Rescuing dogs in northern Canada

This couple founded a rescue in remote northern Canada to help save the many dogs in need.

Moosonee is a small town just a dozen miles south of James Bay in Ontario, Canada. Originally a fur trading post, this remote little community is home to fewer than 5,000 people, has no road access, and can only be reached by rail or air. It’s also the focus of Moosonee Puppy Rescue, a non-profit organization founded by Sharron and Paul Purdy who have rescued the many needy dogs of this remote town.

Canine inspiration

It all started eight years ago, thanks to a dog named Toby. “I was a volunteer at the Muskoka branch of the Ontario SPCA,” says Sharron. “One day, when the facility was crowded, I just couldn’t cram the last dog I had walked back into his crate. His name was Toby, and his resistance told me I needed to take him home as a foster. I wasn’t really prepared and had never fostered before, but something about Toby made me act.”

Sharron and Paul already owned two Airedales, and Toby bunked with them for four days before moving on to a new home. “He was more calm, attentive and agreeable than any dog we had ever known,” says Sharron. “He had come straight out of a shelter environment, yet was happy, hopeful and eager to please.”

RescuedBack at the shelter, Sharron asked about Toby’s origins and learned he’d come from Moosonee. The shelter manager explained that a woman named Glenda was transporting dogs from the town to find them new homes, and leaving them at the shelter when she was unsuccessful. In order to do so, the Purdys were amazed to discover, Glenda had to take a five-hour train ride on the Polar Bear Express, then drive six more hours to Muskoka with the dogs. Intrigued, Sharron contacted Glenda, and learned that Moosonee dogs lead rough lives. They aren’t spayed or neutered and are mostly left outside to run wild and breed freely. Puppies are born under houses, in debris piles, and in the brush. The elements kill many of them, since temperatures can dip below –50°F during northern Ontario winters. The ones left behind are culled in periodic “dog shoots”.

Compelled to help

Sharron and Paul decided to travel to Moosonee to assess the situation for themselves. “We were both retired, we live in the country and love dogs,” she explains. “I wasn’t sure what I could do, but something compelled me to pursue this.” Glenda met the couple at the train station and introduced them to three local teachers who were helping with rescues, and another woman who was raising money to bring spay/neuter clinics to the town. Sharron and Paul spent three days in the area, brought two puppies home with them and agreed to take more later. Moosonee Puppy Rescue was born.

A long way home

Because Moosonee is so difficult to get to, one of the Purdys’ first priorities was to set up a “rescue route” for the dogs. It begins with a train ride from Moosonee and Moose Factory to a town called Cochrane, five hours away. Next comes a ride with truckers from Lloyd Richards Cartage. “The dogs aren’t treated like cargo,” stresses Sharron. “The drivers stop to let them out for breaks and often feed them treats on the way. The truck then pulls off at the side of the highway at some predetermined point and we meet them there.” When trucks aren’t scheduled to take that particular route, volunteers meet the train, keep the puppies overnight, turn them over to drivers who take them partway to Muskoka, with the Purdys meeting them halfway there. Not surprisingly, Sharron says transportation logistics are the hardest part of her work.

The rescue network saves about 100 dogs a year, but Sharron says Moosonee residents aren’t always supportive. “They recognize the rescued dogs face abandonment, neglect and sometimes abuse, but they feel they belong to the community and should stay there. This makes our work more difficult.” Sharron adds that dog shoots continue out of tradition even though they are now largely unnecessary. “The spay/neuter clinics and rescue efforts have made the population more than manageable.”

RescuedThe rescued dogs coming from Moosonee are crosses of hardy breeds like shepherds, retrievers, border collies, Labs and huskies. Most are surprisingly healthy. “Only the strong survive up north,” explains Sharron. “The dogs we get have managed to develop a strong immune system to overcome the threats to their health.” Most medical problems are usually related to abuse. A roof over their heads The Purdys open their own doors to the dogs until they move on to forever homes. “For the puppies, we have a oneroom cabin with a woodstove and two dog doors that go out into a pen, so the puppies can live together as a litter,” says Sharron. “If their mom is with them, she comes and goes as she pleases by jumping the gate in the pen. We live in the bush, and have four fenced-in acres. We let the pups out several times a day to run and play freely. It’s wonderful to see 17 puppies running to me from all parts of the bush when I call them!

“Any dog over five months of age lives in the house with us as part of our pack,” adds Sharron. “We have six dogs of our own, so they help with the rehabilitation of the rescued dogs. Most of the adults we rescue have never been in a house, heard the sound of a vacuum, or walked up and down stairs. We give them as much freedom as possible so they can choose to be a part of the pack or human family. Once they have made that choice, training is much easier. It amazes me that the adult dogs still have so much hope, character and integrity after all they have been through.”

Moosonee Puppy Rescue also uses some foster homes. “We received 53 dogs in three months and were unable to care for them all ourselves. A few friends offered to foster, so we now have about five homes that take dogs until they can be placed.

“We do a home visit prior to placing each dog, and we require someone to be home with the young pups during the day. Our standards are very high because we know and love each dog. Living with them the way we do makes them feel like our own, so extra care is taken each time we let one go.”

The Purdys were retired when they started Moosonee Puppy Rescue, but Paul went back to work part time to help cover expenses; the operation otherwise runs entirely on donations and fundraisers. “We are very fortunate to have the help and support of so many people who have adopted rescued dogs from us,” Sharron says. “Some of our closest friends are people we met through dog adoption. These rescued northern dogs are so impressive that people seem to want to be a part of saving them.”


Barb Nefer is an Orlando-based freelance writer specializing in travel, pets, and personal finance.