Pressure is growing on an Ontario dog rescue group to return three pets to their families on a First Nation in northern Manitoba.
“A (German) shepherd named Kujoe and a chocolate Labrador named Sammy were mistakenly taken away and put up for adoption,” MAA confirmed in a statement to APTN News Monday.
“The issue has now been referred to the RCMP who are working with Ontario Provincial Police.”
MAA had partnered with LBH after receiving permission to visit Pimicikamak, located 770 km north of Winnipeg, during the pandemic from June 4-5, the statement said.
MAA said that partnership is now over.
“Kujoe belongs to a family that includes an 11-year-old girl (Reyna McLeod) who has been pleading to get her pet back,” MAA president Rebecca Sands said in a statement.
“She had identified her dog when his picture was posted by MAA shortly after the completion of the trip. Sammy, the young chocolate lab, was also identified by its owners because of its pink collar.”
The rescue groups corralled the animals, which included dogs, cats and a guinea pig, at the community recreation centre to check over and photograph.
MAA confirmed Reyna came looking for her dog and was asked to return with a photo of Kujoe. When she brought one of him as a puppy, MAA said her dog had already left the community.
The photos of the animals were supposed to be posted online for band members to see before the animals were taken. However, that didn’t happen and was a mistake, MAA has said.
“The mistake came to light later after an exchange by messenger with the family, during which the family was able to identify Kujoe from the current photo taken and posted by Manitoba Animal Alliance,” the group said in a statement.
Along with Kujoe and Sammy, APTN has learned a third family dog is missing – a Shepherd-cross named Neko.
Neko’s owner Melvin McLeod said he and his wife rushed to the arena to identify him on June 5, where they described him and his collar.
“They said they would look for him before they left,” McLeod said in an interview, noting Sammy was his neighbour’s dog.
“They used to play together,” he said of the pets.
McLeod agreed his dog shouldn’t have been outside when the rescue group was in town and he wasn’t home. But he doesn’t feel his dog should have been taken without an owner-surrender form.
Pimicikamak spokesperson Helga Hamilton concurred. She said no owned animal is supposed to leave without a surrender form.
“We have been working with MAA for six years now, creating awareness about pet ownership,” she said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
“At the same time, rescues are only supposed to take stray and unwanted dogs for rehoming. Not owned dogs, with collars.”
MAA echoed that in a statement.
“Surrender forms are required only for owner surrenders,” it said.
“As (we) mentioned the other day, verbal consent has been commonly accepted in these cases in the past. However, because of this incident, we are now making signed surrender forms mandatory before removing pets.”
The founder and spokesperson for LBH, Kelley Ward, said that wasn’t her experience with MAA.“I was unaware that surrender forms where [sic] needed all the time as I am being told now there are ALWAYS necessary,” she said in an email. “That was never relayed to me by MAA and I have pulled 100s [sic] of dogs with them. 90 in Sept and 42 in June.”
She confirmed dogs are picked up and collected in a staging area, where they are photographed.
“All Dogs are posted online onto the crosslake lost dogs [sic] page,” she said. “If owners are found they can then collect or sign a surrender form.
“If owners are not found a member of the community verifies of [sic] the dog is a stray and then can sign the surrender. We never had a local come to either trips [sic] and walk through the staging area with me to do this. In sept [sic] I didn’t receive one form. This one i [sic] have 5, 2 of which I have because i [sic] had owners sign as we were knocking on doors.”
Ward said she took Neko after receiving verbal permission.
“…I knocked on the door [sic] a 20ish year old answered explained who I was and asked if that was her dog she said yes (puppy then tried to get inside and she kicked at him to keep him outside) [sic],” she said in an email.
“I said he is cold and his collar is really tight she said take with [sic] and slammed the door in my face. When i [sic] asked her to sign the surrender form she pulled to curtains closed. Refusing to answer the door again.”
When asked why he wasn’t returned, Ward said MAA was handling the case. But MAA president Rebecca Sands denied that.
Ward confirmed she has Sammy, the chocolate Lab, who she said won’t be returned because of health issues that need ongoing veterinary treatment. She shared a copy of a veterinary statement with APTN on condition it not be published.
She said Sammy was wearing a purple collar – not pink.
A statement from a veterinary clinic refers to a brown female lab identified as “Nora.” A dog named Sammy is not mentioned in the statement.
Hamilton said more than one chocolate Lab was removed from the community. And, she said, the ill dog is not Sammy, and the owner wants her back.
“Sammy’s going to be so happy to see them,” Hamilton said, noting it will be the same when Kujoe is reunited with his family.
“Kujoe will know Reyna right away!” she added. “I feel we’re going to get the dogs back.”
Hamilton said concerns about catching the COVID-19 virus are preventing family members from getting to their pets in Barrie, just north of Toronto, from Pimicikamak, which is also known as Cross Lake Cree Nation.
She said attempts to identify the animals virtually via Ward have failed. This led two families to file complaints with their local RCMP about missing pets, which APTN confirmed.
But Ward said she is awaiting direction from Chief David Monias, whom she claimed initially told her not to return the dogs.
“First I would like to make it clear the chief initially responded he not want these dogs returned regardless, and through pressure of a small group of people changed his mind,” Ward said in an email.
“Yes first reaction with me also was Return them [sic], but once the vet spoke to me and the realization that the family couldn’t identify the dog paired with the chief telling us not to return them our position on the matter changed [sic].”
APTN reviewed an email thread where Monias put Hamilton in charge of responding to Ward, and Hamilton told Ward to return the dogs.
Hamilton also clarified that Monias made his comment about returning animals before learning the wanted dogs were missing.
“Once he was made aware that family-owned pets had been taken,” she said he asked Ward to return the pets.
The email thread shared with APTN shows Monias requested more information, including copies of the veterinary report.
Meanwhile, Sands said MAA was making an immediate change to prevent a similar mistake in the future. She said a community representative would now accompany volunteers throughout their visit to identify and confirm dogs for the taking.
“Unfortunately, in this case at least two dogs were removed by mistake,” Sands said in a statement.
“We have been working with the families and the community ever since in an effort to get these dogs returned.”
But Ward said she can’t make her foster families give the dogs back.
“I have forwarded them the emails from [Pimicikamak officials] including their [alleged] threats and have allowed them to take them as they will,” Ward said in an email.
“As the law states I can not force them to relinquish the dogs but in an attempt to keep our communication lines open I have been transparent and completely honest with them about what is happening.”
So far, Reyna and other students have raised $1,390 selling homemade pizza buns and drinks to cover LBH vet bills in an effort to get their pets home.
A volunteer group has also formed to outfit pets with collars and identification tags and buy a microchip tool, said Andrea MacIvor, a teacher in the community working with Reyna.
“[We have received donations of] $180 to sponsor tags for a family so they won’t have to pay for the tags. I know a lot of kids who love their pets who can be recipients of this sponsorship – elders as well,” she said in an email.
“Any money we make (since the tags and collars are donated) we’ll put toward the emergency vetting fund or maybe into buying our own tag engraver.”