Monday, September 30, 2013

Possible Breaking News - UPDATE!

As far as we can determine, the information below is NOT correct.  One importer spent hours on the phone, being passed from government agency to government agency, and was finally told by the vet responsible for some aspect of the import regulations that the statement ONLY applies to pups under the age of 8 months, and they have only ever been allowed to be imported to rescues from disaster areas.  Apparently the border crossing security people were ignoring this clause, as were importing rescues, so the statement was meant to reinforce it.  Again, the vet stressed it ONLY applies to pups under the age of 8 months.

HOWEVER,  that said, today at 11:00 AM I accessed the AIRS sytem, searched using "dogs over 8 months" being imported from California to Canada, and the statement below is at the top of the page on regulations.  

My best guess is that someone with some inside connection to a registered importer or government employee with rights to post on AIRS has put this up as a hoax.

I am still awaiting confirmation from CFIA, and won't post the third and last of the importing series until that is received.  

Original post:

The following statement has come through the Automated Import Reference System (AIRS), an electronic system for distributing information as quickly as possible to various Canadian government agencies and interested parties:  

"Please note that the importation of rescued dogs will 

no longer be permitted after November 1, 2013."

(Source: )

This is in recommended directive to the Canadian Border Agency.  We will confirm it with CFIA (Canadian Federal Inspection Agency, the branch of government responsible for the regulations on importation of dogs) when their offices open tomorrow. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

To My Regular Readers.....

Fall Reflections

I have made a decision.  My blog was always a place to make you smile, share each day's magic moments, create a collective "Awwwww" over something one of the animals did, bring me - and you, I hope - peace and happiness. I lost my focus with the whole importation/ethical rescue thing, and it all began with facebook.

Ever since I started using facebook, all the Oh My God This Is Awful stories and pictures have popped up on my newsfeed, all the outrage and debate and defensiveness and frustration has come flooding out of my computer every time I turn it on - in comments and emails, on facebook and blogs.  In the last two days, another 500 people viewed those importation posts - it is clearly experiencing a whole new round of facebook shares among importers and their supporters. And I am deleting nasty, unhelpful comments and emails as fast as they come in.

And to be honest, I am sick of it.  It is like a never ending newsreel of Bad Bad Bad news.  It's not who I am or how I want to live my life.  I prefer to be an ostrich.

So later today I will write one more blog about importing and rescue - much of which will be in point form - to bring closure to that issue.  It will be posted tonight or tomorrow morning.  I will not publish any comments on it, nor respond to any emails about it.  Take it for what it is worth, and if it is worth nothing to you then ignore it.

And tomorrow, I shall delete all facebook contacts who are not family or personal friends, I shall unharness myself from groups and loops that I don't want to be caught up in, I shall go back to my quiet 'I help-with-homechecks-and-transports' type of rescue work only, and I shall disconnect from the negativity that is pulling me down, affecting my sleep and my health and peace of mind.

Tomorrow night, I shall resume my old style of blogging - frequent, short, happy stories and photos. Starting with a beautiful morning sunrise from last week, and a story of some deer.  Life is too short to get bogged down in crap.

I hope you will say "Welcome Back".


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Spinning in a Vortex

No, I have not abandoned the blog, nor the series I am doing on the importation of dogs.  I am, however, spinning in a vortex - or it feels like it.  Family matters, rescue matters, dog matters, life matters - an abandoned dog (now safe), a neglected and abused dog (now safe), a visiting dog (Sadie B), a neighbour in hospital leaving her dog to be cared for, mom not doing well, and a newspaper column to write (done!).  And, of course, all the usual stuff.

That would be ME - I'm "the usual stuff". 

Me to!  I'm usual!

Before using the word "vortex" in the title of this blog, I double checked  the dictionary to make sure it was what I thought it was.  It was.  But I had to smile when I saw this statement in Wikipedia describing vortices:  "Once formed, vortices can move, stretch, twist, and interact in complex ways. A moving vortex carries with it some angular and linear momentum, energy, and mass."  (

So maybe I'm not spinning in a vortex.  Sounds more like I AM the vortex.  

I promise to get back to blogging soon.  

