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WAG's rescued dog in 'remarkable' shape after a year in wild

Ministry of Forests confirms it approved shooting of second 'feral' dog near remote campground
'Feral' dog examined A dog rescued by WAG from remote Sloquet Hot Springs is looked at by Whistler vet David Lane and WAG staff. The dog's companion was shot. Photo by Cathryn Atkinson

A dog, abandoned at a remote campground and allowed to run wild "since at least last summer," has been caught by volunteers and is recovering at the Whistler Animals Galore shelter after its companion was shot dead on the orders of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

The dogs were deemed to be "feral" and shooting them near a remote campground at Sloquet Hot Springs, 143 km south-east from Whistler, was legal, said a spokesman for the ministry.

When the rescued animal arrived in Whistler late Saturday, Aug.11, the it was in shock and despondent, but by Aug. 14, it was eating, had gained a new name — "Atlas" — and had started to interact with WAG staff.

Shannon Broderick, the director of operations for WAG, said Dr. David Lane of Coast Mountain Veterinarians had examined Atlas and said the dog was about 18-months to two-years-old and would have been a puppy when abandoned.

Atlas's hind left paw is dislocated, an injury consistent with him being hit by a car. Surgery will be needed to repair it. His front left paw will need x-rays, and he has tapeworm and a matted coat. Apart from this, the dog was in "remarkable" shape.

"His body score was good, with a good layer of fat on him. He's such a good boy, we examined him and there was no sign of aggression even when he was in a bit of pain," Broderick said.

WAG staff say they were placed in an agonizing situation when they were invited by ministry staff on Aug. 9 to remove the two dogs from the campground, which could only be reached by potholed logging roads.

Sue Eckersley, a board member of WAG, said they responded immediately by putting out a call on Facebook and through Pique for volunteers with a 4X4 as the ministry said they had 24 hours to remove the dogs or they would be shot.

But Lindsay Suckling, WAG's adoptions co-ordinator, who drove to the hot springs with a volunteer, said the animals were shot at with the ministry's permission just 15 minutes after they arrived.

The shooting occurred because WAG would not sign a written agreement taking on liability for the animals.

Suckling said minutes before the shooting she'd managed to get close enough to pat the dog that was killed on the head, and had been optimistic that they'd catch it.

"I'm still very emotional about it, I'm just sad for the dog that died. He was sweet and more trusting than the other one. I want people to know. They went everywhere together," she said.

After the shooting, which Suckling did not witness, she was told both animals had died, and after searching further for several hours she returned to Whistler.

The Ministry of Forests spokesman confirmed in an email to Pique on Aug. 10 the death of one animal and their request for WAG to take on liability.

"(A ministry staff member) requested a written assurance from the organization to take responsibility for the animals and any associated liability. When this consent was not forthcoming, he advised the manager he could shoot the dogs at the campsite if necessary," the spokesman's email said.

Eckersley said on Friday that as a non-profit, WAG could not accept liability, though they had been more than willing to capture and take the dogs away.

"This is the first time I'd ever had to deal with a situation like this from a ministry person," Broderick added.

"I was surprised by the request to take on liability."

The ministry spokesman said that both dogs had been involved in numerous incidents, including biting one person and stealing food from campers repeatedly.

"We can confirm that the manager of Sloquet Hot Springs campsite shot a feral dog on Thursday evening that had been acting aggressively toward campers in recent weeks," the spokesman wrote.

"The campsite manager, also the band manager for the Douglas Lake First Nation, received permission from ministry staff to shoot the dogs. However, the dogs ran off from the campsite and the shooting occurred approximately seven to eight kilometres away from the campsite."

The spokesman added that the manager acted with the full support of the ministry: "The animal was one of two dogs that had been causing problems in the area in recent weeks. Both had open sores and one had a severe injury to its hind leg. Ministry staff recently received reports that the dogs were stealing food from campers and one individual was bitten by one of the dogs...

"Three unsuccessful attempts were made in recent weeks to capture and relocate the dogs, including one by a member of the SPCA who was camping in the area and managed to load the feral dogs into a pickup truck. However the dogs chewed through their rope tethers and jumped from the moving truck, resulting in further injuries."

The following day, Friday, Aug. 10, WAG was invited to return to capture the second dog, which had run off into the forest. The group had a continuous presence at the Sloquet Hot Springs until loggers and volunteers captured it without incident on Saturday, Aug. 11.

"They are angels," said Eckersley, who had gone out to the site twice in the effort to catch the last dog. "I spent 36 hours trying to get him and they said they were going to save this dog and they did."

Broderick estimated the rescue cost $500, excluding vet fees, and involved around 30 people overall. She thanked everyone who helped and many others who volunteered.

Broderick said WAG would like to somehow honour the memory of the dead dog, which was one of the first shot since new regulations overseeing the culling of unwanted dogs were brought in following the killing of around 54 sled dogs in Whistler in April 2010.

Lorie Chortyk of the British Columbia Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said the BCSPCA's approach would be "always to do the most humane thing for the animal" as the first option.

"In situations involving feral dogs, we always encourage individuals or groups to look at options like humane traps or engaging a veterinarian to assist with tranquilizing the animal," she said.

She confirmed that shooting a feral dog is not illegal, but must be done in a way "deemed 'humanely' under the law, with a single shot causing instantaneous death."

"It would not be a contravention of anything that we could intervene in and enforce, but it has to cause instantaneous death," Chortyk said.

She added that feral animals removed from human companionship for such an extended period would be hard to reintegrate "but that depends entirely on the dog."