A good friend had done multiple trips with the Northern Dogs Project, both as part of the clinic team and to pick up dogs for rehoming. When she casually asked me one day what was on my schedule for the next week, I knew what she was asking. I'd heard of her many trips over the years and each time I said, "One of these days I want to go with you."
Today was that day.
Jan Hannah, who runs the Northern Dogs Project, had the van packed to the roof with crates, and each crate was filled with generously donated dog food. There was even room made for two straw bales for the doghouses up north.
The best strategy was to do the drive north in one day, but to split the drive back (when we had dogs) into two days. So 13 hours north and over 1,100 kilometers (approx. 684 miles) later we checked into our motel for the night, exhausted.
The next morning we drove amongst the gorgeous snow laden pine trees to where most of our four-legged charges were. It seemed like organized chaos, big dogs loosely weaving in and out of a dozen dogs tied to their doghouses all barking "pick me."
The prior legwork had been done and we had actual photos of who would be coming south, but those who didn't make it on this trip would be picked up the next time.
We looked into one pen at two scruffy faced pups who were supposed to be labs but obviously weren't. They looked so much like my sweet Joe who had died a couple of years ago. I looked at Stef, she looked at me with a big smile, and all I said was, "Uh oh."
Stef and I unhooked the dogs and did a meet and greet to see who got along best for remaining outside the available crates in the van. I was so impressed. These were happy, well-cared-for dogs, with only one real bossy boots in the bunch (as it turns out, she had reason: she was pregnant).
We decided who would travel home in one of the now-empty crates, and, since we wanted to fit in as many as possible, who would be roaming free in the van. This isn't a quick process, and almost three hours later we were finally ready to go.
Counting the mama husky cross and her eight, 4-day-old puppies, our total at departure was an impressive 22 dogs of all ages and sizes.
The dogs were congenial and cooperative in their new circumstances. They came from a life of roaming around free, being outside day and night, and we put most of them into crates which they would have never seen before.
Loaded and ready to go, we drove more than halfway back home. Arriving at our very accommodating dog friendly motel, we took each dog out of the van one-by-one to feed, water, and do their business. I hadn't done this before and had no idea that it would take more than three hours!
Finally, with mama and her eight pups content on the bathroom floor of our room, and another four young dogs wandering between the beds, we both said goodnight about midnight.
After a night of fitful dozing, we got up at 5 a.m. After a repeat performance of the previous night, feeding/walking, we were ready to go. We drove a mere six hours the second day to complete our journey back to Jan. She had asked us our opinion on each of the dogs, and within a couple of hours of our return, they were divided out to go to welcoming foster homes belonging to various rescue groups or to IFAW foster homes.
The highlights? The scenery: the north was beautiful with its snow covered trees. To see with my own eyes the dogs simply roaming around the streets, unrestrained and an obvious part of the community. To be a part of the chain of people that made all this happen: Jan and her preliminary homework, the two schoolteachers who helped and their own drive, the devoted woman at the refuge, the fosters back in Ontario eagerly awaiting their new charges who they would make healthy and evaluate so they can be adopted to their forever home.
I am now enjoying my northern pup, one of those scruffy "lab" pups who reminded me so much of my Joe.
I had no intention of adopting anyone on that trip but you grab love when you encounter it and I encountered it with Lincoln.
I feel blessed at making such a journey and being a part of all the giving, caring people who each contributed to make it happen.