Animal shelters carry out pandemic pup exchange at NWT border

Covid-19 has made it much harder to book flights – even for dogs. For the NWT SPCA, a Yellowknife-based rescue shelter, that poses a challenge.

“[We] haven’t been able to do out-of-territory adoptions to BC, which we regularly did, because we just don’t have the flights,” Nicole Spencer, the SPCA’s president, told Cabin Radio.

Normally, transferring animals to shelters farther south helps the SPCA find adopters and foster homes for pets.


That’s why, last Friday, Spencer and her vice-president – Dana Martin – loaded six dogs into their two cars and drove seven hours to the Alberta border.

With tons of hand sanitizer and the careful supervision of officials at the border, Spencer and Martin handed the dogs over to Alberta’s Garcia Rescue.

It was the SPCA’s first ever patrol-monitored, socially distanced, fully sanitized pup exchange.

“It was pretty seamless,” Spencer said. “It was a nice beautiful day, it was sunny. It could have been a lot worse.”

Things have been difficult for the rescue since the pandemic began.


An annual fundraising gala, which brings in about $70,000 for the shelter each year, had to be cancelled. In April, financial pressures led to several staff members being laid off, including vet Michelle Tuma.

Pups earn plaudits

As the NWT SPCA looked at how to recoup some of that lost income, the Alberta border dog exchange was one solution.

The SPCA and Garcia Rescue have worked together for about four years. Spencer said she trusts them to take care of the dogs and find them homes, making the trip worth it.

It helped that the dogs were well-behaved.


Stopping only for the occasional bathroom and water break, they were “the quietest dogs we’ve ever driven,” according to Anna Garcia, owner of Garcia Rescue.

Even pup Joshua – who now goes by Okie – was a trooper, despite nursing a broken leg.

An NWT SPCA photo of Joshua, who arrived with a broken leg before being driven south to a new home

An NWT SPCA photo of Joshua, who arrived with a broken leg before being driven south to a new home.

“He was just all smiles the whole way, and he stayed awake the whole trip,” said Garcia. “He was kind-of like our emotional support.”

It was a long day for the rescues. Spencer and Martin left Yellowknife at 11am and didn’t get back until 1:30am. Between driving, pee breaks, and the actual transfer, it was a nearly 15-hour roundtrip.

That’s nothing compared to Garcia’s commute. She and her rescue partner, Kristen Janzen, traveled just over 2,400 kilometres to and from the border.

They were on the road for an ultra-long 27 hours. (One could say it took “fur-ever.”)

It was still a fun adventure outside quarantined life for Garcia and Janzen. They were able to take in new views and wildlife, and got to watch a bear cub crossing the highway.

“Even though we’re just sitting in the truck, it was nice to see a different part of Alberta that I’ve never seen before,” Janzen said. “So yeah, it was really cool.”

‘Dog therapy’

The six dogs are now being assessed by the Garcia Rescue team. One is already in a foster home and working toward adoption. The two rescues don’t have any more cross-border exchanges planned but are keeping in touch.

Fortunately, both rescues have comparatively few animals to care for during the pandemic.

Both the SPCA and Garcia Rescue have seen a surge in volunteers fostering pets. The SPCA has just under 50 animals in foster homes at the moment, while Garcia has created a waiting list due to demand.

Spencer said it’s because people have more time at home and a dog can offer a soothing presence during stressful times.

“[It’s] a little bit of dog therapy for people,” she said.

For Janzen, working with dogs at Garcia Rescue has been “life-changing … opening my eyes up to the healing power animals can have for people, and people can have for dogs.”

She added: “Seeing them be able to overcome the abuse and neglect that they’ve had in their lives [and] those fears and barriers that come with that, and still be able to give love to new people that they learn to trust, [is] a pretty amazing thing to see.”

An NWT SPCA Facebook post shows two of the dogs in their new Alberta homes.