The animal shelter in Yellowknife is facing a crisis as southern shelters continue to be over-capacity and overwhelmed.

The situation down south directly affects the NWT SPCA as it means more animals north of 60 are staying in the Yellowknife shelter longer, making it impossible to take in more unwanted animals.

The northern shelter used to be able to send out 10 to 12 dogs a month to shelters in Alberta and British Columbia, executive director Nicole Spencer said. That, along with regular adoptions, meant there was a “steady flow” of animals, but now there’s a “bottleneck” situation with fewer adoptions, and the NWT SPCA was lucky to send one dog south per month.

“It’s just slowed down to a snail’s pace, so it’s causing a lot of anxiety of course for us, because we want to help everyone we can,” Spencer said.

A dog who kind of looks like a wolf looks through a wire door with really sad eyes.
More dogs are extending their stays at the NWT SPCA, including 6-year-old Maggie who has been at the shelter since April 2022. (Jenna Dulewich/CBC)

At least four dogs have been at the shelter for more than a year, including Maggie.

The six-year-old pup is described as an older girl who is “low key” and “loves naps.” While Maggie is not great with smaller animals and can be selective with dog friends, Spencer says she is surprised at all the great dogs who remain in the shelter.

“I don’t personally know what the solution is exactly but something has to happen,” Spencer said.

Not a dog problem, a people problem

Shelters in Alberta and BC point to the pandemic boom in pet ownership as a reason for the current crisis, and Spencer says everyone has to play their part in controlling the dog population in the north.

“It’s not a dog problem, it’s a people problem — people are letting down their dogs,” Spencer said.

A clipboard holds a piece of paper with a photo of a big dog named Warren.  The piece of paper lists his stats including his date of birth and arrival.
Warren has been at the Yellowknife animal shelter since December 2021. (Jenna Dulewich/CBC)

Spencer encouraged communities that don’t have a local shelter to think about forming local dog committees, similar to the Fort McPherson Dog Care Committee. She says the SPCA can partner and offer support such as collars, food and educational materials. Also, if traveling vet clinics such as Vets Without Borders plan to visit the community, Spencer encourages people to take advantage and get their animals spayed or neutered.

“It’s not an easy fix but I think communities and community governments need to really step up and take responsibility for their dogs,” Spencer said.

While some hamlets already have animal care committees established, other places are brainstorming local solutions, including Behchokǫ̀, NWT, which hired two full time dog catchers for the community.

Some of the concerns in that community include dogs not being tied up and attacking residents, Pushp Seth, the senior administrative officer with the community government, wrote in an email to CBC News.

Last month, officers drove the fire truck down each street in Rae and Edzo, informing residents to tie up their dogs, with the plan to make the informative drives a regular occurrence.

“[Behchokǫ̀] should not be solely held liable for dog issues, it is a responsibility of residents too,” Seth wrote, noting the community has budgetary constraints to hire dog officers or catchers.

“It is challenging.”

Spencer said everyone needs to work together.

A board showing several photos of dogs and cats with a sign on top that reads, Congratulations to our adopted pets.
Adoption rates have slowed at the NWT SPCA in Yellowknife. (Jenna Dulewich/CBC)

“Communities really need to think outside the box. The SPCA is not a solution as such,” she said.

“We’re here to help and we are a resource and we’ll take dogs when we can, but it’s not going to happen anytime soon and we really need to all work together to solve this.”

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