As the effects of climate change advance globally, Veterinarians Without Borders/Vétérinaires Sans Frontières (VWB/VSF) is teaming up with local partners and volunteers to respond to climate-related crises — from floods to wildfires, hurricanes, and more. Often, when these disasters strike, people and their animals are unprepared, or have a very short period of time to respond, which can create dire challenges in safely evacuating them to safety.
This was recently the case across Canada's remote North, as unprecedented wildfires swept the Northwest Territories, destroying communities and forcing thousands to evacuate. In the community of Hay River, NWT, located on the southern shore of Great Slave Lake, residents faced multiple evacuation orders, with some, sadly, losing their homes and businesses due to the fires.
The wildfires didn't only impact people — in fact, the community's only animal shelter and its four-legged residents were forced to evacuate, despite very few options for temporary boarding facilities existing beyond the community — particularly in the already resource-strapped North.
When a call was made via Hay River's community Facebook group for anyone leaving town to take an animal from the local shelter with them, a local community member loaded up her van and drove south to Grande Prairie, AB. Following this volunteer's brave efforts, a second level evacuation in Hay River was announced and the remaining shelter animals were transported by evacuating essential workers via a military plane to Edmonton. Although the Hay River shelter's animals found temporary board in Alberta, the number of evacuated animals exceeded the capacity for local shelters and fosters to take on. Where, then, could they go?
Already active in providing access to some of the only existing veterinary services in northern Canada, VWB/VSF quickly sprung into action to assist in finding placements for the evacuated animals.
VWB/VSF's Marieke (L) joins Anji (R), a team member with Wings of Rescue, to transport dog from flight after being moved to Halifax from Hay River, NWT.
That's where VWB/VSF, Wings of Rescue, (a non-profit that provides transport for sheltered animals), and Nova Scotia SPCA came in.
"Due to limited resources and infrastructure in the North, it's very difficult to find veterinary and boarding care for animals in general, let alone while communities are rebuilding," said Marieke van der Velden, VWB/VSF's northern Canada program manager. "With the incredible team at NS SPCA's expertise in dealing with emergencies, such as the wildfires that swept Nova Scotia earlier this year, they were an incredible resource for intaking these dogs that, quite literally, had nowhere else to go," she said. "Wings of Rescue came to the rescue, once again, by stepping up to transport the dogs to Halifax, so they can be cared for and, hopefully, find their forever homes," Marieke explained.
This partnership is an incredible example of Canadian communities, from coast to coast, coming together to help each other during emergencies.
Late on the evening of September 26, 2023, the Wings of Rescue flight touched down in Halifax, where it was met by team members from the NS SPCA and VWB/VSF's Marieke. The very special cargo included five adult dogs along with 11 puppies that were named in honour of their place of origin. These include Aurora, Borealis, Char, Delta, Falco, Louise, Mackenzie, Moose, Nahanni, River, and Tundra.
Two of the puppies transported from Hay River, NWT to Halifax following the wildfires.
"It's so incredible to see so many people coming together to help animals in need of extra care and attention," said Marieke. "With organizations like NS SPCA and Wings of Rescue, we can offer unique support to ensure that no animal is left behind during crises," she added.
VWB/VSF's Marieke with a pup after being transported from Grande Prairie, AB to the Nova Scotia SPCA.
As climate emergencies become more prevalent, VWB/VSF hopes to offer ongoing support for both domesticated and farm animals. Our Emergency Rescue & Relief fund helps ensure that our team can respond at a moment's notice when disasters strike.