She makes a big dog gone difference

By Myra Ross (Photos by Crystal Clark) - Friday, October 24 2014

She is a cooperative canophilist, through and through.

Trudy Gillis, a certified Utility Treatment Technician who works at the Fort Chipewyan Water Treatment Plant, is becoming better known for her devotion to canines than for her tasks as a water treatment plant operator.

“I’ve been posted in Fort Chipewyan for 14 months now—it has been the longest two weeks of my life,” Trudy explains during a telephone interview. “Initially, I thought I would be here for a few weeks to cover for someone, but I’m still there, I like it and I wouldn’t mind continuing.”

Trudy works a challenging schedule of 20 days ‘in’ and two or three days ‘out’ in Fort McMurray. 

On arriving in Fort Chipewyan, Trudy noted that dogs were not generally viewed as ‘man’s best friend.’  And so it happened that rescuing and finding adoptive homes for feral and surrendered dogs has become her vocation, so much so that she spends a minimum of 40 hours a month as a cooperative canophilist.

“There was a really growing feral dog population,” she continues.  “They were starting to pack up in the winter and residents were concerned about safety.  Something had to be done.  A community meeting was held. A dog cull was mentioned and it was vetoed.  Nobody wanted to go that route.”

Given the unique nature of Fort Chipewyan, the only effective approach to addressing concerns was through cooperation.  Early in 2014, along with other community members and groups, including the SPCA, the Mikisew Cree First Nation and the Municipality, Gillis looked for alternatives to culling, but there was no place to hold the feral or unclaimed dogs. 

Fort Chipewyan’s Mikisew Cree First Nation

“We first of all needed a holding pen in Fort Chipewyan,” she says.  “Either the Mikisew Cree First Nation or the RMWB Aboriginal & Rural Affairs group contacted the SPCA because no one wanted a dog cull.  Mikisew Cree First Nation built a makeshift pound and hired two animal control officers who have jurisdiction in the reserve areas”.

Kevin Marten, Property Manager, Miksew Cree First Nation, supervises the officers and has daily contact with Trudy when she’s in Fort Chipewyan.

“First we capture any dogs at large and, we also receive dogs that are surrendered by their owners,” Martens explains.  “We have a plan in place where we can notify owners of the caught dogs and we let them know we have them.  If the owner does not collect their dog, they go on a list for transfer to the Fort McMurray SPCA, or, they are adopted privately.

“We work closely with Trudy.  She does her work on a volunteer basis and she’s been extremely helpful.  “She’s an animal lover, full go.  The more help we have, the better the program can be and the people feel safe.  It’s all about safety for the people and the animals.”

Marten says the temporary shelter will be winterized before it gets colder. 

“We’re in partnership with the municipality and it’s also funded by the band.  We put a temporary shelter up for the summer.  We’re going to build on it, extend it and winterize it, to separate the dogs.  We can make do with what we have now for a little while longer.  It has to do with the number of dogs we have on hand.  It is beneficial to have this program going.  It started on a trial basis to see what we could do and how much we need to do. And, he quickly adds, it’s Trudy who has been finding homes for the dogs.


Trudy’s circle of cooperative canophilists

On any given day in Fort Chipewyan, she works the 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift at the water treatment plant and she then usually takes a run out to the pound. 

“If I don’t go to the pound, I’m usually fostering a dog at the house where I stay,” she notes.  “I started a Facebook page – Fort Chip Pet Rescue -- to see if we could get the dogs adopted out through direct adoption rather than by taxing the already extremely busy Fort McMurray-based SPCA.  When I go to the pound, I have treats and try to get to know their personalities.  I take their photos and post them on the Facebook page.  Each visit to the pound usually takes one to two hours, depending on how many dogs are there”.

“I’ve made some good contacts in town and with a group of ladies in Fort McMurray, including Cathleen O’Brien, Jen McKenzie, Heather Sullivan, Miranda Kynock and Lindsay Monk, who are all foster home volunteers,” says Trudy. 

“I couldn’t do any of it without them,” she continues.  “They collect dogs at the airport, foster them, meet the people who are potential adopters and they have been really pumping up the fundraising to help some of the dogs and pups get to a vet.

“It takes a lot of people to make this work.  Cathleen and I have known each other for a few years.  She works in Aboriginal and Rural Affairs with the Municipality. Lindsay Monk lived in Fort Chipewyan when her significant other worked there and I’ve gotten to know the rest of our circle of rescue helpers through pet networks. We formed our alliance to rescue the dogs and kept it going.”

The results of this group and individual effort are of the awesome variety.

