If Paws the dog could speak, she would have an amazing story of survival to tell.
As it is, the story of the emaciated sled dog being found alive – barely – after almost seven weeks lost north of Fort Providence is told by Wes Hinchey.
Hinchey, the owner of Arctic Alarm in Yellowknife, was driving to Hay River on Aug. 30 when he saw a dog on the shoulder of Highway 3.
“I didn’t realize it was a dog right away, he said.”I thought it was a coyote maybe or something, and after it had passed it just sort of clicked in my head that it was a collar on it, not a marking on the neck, and it was very thin. So I decided I would turn around figuring it was 100 klicks basically between Edzo and Fort Prov. I didn’t figure it was going to make it more than a couple of more days.”
Hinchey pulled up beside the dog, and coaxed it into his vehicle with a sandwich.
The rescuer then drove the dog to Hay River, and planned to take Paws back to a Yellowknife shelter the next day.
But on the way to Hay River, he contacted the Northwest Territories SPCA and sent it a video of the dog eating the sandwich, and was put into contact with the Hay River SPCA.
Hinchey put Paws into the Hay River Animal Shelter for the night with plans to pick it up the next morning and take it to Yellowknife because he was aware the Hay River SPCA was about to stop operating the shelter.
“They texted me three hours later saying that they had found the owner,” he said. “It was awesome.”
That owner is Albert Bourque of Hay River.
Bourque said he is “absolutely” happy to have Paws back.
The 10-year-old former sled dog had bounded into the bush when it and another dog had been let out of a vehicle for a break while Bourque was driving north on July 14.
“She was out in the bush with us many times, and we never had to put her on a leash,” he said. “She always came when she was called.”
Paws is a well-behaved dog, which he had owned for about four months.
She was let out in a sandpit about 110 km north of Fort Providence in an area where the forest had been burned, its owner explained.
“She just vanished,” he said.
Bourque has no explanation why that happened, other than noting Paws was being taken to a veterinarian in Yellowknife because she had an ulcer on her paw.
“And I thought sometimes dogs will just go off on their own to die,” he said.
Bourque searched for much of that day, placed a request for help to find the dog on Facebook, and others travelling where Paws had disappeared watched for her.
“But after a couple of weeks of nothing, at some point we say enough’s enough,” he said. “We thanked everybody for all their help and figured that she had probably gone to die.”
That was until the video of Paws ended up on Facebook and he got a call that she had been found.
“People connected the dots, I guess,” he said of the video.
Bourque said he would have expected Paws to survive two or three weeks on her own in the bush.
“She’s pretty thin,” he said. “She was emaciated. She didn’t fare very well.”
Bourque described her as really pitiful when he picked her up at the animal shelter.
“She recognized my son and I right away,” he said. “She answered to her name.”
And Paws greatly improved over the next few days.
Bourque said he had to help her up the stairs when she was brought home.
“Now she’s pretty much bounding up the stairs,” he said on Sept. 2.
Bourque was impressed Hinchey cared enough to stop on the highway to rescue his dog.
“It really restores my faith in humanity,” he said.
Hinchey described himself as a big dog fan, who fostered as many as nine dogs a year in the past for the SPCA in Yellowknife.
Plus, just a month ago he had to put down a cocker spaniel, which had been his pet for more than 16 years.
Hinchey said he is still dealing with putting down his old companion.
“And then, of course, I ran into this one on the road. I wasn’t going to pass him by,” he said. “There was lots of traffic on the road, so people were passing it by if they saw it.”
It was a great feeling to be able to help return Paws to his owner, he said. “I was glad that I was able to do it.”
Hinchey said he has not met Bourque but may try to connect when he is back in Fort Smith in three or four weeks.
The Hay River SPCA is also happy with its role in reuniting the lost dog with its owner as its time at the Hay River Animal Shelter was coming to an end. The shelter was taken over by the Town of Hay River at the end of August.
“What a wonderfully happy ending,” said president Heather Foubert.
“We were so happy that we could make this our last act of protection and compassion as the caretakers of the shelter,” she said, “And I mean, if we had to go out, this is a great way to go out.”