonds Sanctuary, a cat shelter. Dr. Martin donated supplies, staff time and use of her clinic over a four day period. Veterinarians and support staff from across the region were invited to attend. Over forty surgeries were performed on animals from lower-income families.

Dr. Young also visited the high school to talk about pet overpopulation, the benefits of spaying and neutering and to answer questions about animal health care and veterinary careers. He told the students to believe in themselves and that they can make a difference if they put their minds to it. He shared a quote from Henry Ford: “If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right.”

Animal Welfare is a Global Issue

During the Event, Laura Sutton and Jeff Young made an evening presentation at the College of New Caledonia and shared their experiences from animal health care across Canada and around the world, from Nunavut to Slovakia, Mexico, Fiji and elsewhere. They also participated in a roundtable discussion with representatives from animal welfare groups, First Nations, and veterinary clinics from across north western British Columbia, and were joined by Staff Sergeant Grant McDonald from the RCMP. As the presentations and roundtable discussions showed, overpopulation and animal welfare issues are a regional and even global concern, Burns Lake is not alone.

Just as the event has grown since last year, so too has awareness of the key animal welfare issues and potential solutions. “Every animal guardian is responsible for the care of their pet and meeting its needs” says Alistair Schroff of the Lakes Animal Friendship Society. “But, it is not just the pet that suffers if there is not proper care. Nuisance, dog bites, and even higher levels of violence in society are some of the side effects. Even if you are not an animal lover, we all need to work together to ensure we have healthy and happy pets so we have healthy and happy families and communities. This extends outside our “local” community, as the communities in the region are linked in many different ways. Groups from across the northwest are starting to build stronger relationships with each other and passionate organizations like the Canadian Animal Assistance Team. This is why we formed the Community Coalition for Animal Welfare in BC in 2011 - to tackle the issues in a much more efficient and sustainable manner. We are optimistic that the coming year will see Coalition members working together to make the Northwest BC Animal Welfare Initiative a reality, with more community education and efforts to ramp up spaying and neutering between Prince George and Prince Rupert, and north to the BC border.”

For more information please contact Alistair Schroff

If you would like to visit beautiful British Columbia, you can stay with Valerie and Alistair at their lovely bed and breakfast on Francois Lake near Southbank BC

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