Not 'til after you throw the damn ball, lady!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Remembering Bob

Bob looks out over the estuary
at Swallowfield
Longterm readers of my blog may not recall meeting Bob but will remember, I'm sure, the Irish Wolfhounds who shared his life.

On Thursday night, kind, gentle Bob passed away from a sudden heart attack at his home.  Those of us who hiked with him are in shock, and our hearts weep for Bonnie and wolfhounds Drayann and Keegan.

I first met Bob in 2007, before I even made the move to Crofton.  I had come to meet Caleb, the pitti cross I was to adopt from the Cowichan SPCA.  During my three-day stay, I was invited to take Caleb and my collie Charley for a hike to Swallowfield with the Wednesday Walking Group - a group of dog-loving friends who took the dogs out for a hike together every Wednesday afternoon. Bob, Bonnie and their wolfhounds were part of that group.  I liked them immediately.

From early 2009, in the months before moving here permanently, I frequently travelled over here to check on the status of the work on my newly-purchased house and invariably joined the group on their walks.  And for the next year or two, I walked with them weekly.  And got to know Bob, the only male  (human male, that is) in a group of about 5-7 women and up to 16 or 17 dogs.

Heading out - women, dogs, and Bob. 

Bob and Bonnie and dogs
on Swallowfield estuary

Bob had an quiet, easy manner that immediately put me, the newcomer, at ease.  He had a ready smile that spread to his eyes, and a gentle way with all the dogs.  He shared tidbits of knowledge with me constantly - especially of the nature around us - and introduced me to wild onions, sweet tiny yellow plums, grapes growing along an old abandoned foundation of a wall, apple-pear trees growing wild on the estuary.

Bob offers me a handful of sweet yellow plums
gone wild on the trails at Swallowfield
But whenever I think of Bob, I shall remember most of all the first time we took my dog Sadie to Swallowfield.  She was trotting down the path with the other dogs, ahead of  the humans as we strolled along.  As we crested the final hill before the river, the dogs raced to the water.  Most were swimmers and divers - but not my Sadie. And, unfortunately, she didn't realize there was a slippery bank overhanging the river straight ahead.  While the other dogs swerved to the left to dive in at their usual spot, Sadie tumbled over the bank right into the wet, wet, wet stuff two or three feet below.   Instantly, Bob was lying flat on the ground, arms deep in water, hauling out my seventy pound, wet, hairy, panicky collie cross. 

Ah almost dwowned!  Bob saved me!

Bob and Bonnie had three wolfhounds on that hike - two of them, Blue and Mara, have since passed away.  I know they bounded forth, along with other dogs who shared Bob and Bonnie's lives,  to meet Bob as he reached the Rainbow Bridge.  And I'm just as sure that loping along behind, with her characteristic waving of her ruff and tail, was my Sadie, eager to greet her friend and ready to help guide him to the other side.  

The world has lost a good man, a gentle soul, a friend to many, both human and canine.

Rest in peace, Bob, surrounded by the spirits of many furry companions.  We shall miss you. 

Bonnie, know that we are here for you.  Hugs and tears. 

Heading home

Friday, September 13, 2013

Interlude 1: Mitzi and Me and a Camera makes three

Gordon Bay Provincial Park

Writing about the heavy stuff in rescue is stressful.  Responding to the backlash, even more so.  Add to that concerns about my mom's health, and an abandoned dog drama that unfolded just across the back lane, and I was about ready to crawl into a hole, pull the dirt over my head, and never be seen or heard from again.

Stick a flower on my grave and let me be!
(c) Jean Ballard 2013

What I needed was a mental health day - a day away from the computer, the neighbourhood, and people.  Those waiting for post three in the series on importing can wait a day or three - my other readers will no doubt welcome an interlude of  photos and fun.

Anxious  Eddie already had plans to spend the day with Gail and Sadie B - we are trying to get him comfortable at their house so he can stay there when I need to go to the mainland.  So Mitzi and I had a girls' day out.  We packed a lunch and the camera gear and headed off to circle around Cowichan Lake.

It has been summertime HOT here this week, and by the time we were ready to leave at 9:30 AM  I was questioning the wisdom of going.

