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Pet Stories

Tundra My Wonder Dog

Val Cairney December 25, 2020 46


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Hello and welcome to this episode of Val Talk’s Pets.  Well I have noticed that I get quite a few questions about my dog.  When I have him with me, people are very curious about what kind of dog he is and it takes only a quick statement that he almost died twice, and people want the whole story.  His story was actually so intriguing that I was asked to write his story as an article for the Pet Valu Companion magazine Spring/Summer issue in 2019.  It was called, Tundra’s Story, the fate of a soul.  It is quite a story and so I thought I would relate excerpts from that article and fill in some of the behind the scenes goings on.   

This story is about sadness, happiness, intervention both human and divine and the fate of a soul. 

In the summer of 2015, 75 dogs, mostly Husky/Sheppard crosses, were rounded up from Whitefish Bay First Nations in the Kenora, Ontario, Canada area and were brought to the OSPCA, Ontario society for the prevention of cruelty to animals, in Newmarket, Ontario.  The story of how these dogs made it to survival is in itself quite a story.  

In many of the northern communities, dogs are often left to roam at will.  Some have owners, many do not, and the community as a whole will often care for what is known as the “community dogs”.  This is fine, until there are too many. Without a spay/neuter programme in place, the dogs multiply quite rapidly.  Unfortunately, this often results in a “cull” of the community dogs. The “cull” means the population of the dogs must be purposely reduced so they are shot to reduce the population and secure safety for the community as these dogs often get aggressive scavenging for food.   In the summer of 2015, a cull was called by the Reserve in Whitefish Bay.  So, before I tell you the rest of the story I’ll tell you how I found out about this amazing turn of events.  Tundra who was originally named Elijah, had come through quite an ordeal and once we became his official owners, I was asked by the OSPCA in my area to have Tundra be the ambassador dog for the annual Walk for Life fundraiser.  They asked that I bring Tundra and introduce him to people at the event and do a little speech to launch the walkers off onto the trail.  So, of course I said I would do this and as I was at the event, one of the cruelty supervisors came up to me and said, “Is that Elijah?” I said, yes, it is but he is Tundra now.  So, he said, that he was part of the prep team for what you will hear about shortly and he knew several officers and attendants that were involved in the “rescue” of Tundra’s particular group of community dogs.  He asked me if I knew the whole story.  So, this is what he related to me. 

The community had as I said, called for a cull of the community dogs.   However, things took a very different direction, when a boy going to school observed that one of the community dogs had morphed into an old woman before his eyes and then vanished back into the pack.  This boy promptly went to one of the elders and related his experience.  The elder proclaimed that this pack of dogs contained “spirit dogs” and the cull would not take place.   

Having been granted a reprieve, the community still however had to deal with the overpopulation and in a somewhat unprecedented fashion, enlisted the help of the OSPCA.  The OSPCA was quick to jump to the opportunity to help and garnered a tractor trailer with many crates, staff and helping hands and headed to Kenora.  They procured the use of an arena, opened all the doors and set out mounds of food.  Gradually, the word got out and the dogs began appearing for a free meal.  Over a few days, it looked like the whole pack was present and the doors were shut.  The community was given the opportunity to retrieve their dogs.  Some did. Most didn’t.  And so began, the crating of 75 dogs and the journey to Newmarket.  Once at the Provincial shelter the dogs were triaged and those with medical conditions were seen to or placed on a list for veterinary care.  This is where we pick up the story of Elijah. 

One blue eyed boy, walked on three legs.  He had a severely swollen left paw at the joint.  He was in obvious pain, but reportedly, never complained, never growled and never snapped. His medical records actually described him as being “stoic”.   For several months, “Elijah” remained “in the system” being seen by multiple veterinarians, but all to no avail.  In the meantime, he was becoming the sweetheart of the shelter, even spending time at the front desk.  Eventually it was decided to send Elijah to a smaller shelter where he may see other professionals who may have some missed insight into his condition.  He was sent to the OSPCA  Branch in my community.  Once he arrived, he began his rounds of veterinary care but still nothing was decided and still he was in pain, and still he was making people fall in love with him.  In order to allow him to have some human interaction he was placed in the Animal Control Officer’s office.  There he could be petted and have company.  His paw was still very swollen and sore and then his face on one side also became swollen and it was apparent that this dog was in considerable pain.    

