Cat Behavior

A Peartree Impressions Q&A: Lindsay Akins - Pawsitive Match Rescue Foundation

Sarah Rae Murray is a writer, former veterinary practice receptionist and an advocate for all animals. 

Rescue organizations prioritize animal welfare, but despite a well-intended mandate, the work of these organizations is often more challenging and controversial than it would seem. Peartree caught up with Lindsay Akins, President of the Board of Directors at Pawsitive Match Rescue Foundation, for a candid conversation about media misrepresentation, successes and perceptions about what conditions constitute the need for rescue.  

“Some people… think that you don’t love your animal unless they’re inside on a big cushy bed with a sparkly collar.” – Lindsay Akins
What is Pawsitive Match Rescue Foundation?

Our mission statement is: saving lives around the world, one animal at a time. We’re a registered charity, so we’re a not-for-profit, and we’re a hundred percent volunteer run. We originally started bringing in dogs and in the past few years we’ve added cats.

Can you tell us a little bit about what Pawsitive Match does?

We have partners in Mexico, LA, San Francisco and Texas. We bring in animals from high-kill shelters in the States. If these dogs aren’t getting adopted out, and if they don’t get transferred to another rescue like ours, they get euthanized for space. We’ve just developed a new partnership with Soi Dog Canada that brings in dogs from Southeast Asia. We also partner with some of our local and aboriginal communities for our Spay and Neuter Assistance Program (SNAP). We work really hard to develop a… relationship with these communities where the owners can either have their animals spayed or neutered then returned to them or they can surrender them to us if they’re not able to care for them anymore. We have all of those avenues to bring animals in.

Do you encounter any obstacles with international rescue?

We as a rescue, as well as the Canadian government, have quite a strict protocol on the vaccinations of the dogs and quarantine times they have to meet in order to be brought in. Sometimes the sending rescues don’t meet those requirements but we’re happy to work with them as much as possible. 

I've come across a few stories in the media that are critical of foreign rescue efforts and the perceived health risks. Do you see cases of animals being imported then treated for illnesses that are uncommon here?

We have quite strict guidelines for the tests they’ve needed to complete, and we check their vaccine records before we’ll import them. Generally, thankfully, we’re not dealing with any sort of rare diseases that come from international viruses or bugs because we have such high requirements for vetting. The couple of instances where we’ve had animals sent internationally that have gotten quite sick, they’re not sick with things that are specific to that locale. They’ve had quite common diseases that they can get here and unfortunately the sending rescue misinformed us on their vaccinations. In the case of forged documents, we stop our partnership with those rescues.

What other criticism do you run into with foreign rescue?

A question we get asked a lot is: “Why do you bring in all these dogs from Mexico? We have lots of dogs here.” We actually have a size limit, we don’t bring in dogs more than 35 pounds or higher than sort of knee height. We bring in smaller dogs from Mexico because they have a lot of those dogs. They come here and, in our experience, they get adopted out quite fast. People here are looking for smaller dogs because they live in condos, or apartments, and they suit that lifestyle better. What we have a problem with, more in Alberta, is larger breed dogs. We focus locally to help with the large breed dogs but we don’t bring in large breeds from our international partners, we help that population (locally).

What do your local rescue initiatives look like?

Locally, we’ve built a relationship with our rural communities and our aboriginal partner communities. We have a team that’s worked really hard to develop that relationship. Part of doing that is working with the Alberta Spay and Neuter Task Force. When we go to spay neuter clinics, we’re getting to know the community and understanding their needs through the Task Force. The Task Force was able to branch out to a local community around Calgary and develop a really strong relationship with them, with both the officers on the reserve as well as one of the Elders. The Elder has become our liaison; she’s our touch point within the community. The community members know her, so they go to her and then she can connect them with us.

I've read articles about free roaming, rural dogs with good homes being 'rescued' by people passing through. These people assumed the dogs were neglected because they weren't in a yard or on a leash. Do misunderstandings arise from cultural differences in pet care?

To be honest, we definitely see that. We have a closed Facebook group for our fosters to share pictures, get support, ask questions, and stuff like that. That debate has come up a few times on that group and some people really struggle with it. They think that you don’t love your animal unless they’re inside on a big cushy bed with a sparkly collar. To them, that’s what love means. So they really struggle. Some really get it and understand. Some of them say, “I understand but I don’t agree with it” and they sort of respectfully disagree. We definitely see the whole gamut.

How can people try and understand those cultural differences a bit better?

Our outreach team tries to encourage people who have a lot of concerns or questions to come on a SNAP run with them.  I’ve gone and done them. I saw the whole spectrum: from one of the worst homes to one of the best homes. If a dog’s at risk, or we feel they’re being abused, or they’re not being fed, or they’re in medical distress—that’s when we’ll step in. But you need to have that level of understanding and respect of what that culture is…That’s why we encourage people to learn more and come along. I think the side that people don’t see is when we return the animals to the families after they’ve been spayed or neutered, how excited both the animal and the family are to be reunited. We’ve posted some of those stories in our Facebook group to try to show our volunteers what we see. Sometimes it’s hard not to focus on the bad stuff but there’s the good side too. 

Pawsitive Match Rescue Foundation is always looking for volunteers for their Almost Home facility, as well as foster homes for cats and dogs. Check out their website for more information:

Related Links:

Alberta Spay Neuter Task Force 

Soi Dog

CBC “Rez Dogs” article

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