9:30 AM in the shade of the carport
September 12, 2013
But she pointed out there is air conditioning in the car, and the route is shaded with tall, tall trees much of the way, and as long as I wasn't going to go in any shops or restaurants, she'd be just fine.  So off we went.

It was the best decision I'd made all month.

It's a trip I've been meaning to do since moving to the island four years ago - the last time I took that route was probably fifteen or more years ago when my friends Ann and Ken and I camped in a very small, rough, rutted, but beautifully peaceful forestry site down the far end.

The road - gravel and dusty - hasn't changed much.  Nor have the glorious views.  The Provincial Parks and forestry campsites, however, have changed quite a bit.  Still beautiful, and at this time of year still peaceful, but not so rough, rutted, or small!

Can you get me some water from the tap, mom?

Fancy swimming hole compared to years ago!

Our first stop, shown above, was Gordon Bay Provincial Park.  Dogs aren't allowed on the beach until Sept 15th, so stickler for rules that I am, we stayed on the trails and coveted the cool water of the lake from the trail.  It was worth the stop.  We walked some lovely shady trails, and Mitzi made a new friend:

Lovely shady trail

Mitzi meets another happy little rescue dog
(and NOT an import!)

How come they won't let me on the beach, Mama?

Soon we were back in the car and headed further west along the gravel road on the south shore of the lake, tall rainforest or rocky cliffs on one side, water on the other.  The further west we went, the dustier it got.

The greenery was brownery, heavy with the summer's dust, and the leaves dried up and wrinkled like an ancient woman's skin.  Mitzi wasn't too sure what to make of all the leaves!

Are they  'tato chips?  They is thin and crunchy!

They's weird to walk in!

But it was beautiful.  And peaceful.  And nothing, nothing soothes my soul like being out in nature, next to water, with a canine companion.  Mitzi's a great little travel companion - she lies quietly in her crate in the car, doesn't fuss when I constantly stop to take photos (unlike SOME dogs, Eddie, who think they should get out every time the car stops!) , and is more than happy to explore new trails, check out old parks, check out the views.

View heading down south shore road

We made a longer stop at Heather campsite, a forestry site, as we knew my former neighbour was camped there.  The site has expanded from about 10 sites the last time I visited, to 78 now.  It has a host on site from May till the end of September, chopped wood for purchase, picnic tables and fire circles.  And it is still beautiful.  I think we may go camping there next June or September.

Do we know those people?

View from Heather campsite
West end of  Cowichan Lake

Mitzi loves to paddle in the water -
no encouragement needed!

Finally it was time to head back, this time on the north shore of the lake.  The day was getting late, so I just stopped to take this one photo on the route home.

Next time, we'll do the route in the reverse direction - I saw lots of interesting little parks and viewpoints to explore on the north shore too.

Mitzi says we should do it again tomorrow.
Maybe next week, Mitzi, but not tomorrow. I think you're a wee bit exhausted.

Who, me?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Part Two: The Scope of the Problem

"A puppy awaits adoption"
(c) Jean Ballard 2009
Note:  This is the second of a series of think-pieces on the importation of dogs to Canada, and its effect on the lives of dogs already in our local shelters and rescues. Part One, "We Canadians Kill Dogs", generated far more interest than I ever anticipated - with the blog receiving more than ten times its usual number of visits per day as well as dozens of comments, many of which I declined to publish due to the offensive language and disrespectful tone.  In addition, the post has been shared on countless facebook pages and on four online newspapers that I know of. 

Before continuing this series,  I wish to point out that my purpose in writing the series was not to engage in debate with a bunch of people I don't know - who could, for all I know, be brokers importing dogs for profit - but to throw some ideas and information out there in the hopes that at least some people considering adopting a dog or bringing dogs here from other countries may think carefully about their choices. 

Part Two:  The Scope of the Problem

In Part One, "We Canadians Kill Dogs", I introduced the reader to the fact that while thousands of dogs are being imported to Canada in the name of 'rescue',  we already have dogs in Canada languishing in shelters month after month, shot in annual culls across the northern provinces and territories, or euthanized by the very organizations and facilities charged with their care and protection.    

But how widespread is this problem? 