At this point, there was one more option, and that was to see a veterinarian in the area who specialized in orthopedics and see if he had an answer.  Elijah was taken to Caledon Mountain Veterinary Clinic to see Dr. John Brajkovich.  Dr. John in relating his experience with Elijah said that he had never encountered such an amazing soul.  He related that Elijah had without a doubt been in significant pain but he never let on.  It was decided to biopsy the bone in his paw.  Once on the table, as Dr. John related, several teeth on the swollen side of Elijah’s face fell out in his hand.  The diagnosis finally came from looking at the bone.  Elijah had Blastomycosis, and it was imbedded in the bone of his paw. Blastomycosis is a fungal infection in dogs.  Infection most commonly occurs after inhaling spores from contaminated soil. Dogs at greatest risk for developing clinically apparent blastomyosis are 2 to 4 years old. Intact male, large breed dogs living in endemic regions.  This group of dogs has a greater tendency to roam and to sniff and dig in the soil, resulting in greater exposure to the organism.  Blastomycosis often presents as COPD, so the dog will have respiratory issues. Without treatment it is fatal. For Elijah time was running out!  Elijah was soon to succumb to the disease based on the fact that it had reached his head.  He was then put on some very expensive and powerful medication.  He was sent back to the shelter with lots of hugs from staff who of course, fell in love with him.   

Back at the shelter, fundraising had begun for Elijah’s vet bills. The fundraising response was fantastic and Elijah began to improve quite well on the medication.  It was decided he should be fostered as there was no reason for him to languish in the shelter while being on the rounds of medication and it would help with his spirits and recuperating to be in a home.  One of the Animal Control officers at the time, who had spent so much time with him in the office and of course had fallen in love with him, quickly volunteered to be the foster.  It turns out that this officer is my husband, and so Elijah found his way into our home and of course being who he is, into our hearts.  I remember one Sat. going over to the shelter with coffee to have a quick visit with my husband while he was working.  There was Elijah, lying on his bed in the office and he came over to me with his swollen face and paw and sat for pets and kept giving me his paw to hold.  I remember thinking what a big dog he was, of course now I don’t even really notice that anymore.  So, I had met him before we fostered and I asked questions about what was going on with his health.  Elijah had just had the biopsy on his paw when I met him, and he had just started the medication.  It was actually only a few days later that my husband said we would foster him.   

So, when my husband said we were going to foster him, I said that would be fine but he had to be able to get along with the cats.  They were they first after all.  We agreed that we would give it a good go.  I’m not faint of heart when it comes to introducing a new animal to another, so I wasn’t going to throw in the towel quickly.  So, the day that Elijah was to come home, it turned out that my husband had a call to attend to, so I headed to the shelter.  They gave me a huge crate, a great blanket that he had been using, food and bowls.  I loaded all this into the vehicle and Elijah and off we went.  So, for safety I pulled into the garage and shut the door so I could get him out.  He still limped very badly.  Well I encountered something I didn’t expect because he was very scared of going up the stairs.  After some major encouragement he managed up the stairs and then once upstairs, with a matter of a blink of an eye, he went into the kitchen took a chicken carcass out of the compost, ate it, pee’d on my plants, and then jumped on the couch and snuggled in.  I stood there absolutely gob smacked!  What just happened??  Well then came the cats.  Out they came to see what was going on and stopped dead in their tracks seeing this interloper on the couch.  Rory the handful, attempted to check Elijah out and I thought, Oh god, what is going to happen, so I stayed close and talked soothingly and guess what, nothing!  Elijah basically became a statue when the cat came around and didn’t move at all.  The cats checked him out, smelled him and he never moved an inch.  Well, going back to my conversation at the Walk for life event, the officer that filled me in on the whole story also told me that there are a lot of feral cats out in the community where the 75 dogs came from, so they learn very quickly that cats have sharp claws and teeth!  Stay away!! 

This worked out very well, as the cats learned that Elijah was not going to hurt them and became very used to him being around very quickly.  Rory and Tundra are best pals and Tundra gives Esme the respect she deserves as a senior cat.   

