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For the love of dogs

Paws Without Borders, based out of Ladysmith, is crossing borders to save canines from high-kill shelters.
Melanie Brown

Looking into Trigger’s big friendly brown eyes and watching him limp from across the room to greet you, it’s hard to imagine how the border collie cross ended up homeless.

But the canine, who had recently been hit by a car, needed orthopedic surgery and was slated for euthanasia at Provost Veterinary Clinic in Duncan.

That’s when Melanie Brown, founder of Paws Without Borders, stepped in to help. After receiving surgery on his hip, Trigger is now in recovery and will soon be looking for a forever home.

Brown, a vet tech at the clinic, has taken on a variety of local injury and behavioural cases; however, the heart of her operation lies across the B.C. border and in places such as California, Washington and Alberta where kill-rates are much higher.

“It’s happening all over the States,” she said. “A lot of the pounds down there are extremely overpopulated. The last group I brought up from San Jose, I pulled six out of 270 dogs.”

According to statistics from the San Jose Animal Care Centre, a total of 1958 dogs were euthanized at the shelter in 2010, including both healthy, treatable, rehabilitatable and unhealthy dogs.

“It doesn’t matter how old they are, how cute they are, what size they are, what their temperament is like,” Brown said. “Until you’ve actually worked in a shelter, it’s hard to grasp. I remember working at a shelter in Winnipeg, walking past a room through a hallway, and you’d come back though the building and that entire room is empty because they’ve all been euthanized — 20-30 animals just disappear.”

Paws Without Borders is based out of Ladysmith, is run by volunteers and is funded by adoption fees and public donations, says Brown.

A network of dedicated volunteers and working relationships with shelter contacts helps get the dogs from the inside of the pound to Brown’s home, where they are assessed, treated and released to foster homes while they await adoption.

“A lot of the dogs I’ve gotten were people’s pets. They walk into the house and make themselves at home and they’re just happy to be back in a house,” she said.

While economics and education have a big role to play in the North American pet overpopulation, culture also has a part to play in areas such as southern California, Brown said.

“I truly believe it’s a Hollywood phenomenon — the Paris Hilton thing — Chihuahuas are over-abundant down there,” she said. “It’s a fashion accessory — people get a puppy, it seems to fit the season or the outfit or the fashion and then when it doesn’t fit anymore, they dump it.

“In talking to people down there, they feel it’s a real lack of responsibility; that this [dog] is going to be with you for a long time. They’re not disposable when they’re inconvenient.”

Since bringing her first group of dogs up from California in April 2010, Brown has re-homed about 70 dogs, and currently has six available.

She said she tries to take in breeds uncommonly found in local shelters to maximize the chances of adoption for all.

“Every foster home that I have is another life I can save,” Brown said.

Rescuing animals has been in Brown’s blood since she was born.

“I was the kid that brought home everything that I could sneak in,” she said. “The reward that you feel when you watch them learn and grow, for the ones that are truly abused or poorly socialized, is like nothing else.”

She added that the relationships she has formed along the way have been rewarding.

“For all the terrible people that abuse pets and do bad things, I’ve met so many fantastic people who are doing exactly what I’m doing and giving up their last penny and driving for hours to get dogs where they need to go,” she said. “And fantastic people who’ve adopted pets and send me regular updates about how much that pet has changed their life when it was worth nothing more than the euthanyl to end its life mere months ago.”

Brown has countless stories of dogs in different situations and stories that would make one’s heart break.

She recalled the story of one young Chihuahua who was going to be euthanized because the owners who surrendered him said he was paralyzed.

“Nobody had even bothered to give him the time of day to take him out of the crate,” Brown said.

“He arrived here, I carried him out of his crate, put him on the ground, and he took off running. I thought, ‘there goes my handicapped dog,” she laughed.

Sydney the Australian Cattle dog is the rescue’s mascot and Brown’s faithful companion of more than six years.

“She was 24 hours from being gassed in a pound in West Virginia, and there’s nothing more horrific. Nobody deserves to die that way,” Brown said. “That was how I got into cross border rescue and it expanded when I got here.”

In addition to loving homes, Paws Without Borders is also looking for reliable foster homes and donations of dog supplies.

For more information, visit

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