According to the BC SPCA, approximately 9% of just under 10,000 dogs in British Columbia's SPCA shelters were euthanized last year (Bob Busch, BC SPCA, cited in The Province , July 2013)).  This is well below the national average of 31%, and those figures only include SPCA shelters, not other municipal or private 'pounds' about which I'll comment shortly.  

In a semi-annual survey by the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies (CFHS), which again was limited only to SPCAs and Humane Society shelters (of which only 60% responded to the survey), about 14% of dogs in the shelters were euthanized in 2010 - almost 6300 dogs.  Their surveys do show a drop in the number of euthanasias from 2004, reflecting, I suspect, public pressure to warehouse dogs longer and/or to release them to local rescue groups.  

But more importantly, the figures quoted above mask the true scope of  euthanasia in our country's shelters.  As the CFHS notes, their survey
...did not include municipally-run animal shelters (or "pounds"), which collectively take in at least as many stray animals in Canada as do the humane society and SPCA shelters....Therefore, the number of abandoned, abused, and stray pets entering animal shelters is much higher than what is shown in our survey results. 
In BC, for example, the majority of  contracts for animal control are held not by the SPCA but by private for-profit companies, and anecdotal evidence suggests their rates of euthanasia are much, much higher than those run by not-for-profit organizations like the SPCA.  

Many of these for-profit organizations have other pet-related businesses such as boarding kennels which not only allow them to underbid the SPCA for animal control contracts, but also may take priority over keeping certain impounded dogs alive.  When one is trying to make a profit from impounding animals,  those that are deemed "unadoptable" for reasons of health, behaviour, or old age are cheaper to euthanize than to provide costly care for.  

The same reasons for euthanization  - health, behaviour, and old age - occur in the SPCA.  It is not a "no kill" organization, and in some provinces cannot even be said to be "low-kill".  Approximately  3% of euthanized dogs in the CFHS 2010 survey were physically and behaviourally healthy, while 80% were classified physically or behaviourally unhealthy.  With the right medical care or the right training many, perhaps most, of those 'unhealthy' dogs could have an excellent quality of life.  However,  the costs involved in getting the dog to that point may be considered too great, especially when 'the hounds are at the door' - be it more dogs needing in, or vets and suppliers waiting to be paid.  And when conditions get crowded and transfer to another facility is not feasible, the least adoptable is the first to get the needle. 

As the website for the Ontario SPCA states: 
Sadly, in some cases animals may be euthanized due to shelter overcrowding.  Overcrowding threatens the lives of all animals in our care due to stress, weakened immune systems, and increased risk of disease transmission. 
Similarly, while the  BC SPCA states it is "committed to achieving zero euthanasia of adoptable animals", this by no means claims to be no kill, and the defnition of 'adoptable' is left vague.  The BC SPCA notes that current challenges within BC include insufficient homes for the proper care of all animals born in British Columbia and consequent overcrowding in animal shelters.

Meanwhile,  more and more animals are being brought into Canada from shelters and rescues in other countries.  The vast majority of the facebook messages and media hype surrounding foreign dogs in need of help begin with sensational statements like “This dog will die tomorrow!”  And someone, for whatever altruistic or egoistic reason, will rush in to help.  

Statistics on importing are hard to come by - there are very few regulations for bringing dogs into this country, and no federal or provincial agency keeps track of how many have entered.  As a recent article in Macleans magazine so eloquently put it: 
Somehow, without notice, Canada has become a refuge to the huddled masses of the canine world, as thousands - perhaps tens of thousands - flood into the country each year.  It's a Wild West sphere, with no one tracking the numbers of rescuees entering the country,  nor their countries of origin.  
One Vancouver Island rescuer recently did a quick search of  rescues listed on, the most comprehensive search tool for people looking to adopt a dog in Canada or the US,  and by checking websites and facebook pages compiled a list, in just a couple of hours,  of over  forty British Columbian organizations importing dogs to this province - twelve just on Vancouver Island. And that doesn't include people importing dogs under the rubric of 'rescue', who flip them in parking lots and on free online classifieds without ever joining the larger rescue venues. 

