Above: Features and her brother Pancake were driven off by their mother so she could save the other pups.Features had six seizures in the first hour after she was found, due to dehydration. She had only hours to live. Both she and Pancake are doing well. – Submitted Photos
by Stephen Dafoe
After living in the community for 20 years, Morinville residents and local realtors Don Summers and Doris Jolicoeur left town two years ago for the warmth of St. Lucia and their new property Tapion House. But it is the warmth generated by caring for stray dogs and finding them new homes in Canada that is keeping the couple busy since moving.
The Bruno Project, started by Doris Jolicoeur and Canadian friend Vanessa Deline, saved 63 dogs in its first 11 months. A year and a bit into the initiative and the project has helped 78 dogs. Of that number, one went to the US, one to the UK and 76 to Canada. One of the Canadian dogs was trained as a service dog for a Canadian veteran with PTSD, and another is undergoing training for a civilian affected by PTSD.
St. Lucia, a Carribean island, is only 617 square kilometres but has a significant stray dog problem.
Don Summers said pet ownership is not viewed on St. Lucia as it is in Canada. The majority of dog owners do not spay or neuter their pets for several reasons, including costs. As many people use dogs as guard dogs, the prevailing view is that the dogs are more aggressive if not neutered. Summers said some Lucians also breed pups and sell them as a way of supplementing their income.
“Spaying and neutering of animals is a real challenge, and many Lucians live a hand-to-mouth existence,” Summers explained. “They work very hard, but wages are typically quite low, so their priority is on feeding their families, not stray dogs.”
As a result, dogs scavenge and over generations have adapted the ability to eat things that would be dangerous to dogs in Canada, chicken bones being one example.
Summers said both stray cats and dogs are on the island, but cats are generally accepted by resorts and able to forage and hunt for themselves. The dogs, however, are driven away from resorts, restaurants, and other tourist spots.
Being dog lovers, the plight of St. Lucia’s stray dogs was something that left the couple with a need to take action.
“Both Doris and I were professional soldiers and can be ruthless when necessary. But, we were always trained to despise cruelty and to protect those in need of aid.”
For Summers and Jolicoeur, the need is real because the dogs are without hope except for that that provided by the St. Lucia Animal Protection Society (SLAPS).
“Life at a clinic is merely subsistence,” Summers said. “Only a rare few get adopted by families here on the island; the remainder wait at the clinic to see if anyone will ever love them and give them a home.”
Doris Jolicoeur and Lucia, the first dog sent to Canada through the Bruno Project in May of 2016. To date, 78 dogs have been rescued and sent to new homes. – Submitted Photo
The Bruno Project
A visit by Summers sister Linda and several of her friends to the island in early 2016 would prove to be the catalyst for the Bruno Project, named after one of the rescued dogs.
“One of these friends was Vanessa Deline. They were having lunch at a nearby restaurant, The Hardest Hard, and Vanessa spotted Bruno,” Summers said. “I am told she burst into tears at the sight of him; he wasn’t much more than skin, bones, fleas, ticks and mange. She bought a meal just for him, and after overcoming his fear of being near a person, he wolfed it down. So, she bought him another, and it met the same fate.”
Deline, knowing Summers and Jolicoeur volunteered with SLAPS, implored the couple to take Bruno to the clinic. Although the clinic was over capacity, Deline funded feeding Bruno every day.
“For several weeks, Doris fed him every day at 2 p.m. and he slowly came out of his shell,” Summers explained, adding Bruno was surviving, but not thriving.
When Jolicoeur left for Canada that May, Summers took over feeding the dog, and got him to the vet who discovered he had tick fever but was free of heartworm.
“He had ticks, fleas, worms, sarcoptic mange, was severely malnourished and fairly dehydrated,” Summers recalled. “He needed a variety of treatments, but some had contra-indicators and couldn’t be given together or within a few days of each other. The treatment for the mange needed him to have a pill twice daily, something that couldn’t be achieved with him running stray, so I brought him to Tapion House. Over the next couple of weeks, the mange cleared, the worms were cleaned out, the ticks and fleas banished, and he started to put on some weight.”
The couple’s original plan was to send the dog to Ontario to live with Deline; however, Bruno had pit bull DNA, and Ontario has a ban on pit bulls.
Foxy on the day she came to Tapion House.
Foxy today in her new home with her new best friend in Hamilton, Ontario.
Many dogs find new homes
Jolicoeur and Deline coordinated a system whereby Doris would send dogs with travellers via WestJet and Deline would receive them in Toronto.
“Forever homes were arranged by Doris before the dogs left the island and we have a relationship with several foster families, the Lincoln County Humane Society, and others to ensure any dogs that are returned by their new families are re-homed and are never without care, food and love,” Summers said.
There have been many success stories.
Foxy spend four months at Tapion House with SLAPS funding all of her care. The dog who was skin and bone on her arrival now lives with a loving family in Hamilton, Ontario.
“We cried when she left, but sometimes loving a dog means letting them go to a better home and family,” Summers said.
Pudding was discovered at two days old next to the corpses of his mother and three siblings. Summers suspects the dogs were poisoned.
Today the dog is well, and the couple is planning to send Pudding to Canada with Features and Pancake, two dogs drove off by their mother so she could save her other pups.
“Features had six seizures in the first hour after we found her, due to dehydration,” Summers said. “She had only hours to live. Both she and Pancake are doing well, but if not for SLAPS, they would have died.”
The project is not without effort for Deline who lives in St. Catherines, 90 minutes from Pearson International Airport, as the Westjet flight lands at 9:30 p.m. and travellers are often not through customs until 11 p.m., Deline is often not back home until 3 a.m.
“[She is] truly a remarkable and compassionate woman and an inspiring professional,” Summers says of the Canadian half of the project. “For Doris, she has truly found her passion, something many folks never really find or have the opportunity to undertake.”
How Morinvillians Can Help
Summers and Jolicoeur are hoping the people they know back home that are pet owners will take an extra two minutes every day to spend just hugging their pets, patting them, and letting them know they are loved.
“Many times whilst feeding dogs at the clinic, a number of them would be more interested in attention than food and food was always a major priority,” Summers said.
The couple is also hoping those who support Canadian animal protection organizations will also consider visiting the SLAPS website at www.stluciaanimals.org and consider making a donation.
Summers said a $5 US feeds an adult dog for a month.
“Any amount is very much appreciated, and we certainly stretch every dollar,” Summers said of the organization he and Jolicoeur volunteer with.