Three Canadian gals stop at nothing to build needy northern puppies winter shelters

Jan, Stef and some of the dogs they're helping with your support.I meant to update everyone on the dog house build for the northern community but between travel and a travel bug, I’ve been away or in bed. The International Fund for Animal Welfare was asked to build dog houses for a northern Ontario community that  reached out for help after they realized that once again, dogs would be left out in the cold. 

Not just adults but puppies as well--born in the middle of winter, a totally inappropriate time for any mammals living outside to have babes!  But domestic dogs don’t have the same reproduction cycle as wild canids so the unfortunate reality is that pups do freeze to death…every year.

IFAW approached Home Depot in Sudbury to provide some of the materials that we needed. Wood, shingles, nails, screws, insulation, glue as well as tools were on the list.

Home Depot was happy to help and after I sent them the dimensions for the different-sized dog houses, they put one staff member on wood cutting duty for a full day (he made sure to thank us for that day when we arrived!). Both Michelle and I have wood working/renovation experience and Stef, who I asked to join our merry band for her always-ready-to-go-ness, rounded out the team by bringing her Habitat for Humanity Team Leader skills. 

I had the rented Caravan packed with tools, dog food, straw and some building supplies ready for when Michelle and Stef arrived for an early Thursday morning blast off. Of course, it turned out that even though we’ve escaped winter for the most part near Toronto, Sudbury area was expecting snow.

Fast forward a couple of coffee stops later and we hit the snow just north of Parrry Sound. 

The driving was acceptable but by the time we picked up the cube van and arrived at Home Depot to pick up the supplies, it was real time winter.  The guys at Home Depot were helpful and kind and we were loaded and on the road in the snow within an hour and a half. 

Another hour and a half and we were in the community, tracking Stanford down and unloading all of our wood at the community centre where we expected to be building bright and early the next morning.  We grabbed dinner and by then it was a wicked snowstorm, the wind howling and the temperatures dropping throughout the night.

The next morning we arrived at the community centre to learn that for whatever reason, we couldn’t build there. With no time to lose, we loaded everything back into the cube van and headed out to a space that had been offered to us– somewhere with heat thankfully. And then the work began in earnest. 

I had made two dog houses at home already to work out any kinks and like the wolf housing I had seen in Yellowstone, we were using triangulated pieces of 2 by 4s to hold the structure together.  If it worked for reintroduced wolves, it would work for dogs!  We set out a system…Stef and I would build, Michelle would insulate. Stef and I could put together any sized dog house in 18 minutes.  Then Michelle used templates to cut the Styrofoam for insulation and on went the roof and finally, the shingles and dog flaps. The finale was the straw.

All day we built dog houses while the storm raged outside. We worked until closing and then headed out for dinner. Stef and I were incredibly sore, getting to know muscles that we didn’t know we had. Exhausted and in some serious pain, we passed out to get another early start the next day. The mercury dropped to -30 C and the wind howled. A great time to get dog houses to needy dogs!

The next morning we arrived back at our building spot only to find the cube van was dead. Without a plug to keep the engine warm, that diesel truck wasn’t about to start. As Michelle and Stef kept building, I called for help and was told that it would take at least two hours, four after the truck driver called me to say he had run into engine trouble enroute! 

Michelle jumped into the van and drove to Stanford’s house to get him to come out with his pick up and start to move the dog houses to his house to distribute. Our plans of painting took a back seat due to the cold but we’ll have time for that when we go back to the community to host the spring wellness clinic. 

For now, we can sleep easier knowing that dogs in this northern community have the opportunity to come out of their culverts or wherever they have been hiding from the cold and sleep a warm and safe slumber in their very own cozy dog den!


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Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Jan Hannah, Campaign Manager, Northern Dogs Project
Campaign Manager, Northern Dogs Project
Kate Nattrass Atema, Program Director, Community Animal Welfare
Program Director, Community Animal Welfare
Shannon Walajtys
Manager, Animal Rescue-Disasters