Strangely, Bob Busch of the BC SPCA was recently quoted as saying he didn't think the numbers of imported dogs were enough to effect our shelters.  I would argue that he is out of touch with the non-SPCA world of rescue. 

A count of the 'Happy Tails' on the pages of one Vancouver Island import rescue I checked shows they imported over 100 dogs  to the island in the last year alone.  Unconfirmed reports name another BC individual who has personally imported over 900 rescue dogs.  And on the same day that considerable media coverage was given to "dozens of surviving Whistler sled dogs still waiting for homes",  one Vancouver Island rescue in conjunction with a local pet store was celebrating the importation of a husky from an American shelter.  This week another Vancouver Island rescue reportedly imported eight more pitbulls from the States.  Like we didn't already have enough huskies and pitbulls in BC's shelter and rescue system?

And that's just in BC.  Judging by media reports, many more import to Ontario - even though it has one of the highest euthanasia rates and is located next to the province with the worst record for puppy mills and one of the worst for animal welfare in Canada.  After my first post in this series, I received a comment from an Ontario reader who said 
I think a lot of rescues look locally for dogs in need first.  But if there are open foster homes and not enough dogs locally to fill them, why not import the dogs, save some lives -- even if they are American?
I have no idea what utopian community she lives in, or what absolutely amazing rescues she is affiliated with, but every single ethical rescue I am familiar with finds no shortage of local dogs to fill their far-too-few foster homes and I know the situation is even more dire in Ontario. And we're not just talking about large dogs - the rescues in both BC and Ontario have many local small dogs available as more and more unscrupulous back yard breeders and puppy mills grind out small little dogs, sell them to the first person with cash, who then dumps them when the dog becomes an inconvenience.  The shih tzus and yorkies and smorkies and malti-poos and daschunds and puggles and jack russels are taking over the kennels and foster homes. 

Are the dogs coming in from other countries directly responsible for the deaths and excessively long shelter stays of dogs already here?  No, of course not.  But the importers may well need to bear some of the responsibility.  If they were as quick to help dogs here as to garner publicity from their so-called compassion for animals in the streets of Sarajevo or Mexico or California, perhaps dogs here would not be euthanized at the rate they are or spend months, even years, in shelters here. 

But still, one can argue, a dog’s life was saved. If not one from Canada, one from elsewhere. It made a difference to that one dog. 

And that may be a valid argument.  Until you look at the bigger picture – the problems that occur when dogs are brought in en masse, or without places to go, or without medical or behavioural assessment, or by inexperienced rescuers, or from culturally and environmentally very different regions.  And those are some of the problems I’ll address in the remaining posts in this series.  

While every attempt has been made to ensure that my information is accurate and that my opinions are based on valid perspectives (I am a retired social scientist whose whole career centred on teaching and evaluating research and reports), the material presented here is by no means comprehensive.  One could spend twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, researching and writing about the importation of dogs.  I think my dogs would object. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

We Canadians Kill Dogs

I have been struggling to write this post for over a week now.  I have considered all kinds of approaches - from the mundane to the sensational, from the appealing to the appalling.  And then, last night, this poster appeared on facebook, courtesy of a shelter in Saskatchewan:

Yes.  We Canadians kill dogs.

And we need to advertise it more.  More loudly.  More sensationally.  More appallingly.

Because it seems that an awful lot of good-hearted, dog-loving people involved in animal 'rescue' don't get it. Instead, they import dogs to Canada from Taiwan, from India, from Mexico, from Greece, from China, from every friggin' country out there.  They even import, by the hundreds, dogs from the United States -- one of the wealthiest, most educated, and most powerful nations in the world!

They do it with sensational media headlines, television cameras running, frantic pleas sent out via facebook for money, for fosters, for adopters. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Canadian dogs languish in shelters month after month, or are shot in annual culls across northern Canada, or are euthanized by the animal control facilities charged with their care and protection.  And no one seems to give a damn.  Certainly not the importers bringing truckloads of needy dogs into the country.

"Compassion knows no borders" they parrot.  That was the response I received from the Puerto Vallerta SPCA when I asked, on their facebook page, whether their practice of exporting dogs to rescues in Alberta was supported and condoned by the Alberta SPCA.  That was the response I received when I talked to a person involved in importing dogs from Thailand to my area, when I pointed out how long some dogs have been sitting in our shelters.  That was the response I see parrotted everywhere that anyone dares to question why dogs of every shape and size, every breed and age, are being imported to Canada.  "Compassion knows no borders".

