Kyle, one of the volunteers with Critter Cruisers Transport, with Willy, one of the rescue dogs obtained from Mexico by BARCS Rescue and brought back to Canada. ( Photo courtesy @gwaiiadventures)

Kyle, one of the volunteers with Critter Cruisers Transport, with Willy, one of the rescue dogs obtained from Mexico by BARCS Rescue and brought back to Canada. ( Photo courtesy @gwaiiadventures)

Dog Rescue Odyssey

BARCS Rescue brings shelter dogs to Canada to good homes — in the face of a continent-wide shortage of animal companions

BARCS Rescue has done it again — bringing dogs in need of a home to Canada to those longing for a dog for their home.

BARCS Rescue was formed in Calgary in 2012, and expanded into the Kootenays when founder Debra Therrien moved from Calgary to Jaffray. Last week, BARCSbrought through 48 rescue dogs from Mexico, via the U.S., to their new homes. Most of the dogs were heading for Calgary, with several dropped off in the Cranbrook area.

BARCS has been running this kind of operation for years. But the pandemic has created unprecedented conditions for the transport of rescue animals, that required an unprecedented response from the rescue organization to be able to carry on operations. And its most recent trip, to the Mexican border to get the dogs, presented challenges that BARCS hadn’t faced before.

The Covid-19 pandemic, now into its second year, has created a great demand for animal companions all over the continent. In Canada, there is an extreme shortage of potential animal companions for people who are looking for them.

“There are not a lot of animals up here [in Canada] for people.” Therrien said. “For every small dog that comes in, for example, our people get between 300 and 500 applications.”

The border being closed has exacerbated that shortage.

“I could send the bus down [to the U.S], and bring back another 50 dogs, and we would still be out of dogs,” Therrien said.

The search for search for rescue dogs goes far afield — all over the continent, in fact.

“Right now, there are no small dogs in the southern states,” Therrien said. “We were working in California before, and bringing up small dogs all the time. We can’t get small dogs there any more.”

The ongoing pandemic has resulted in an increased desire for animal companionship all over the world.

“Covid is the reason,” Therrien said. “People are at home, people are alone. They’re lonely. They don’t want to be lonely, and they’re unable to go anywhere to deal with it. People are getting desperate for that companionship. And you just can’t find a dog anywhere. Unless you go to a breeder. And even that waitlist will be huge. Not to mention the cost of getting an animal from a breeder.

“If you’re a senior, chances are you can’t afford a breeder.”

Pictured: Susanna, one of the volunteers with Critter Cruisers Transport, in San Diego with rescue dogs obtained from Mexico by BARCS Rescue, just prior to setting out back to Canada. ( Photo courtesy @gwaiiadventures)

The pandemic, and not being able to bring dogs across the border, has also caused a problem for standard rescue operations for BARCS, including the financial aspects of it. A few members of BARCS therefore created a separate and independent transportation company — Critters Cruisers Transport — which BARCS Rescue now contracts for the transportation of the dogs.

Critter Cruisers is a for-profit transport company, which is rated the same way as a commercial truck driver. So it’s able to go back and forth across the border, without being subject to the quarantine.

“Because we are considered a commercial entity, we must also fill out a log book and cross scales,” Therrien said.

Critters Cruisers — a company born because of the pandemic — was registered in September, 2020. Professional drivers can now cross the border in the company bus to bring the dogs back.

“And we bring back dogs for everybody, whoever you are,” Therrien said.

“We honest-to-God can’t keep up. We could use a second vehicle at this point. As soon as the bus comes back into town, gets its oil changed or whatever it needs, it turns back around and is on its way again.

“Right now the bus is on its way back down to the Sacramento area. She is taking a dog from Cranbrook down to Idaho, a customer’s dog. A breeder’s dog.

Therrien said the team on the bus ensures the dogs are not on the bus any more hours than absolutely necessary. “And we’ve always got three drivers on the bus, so the dogs can get here as quickly as possible.”

Pictured: Kyle, one of the volunteers with Critter Cruisers Transport, loading dogs onto the bus for the return trip to Canada. (Photo courtesy @gwaiiadventures)

This past trip, from San Diego back up to Calgary, was also unprecedented in the challenges the team faced.

