Though she was trained as a veterinary assistant in her hometown of Montreal, Jolyanne Brien Holland moved to Chisasibi two years ago with her Cree husband intending to be a full-time mom. Then she met Chisasibi’s canine community.
“Like every northern community, it was sad to see all the dogs out in poor conditions,” she said. “But I saw that I could help.”
Immediately, Holland said, she began the process of trying to open a community pound. The bylaws to protect dogs and pets from mistreatment were already on the books, but they weren’t enforceable because Public Safety had no place to bring stray or mistreated dogs.
“The only thing was to just pick up the dogs, and eliminate them by gunpoint at the dump,” she said. “I understand that. People up north are no worse than people down south – it’s all a lack of resources. Most people up here really care for their dogs. They have great values and respect life enormously. People here were not okay with dog culls, but we all understood at some point we had to do something.”
So while she worked through the process of opening a pound she bought a 16-foot cube van and began taking the dogs that Public Safety would have shot down to Montreal, where a friend ran a no-kill shelter. Holland says she was not at all surprised to learn that dogs from the north were extremely popular with southern families looking to adopt.
“Northern dogs are very easy to adopt,” she laughed. “Why? Because they’re real dogs! They’re not just used to humans who own a couch and a home – they’re very healthy mentally! They’re loose, they lose an enormous amount of energy every day, they fight for food.”
Her efforts eventually led to the foundation of Chisasibi Animal Rescue (its Facebook page, with over 1500 followers is “Lost/Found/Respect/Love Chisasibi’s Dogs”).
During Goose Break this year, she ran a pilot Doggie Daycare project in Chisasibi to care for dogs while their families were off in their camps. She says this was a popular idea, and 14 dogs were housed with her while their families were off getting their yearly geese. Even better, she says, were the families who took their dogs to camp with them.
“There’s no dog happier than a hunting dog,” she said. “This kind of pushed people to spend time with their dog, which is a gold achievement.”
At the same time, she put the word out that she would intervene if someone had a neighbour who had left their dog tied up for two weeks in a yard with no food or water. In a grim post she made on Facebook, Holland described some of the sadder dogs she encountered, including some left on barely two feet of chain, and another that strangled itself on its chain while giving birth.
“Dogs are like wolves in the way that they are extremely social,” she wrote in that post. “They want to be in a pack, [whether] it’s human or dog. The worst thing you can do to a dog is to sentence him to a life on a chain! They need daily exercises and interactions… To him you are a leader and this is family to a dog.”
Holland said she knew that her statements would be controversial, but that she felt driven to raise the issue. “It has to change,” she said. “No matter who you are or where you live, you cannot expect it to be okay to tie a dog on a leash and forget about it for two weeks. It’s not respectful.”
At the same time, another initiative Holland is pushing is low-cost spaying and neutering for northern dogs – and not just for the reasons most people think.
“Dogs that aren’t spayed or neutered are much more prone to listen to their hormones,” Holland said. “So if your dog is not fixed, you’ll have roaming dogs who want to mate and want to go away. They’ll be more destructive. They’ll be more yappy! They smell the females and they want to go.”
Not only that, but wolves – who can mate with dogs and have fertile offspring together – are able to smell females in heat from miles away, which draws them closer to communities. Holland notes that this past year has been especially bad for wolves in Chisasibi, and that this was bad news for dogs.
“They’ll try to mate with the females, they’ll kill them, and they’ll kill the males,” she said. “And after that, people want to kill the dogs, and kill the wolves. But it’s really a human problem! What people fear, people destroy. But at the same time, they don’t think farther and think maybe we are the problem. If we take care of our garbage, if we take care of our pets, maybe we’d have less of a problem. Believe me, wolves don’t want to be close to us!”
Holland hopes that Chisasibi Animal Rescue will gain in popularity by pairing the traditional Cree respect for the lives of animals with an understanding of dog psychology and dog behaviour. She offers training for those who want to housebreak their dogs or understand why dogs are behaving one way or another. But she recognizes that the cornerstone of her contribution to the community is making low-cost spaying and neutering services widely available.
“So spaying and neutering is much more than about overpopulation. It eliminates so many problems at the same time.”