Don't get me wrong:  global compassion is a good thing.  But organizations and individuals wanting to help address the horrific conditions some animals face in other nations need to take a page from organizations like Save the Children or World Vision, organizations which help address the horrific conditions some children face in other nations.  They do it by assisting the children, families, and communities to become self-sustaining.  They don’t bring plane loads of malnourished, ill, homeless and dying children to Canada;  they work within those cultures to help develop systems that work.  Sometimes working with just one child at a time, sometimes with one family at a time, sometimes with one community at a time, they slowly but noticeably make a difference.

Helping those in need within their own cultures provides a real solution, not merely a finger in the dike.  “Give a [community] a fish, and you feed it for a day;  teach a [community] to fish, and you feed it for a lifetime.” And that is true whether the community is human or canine.

Over the next few days, interspersed with some of my regular posts of my dogs, hikes and photos, I will elaborate on this topic with some anecdotes, stats and problems that I hope will provide food for thought if you are considering adopting an imported dog or supporting a 'rescue' that does so. The posts can easily be shared via facebook- there is now a gadget to the right of my blog by which you can post it on your page, and I will also post the blog on  my page.

Right now, Sadie B (a locally adopted dog who is staying with me this weekend), says it's time to play ball.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A good start, a rocky ending

Eddie woke me at 6:00 AM, a very good start to the day.  Usually Mitzi is first up, at 5:30, so I got to sleep in an extra half hour.  Today was my birthday, so over coffee I opened emails, cards and presents - it is so nice to be remembered!

An' how come YOU didn't hafta wear a funny hat, Mama?
Then Eddie and I headed out for our morning walk.  The air was crisp - in the last few days the leaves have really started changing to their fall attire, and days are getting noticeably shorter.  Eddie decided we should vary our usual counter-clockwise three km loop, and practically dragged me in the opposite direction.  But before we'd gone even a block, I noticed something shiny on the street.  A quarter!

My mom used to say "See a penny, pick it up;  all that day you'll have good luck."  So I figured a quarter means twenty-five times the luck.  Perhaps I should have spent it on a lottery ticket!

We wandered down towards the beach, where the tide was very far out.

Low tide

The morning light and still waters created beautiful reflections at the marina,

Morning reflections

and in the shallows I spotted an old sunken boat.  Crofton seems to be a haven for little old broken up rowboats, and I've taken photos of many of them  - one day I'll put them all together in a blog post.

A once-prized possession left to rot.

After walking the seawalk and enjoying relative solitude in the peaceful morning air, we strolled around the park near the ferry terminal before heading for home.

I got a chuckle out of this dog's resting place atop a cement barrier:

What?  It's warm and comfy!

My friend Else took me out for breakfast (my favourite meal to eat out!), and by the time I returned home, the day was hot.  Mitzi was hunkered down in her crate, uninterested in breakfast or anything else so I let sleeping dogs lie.  I lazed away the day reading books, editing some stories I'm preparing to submit to a couple of publishers, and doing very little else.

But when Mitzi refused lunch, then dinner, and had to be hauled out of her crate to go pee, I began to worry. I should be used to this by now - about once every couple of weeks she goes on a hunger strike for about twenty four hours.  If she's not back to normal by tomorrow, I'll worry.  Okay, I'm worried now, but I'll really worry tomorrow.

Leave Me Alone!

And then my computer started acting up.  I was trying to respond to a few emails and they bounced back with a Mail Delivery System message saying that mail from my email address " matches a profile the Internet community may consider spam."   I tried three times - removing my signature blog address, changing the subject line, deleting the previous message, but always got the same response.

Cr*p.  Who the heck reported my emails as spam??????

If you emailed me today and didn't hear back, I'm not ignoring you. Curiously, some that I send ARE getting through so I guess it depends on your server.

Hopefully tomorrow Mitzi will be back to normal, the email will go through (come rain, sleet, dark of night and spam blockers), and all will be right with the world.