“Usually our trips go off pretty regularly,” Therrien said. “But we’ve never had a trip like this before. We are so thankful to be home. It was a nightmare from the word go.”

The majority of the dogs were flown by Air Mexico to Tijuana, where they were escorted over the U.S. border to where the Critter Cruisers Transport people were waiting in San Diego. The dogs came in on four different flights, meaning the crew were waiting in a parking lot on the San Diego side for a straight 24 hours (with no washroom access, added Therrien).

Once the dogs were on the bus, the team found they were overloaded. With some dogs being bigger than originally listed, there wasn’t room for all the crates that would allow for the access mandated by the CFIA.

“We will not haul inhumanely,” Therrien said. “We can only take what our crates fit. They brought us up too many dogs that were too big.”

Luckily, the Solano Animal Shelter was able to take six of the dogs, and the Critters Cruisers was able to get on the road.

Pictured: On the bus.(Photo courtesy @gwaiiadventures)

Stopping for the night at a Motel 6 in Vacaville, California, one of the dogs came down sick. While the volunteers were out on the bus tending to the dog, one of their rooms was robbed, with everything stolen. The dog itself ended up dying that night, a devastating experience for everyone involved.

A gofundme account has been set up to help replace the stolen possessions.

On into Oregon, the team found themselves faced with highways so slick with ice they were unable to move. But a plow truck showed up, and led them into Chemult, Oregon, laying down sand in front of the bus all the way.

In Chemult, a motel made itself available to the team and the dogs at 11 p.m.

Pictured: In Chemult, Oregon. (Photo courtesy @gwaiiadventures)

The next day, the team made it to Bend, Oregon, where dozens of volunteers were waiting, to help walk the dogs and give the humans a good break.

Pictured: In Bend, Oregon. (Photo courtesy @gwaiiadventures)

And so on to Canada. The team arrived in Jaffray at 8 a.m. Wednesday morning, Feb. 17, for a good dog walking, and where the locals could pick up their dogs. The rest went on to Calgary later that day, where the fosters were waiting. That same morning, the BARC’s car was on its way to Jaffray with fresh drivers and hit the ditch on black ice. Unfortunately the car will be written off, putting BARCs in a serious predicament without it.

Therrien said the dogs go into foster for a week to 10 days. “For that time, they are not available for adoption, until we ensure that they are healthy and that there’s nothing underlying that’s going to come up, and that they’re behaviourly sound.

“The great thing about it is is that if you’re a foster, you get first option to adopt.”

There is a crew of long-term fosters for BARCS, who will always take the dogs and care for them for the interim period. The Playpen in Cranbrook also helps out BARCS if a pup finds itself needing a temporary place to crash.

Others can take BARCS foster program, who are people who want a dog and are looking for a dog, who see a dog on the BARCS website and apply to foster it.

Therrien said the organization gets between 300 and 500 applications to adopt each dog.

“You can imagine the amount of paperwork that these girls [administrators] go through, trying to figure out who is the best home for the dog. We don’t go by first-come first-serve. We don’t go by who you know. It is in the best interest of the dog.

“If you want a dog in this day and age, you really have to foster. And we don’t take the first foster that comes through. The girls will sift through all these applications, and find the most appropriate foster, preferably someone with intentions of adopting.

“We’re in this for the best interests of the dogs.”

Pictured: In Jaffray, B.C. (Photo courtesy @gwaiiadventures)

Therrien offered a shout-out to three businesses that have been great supporters of BARCS Rescue.

Playpen Boarding and Daycare: “If we are every stuck, and we bring in a dog that all of a sudden doesn’t have a foster, they have always helped us out.

Ciao Bella Pet Parlour, Julie Gamache in Kimberley always makes room for a dog that really needs a grooming after coming up from down south.

Kimberley Kritters Pet Food and Supply. Erin helps with any food or supplies that BARCS needs.

BARCs Rescue is now a Registered Charity and can provide tax receipts.

They currently are accepting donations to replace our vehicle that was totalled during this transport.

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