"Pearls for Paws" is a fundraising venture with the aim of providing assistance to companion animals with "no names and no homes". Banded Peak Veterinary Hospital, located in the Canadian Rockies Foothills, provides the setting for the medical and surgical skills of its owner, Dr Judith Samson-French. Lotus Lines, the pearl company she co-founded with her husband Kimberley Samson-French, will market ecological, unique and contemporary pearl jewellery with the intention of helping animals in need. The specific 2011 campaign has been initiated to provide dogs and cats with "no names and no homes" with a plentiful supply of pet food. The purchase of a dedicated pair of pearl earrings set on sterling silver posts will assure the delivery of 1kg (2.2 pounds) of pet food to First Nations and animal shelters across Canada.
Dr Samson-French was alerted to the plight of reservation dogs, "rez dogs", after having initiated an innovative contraceptive implant project involving birth control in dogs on the Tsuu T'ina and Siksika reserves.
Who is involved?
Dr Judith Samson-French, owner and veterinarian Banded Peak Veterinary Hospital (BPVH), Bragg Creek
Lori Rogers, Head AHT (Animal Health Technologist) Calgary Zoo
A contraceptive implant, known as Deslorelin, is imported from Australia where it had been previously tried only on male dogs.
On a cold and blustery winter day in the fall of 2009 Judith and Lori had a discussion relating to the problem of too many unwanted dogs on the reserves and the associated difficulties (such as mauling of people and livestock). The dogs' own suffering (no shelter, no food or water, cannibalism, parasitism, freezing to death...) gave further reason for serious concern and the two pondered solutions.
Just pondering is of little value, a solution must be found! Lori, from the Calgary Zoo, then revealed that several zoos use contraceptive implants in all sort of species of animals to prevent reproduction. Judith, after reviewing the scientific literature, decided to go ahead and try it on the reserve dogs: she had seen enough puppies frozen to death in snow banks. In order for the project to proceed the pair needed access to the reserves and they contacted the Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) whose mission is to help dogs on First Nation Reservations. ARF was enthusiastic about the project and along with Banded Peak Veterinary Hospital (BPVH) decided to fund the pilot project.
In its first year the pilot project comprised "catching" 15 female "dogs with no names" (feral or semi-feral) and implanting them with the Deslorelin capsule. It was hoped that this would serve to suppress their reproduction ability for between 16 to 18 months. As a result of the implant it was hoped that over a three year period, in excess of 10,000 dogs would not be born!!! In the project's second year, another 50 females "with no names" were also implanted to increase the sample size. All surviving dogs benefit from re-implantation some 16-18 months later.
The implant procedure takes less than one minute and involves inserting, subcutaneously (under the skin), a small capsule between the shoulder blades of the dog. It costs about one third of the price of a spay surgery. Additionally, no pain, no incision to heal, and most importantly of all, no ill side effects. It is estimated that semi-feral dogs and feral dogs on the reserve most likely do not exceed a lifespan of more than 2-3 years. To obtain more information and scientifically tabulate our data, every implanted dog also receives a microchip as permanent identification in order to monitor the survival and reproductive activity over a three year period. Furthermore, every implanted dog receives a free bag of dog food, a complimentary dewormer and a rabies vaccine (rabies being a deadly but preventable disease – which even in this day kills nearly 50,000 people a year mostly in Africa and Asia).
Contraceptive implants in reserve dogs in 10 photographic steps. (photographs courtesy of Tracy Burton)
(1) Catch a female dog (preferably 4-5 months old or lactating)
(2) Restrain the dog
(3) Perhaps a little more firmly
(4) Freeze a small area of skin between the shoulder blades
(5) Insert a small contraceptive implant followed by a microchip.
(6) Use an electronic reader to check the inserted microchip
(7) Give a rabies injection
(8) Give a dewormer in some yummy canned food
(9) Take a blood sample to assess progesterone levels
(10) Give more food as a reward
What is the "big picture" on this project?
Contraceptive implants to suppress reproduction in feral and semi-feral female dogs are a first in the WORLD. If it works here on our First Nations Reserves dogs, it will work everywhere in the world, especially in developing countries where access to veterinary hospitals for spay and neuter programs are not accessible.
In 2010, Dr Samson-French tried to replicate this project with street dogs in Mexico and had laid all the ground work, but Mexican customs officers refused entry clearance for the contraceptive implants.
Where to from here?
The continuation of this three-year pilot project is well under way. The people of First Nations of Tsuu T'ina and Siksika have been tremendously supportive in allowing us onto their land to progress with this project and have been most helpful in keeping up with the project. Much credit is due to them for their unstinting participation.
Starting in 2011, ARF is willing to go ahead with a contraceptive implant program as a foundation program to reduce the number of unwanted dogs on the reserves.
All the volunteers that come on our reserve expeditions to assist in catching dogs and taking notes.
Jack Glaser, who at 80 years of age, still goes on the reserve summer winter to drop off food, blankets, and water for dogs with no name in dire need of assistance.
Purina and Iams pet food for having contributed food to this program at a rebate.
Novartis for providing dewomers for dogs.
Boehringer for donating rabies vaccines.
Wallace Galleries of Calgary for sponsoring a major ARF fundraiser which will help this project.
BPVH for providing support material and vehicle.
ARF for providing technical assistance and covering the costs of the implants and microchips.
And each of you for purchasing some dedicated pearl earrings – you too have helped feed dogs in need.
1000 lbs of dog kibble ready for delivery to rez dogs, presented by Eddie (a former rez dog) and Judith.