“We probably found homes for about 100 dogs from Fort Chipewyan,” Trudy says, adding that she has developed a network of ‘dog lover contacts’ that fuel the dog rescue efforts.  “In one instance, I took out eight puppies with me on a home trip to Fort McMurray and arranged for potential adoptive families meet me at the airport.  They all went to good homes.”

Some of Trudy’s placements


Houdini, for example, now lives with Kat Finke.

“We don’t know Houdini’s breeding exactly,” Kat says.  “We’ve done a DNA test, but haven’t received results yet.  We adopted Houdini in mid-August and it’s working out really well. I adopted him myself and my boyfriend is helping care for him.  I saw that they had a lot of dogs up for adoption on their Facebook page.  I saw a photo of Houdini and I wanted him. 

“Houdini didn’t cost us anything.  Trudy told us we’d have to pay for the flight to Fort McMurray, but she ended up not taking any money.  If I had money to donate to her I would love to.  I think what she is doing is great.”


Chris Joly adopted Milo, who may be part Terrier and Corgi, when he lived and worked in Fort Chipewyan.  But Chris, a wildfire ranger, just moved to Calgary in early October. 

“Milo is a cuddle bug,” Chris says. I think he was surrendered.

“When my wife was up for a visit in Fort Chipewyan, she saw Milo’s picture.  We went to the pound and Milo rubbed up against her leg.  He stayed really close.

“That was that.  We’re in Calgary now and he still stays really close.”


Trudy played rugby with Ron Cleroux of Halifax, Nova Scotia.  They’ve remained friends and kept in touch and when he observed the Fort Chip Pet Rescue Facebook page, he thought it would be a good idea to add another dog to his household, which already had two cats and a five-year-old, female Pit Bull.   Ron met Trudy when she played for the female rugby team through the Halifax Tars Rugby Club (the historic term for a navy man) and he played for the men’s team.  Today, Ron coaches a university women’s rugby team and in addition to his day job he’s a resistance training instructor at a fitness studio as a volunteer. 

Says Ron about Earl:  “He’s amazing.  He looks like a bit of a Shepherd but he’s got the eyes and face of a Husky.  However, he’s a lot smaller than a Husky and doesn’t have a curved tail.  Trudy’s a friend of mine.  She puts up photos of these beautiful dogs and often visits her family in Cape Breton, so I asked her about the chance of bringing back a dog for me.  En route, she dropped him off in early September for me.  Why name him Earl?  We always saw photos of him and thought he looked like an angry old man, but really, he’s goofy and happy all the time.  He loves it here.  His sister is a pit bull and our two cats love him.  They walk right up to him and give him a head butt.”


The dog Trudy is holding in the accompanying photos is named ‘Daisy’ and she has gone to a new home.

Today’s Wish List

Trudy conveys an immense sense of satisfaction when she talks about the Fort Chipewyan dog rescue effort, but she’s only just gotten started.

“It’s a lot better now than it was, but we still have to address issues like spaying and neutering and veterinarian care,” she says.

“We’re currently trying to negotiate and coordinate veterinary treatment days in Fort Chipewyan and Fort McMurray.  There is no place at this time for a veterinarian to perform any surgery in Fort Chipewyan.  Any dogs requiring surgery, spaying or neutering need to be flown to Fort McMurray at the owner’s cost.”

The dog rescue effort did arrange for a veterinarian to be in Fort Chipewyan for one day in June to give some first shots to the dogs.  However, anyone who wants to arrange for the follow up shot has to arrange for it directly with the Wood Buffalo Small Animal Hospital.  The animal owner must pay for a return flight for the dog to travel from Fort Chipewyan to Fort McMurray on a Monday.  The Fort McMurray SPCA will transport the dog to the veterinarian’s office for the shot and then the dog returns to Fort Chipewyan on Thursday evening.

Paperwork has been filed for the ‘save the dogs’ effort to continue as the Fort Chip Animal Rescue Society (and any and all donations and support will be gratefully acknowledged).

What other cooperative canophilists can do to help:

  1.  Befriend the Fort Chip Pet Rescue Facebook Page
  2. Volunteer as a foster family
  3. Fundraising support – Recycling - There is a Fort Chip Pet Rescue account at the Taiga Nova Bottle Depot.  People can drop their bottles off to have them counted later and then added to the Fort Chip Pet Rescue account.
  4. Donations of funds, foods, dog collars and toys, according to Trudy Gillis.  “If anyone has any donations, they can post on our Facebook Page or contact Cathleen O’Brien or Trudy Gillis and we can arrange transport of the items to Fort Chipewyan.”






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