Well that first day for Elijah had him asleep on the couch for the next 24 hours.  There was still snow outside, so when we took him out he rolled in the snow and looked so happy.  He would come back in and snuggle on the couch and go sound asleep.  So, for the first bit, we put him in the crate given to us as we didn’t know what he would do alone, and we eventually got a camera that we set up and could watch on our phones so we could keep an eye on him.  As the days went on, he continued to improve and began walking on all legs.  He must have wondered what weird place he was now living because within 2 weeks of bringing him home to foster, we had a huge ice storm and were out of power for 3 and half days.  Spring finally came, and I was to take him to the vet for his checkup.  Dr. John was so pleased with his recovering and told me he would definitely take him as his if there wasn’t a family lined up.  I found out by that time, that the deal with the shelter was foster to adopt, so once Dr. John gave Elijah the go ahead to be released for adoption, by husband paid his fee and so he became Tundra.  But, don’t think that came easy either.  We had so many names we tried out.  I looked up all kinds of Inuit words and names and we tried names from Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, you name it.   We were getting frustrated a bit because nothing resonated.  Elijah never resonated because although he had been called that for almost a year, he never really responded to it.  One day I said, why don’t we just use some wintery, snowy name like Tundra and low and behold, he actually twitched an ear and looked up.  Maybe I had stumbled upon a name that sounded like the one he had up in Whitefish Bay.  Well that’s the one that stuck and I can tell you, he would come to that name when called within 24 hours of calling him Tundra.   

We did have an issue with stairs for a while and we had to teach him to go up and down.  He’s a pro now of course.  We also ditched the crate.  He has never destroyed anything and as I’ve said in another episode, he still has his very first stuffie we call George. Another thing I found out was that there was no doubt that someone had owned this dog and taught him quite a lot.  I took him out onto the property up onto a trail on a horse longe line with the intention of teaching him recall.  I let him out about 15 feet on the line, he was smelling around and I called his name, whistled and then I was going to pull in the line to teach him to come.  Well didn’t he just whip around, come straight to me and sit down in front of me.  I was just.. what?? Well obviously you know this?  And other things started coming back to him.  He knew, lie down, sit, give a paw.  He walks right by my side on any given road, with a loose leash, he’s amazing.  We also gradually moved the cat food back to the kitchen and he never eats it.  I also learned that when he gives his paw over and over, he is feeling anxious.  So this is what he was doing when I met him at the shelter.  He only does this now at the vet.  Now, not everything was perfect.  When we first had him in our home, on two occasions, he did the same reaction where he ducked when someone reached around for their wallet and the other occasion was for a phone.  He doesn’t do this anymore, but we knew it was an obvious reaction to being hit or something.  He is also not a fan of the hose and keeps a healthy distance when I am watering.  In the community they often use hoses to scare off the community dogs so I’m pretty sure that’s where that behaviour came from.   

In the last several years, Tundra has only had one relapse of his Blastomycosis.  I keep his immune system well boosted and Dr. John was fully supportive of supplements to do just that.  Olive leaf powder is a miracle.  It keeps the immune system boosted and it targets yeast specifically.  Perfect for Blastomycosis.    

So Tundra’s life was saved twice. He went on quite a journey almost having died twice.  And I always remember that day when he first came home and promptly jumped on the couch and got comfy, I looked into his eyes and I thought, what an old soul this dog has in a young dog’s body.  I didn’t know the original story about the spirit dogs at the time.  Someone loved this dog at one time.  Someone spent a lot of time with him teaching him many things.  Somehow, he was separated from that person and became a community dog. Tundra came through an amazing journey and he has enriched our lives tenfold.  Perhaps he was the one the boy saw become an old person?  I wouldn’t be surprised.  

If you are interested in a Northern Dog, contact United through Animals, the IFAW, Iqaluit Humane Society, Finding them homes rescue, Paws of the North rescue, Moosonee Puppy Rescue, OSPCA Northern Dog community transfer, Team Dog Rescue, Northern Lights Rescue, Northern Dog Rescue and there are more, and if you happen to get a dog like Tundra you will never regret it.   Research is the key because as I say, knowing is caring.     

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Val Cairney

Hi everyone, and welcome to Val Talk’s Pets, the forum for pet parents and enthusiasts alike. So, I have been working in the pet industry now for almost 10 years and, on a daily basis, I handle a lot of issues and questions arising from pet parents. I am not a veterinarian but I do have certifications in Canine, Feline, Small Animal, Fish and Herptile and Avian Health and Nutrition from the University of California, Davis Extension, the Vet College.

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