The sporting hero - saving street dogs

Pro athlete John Rush is cooking up a vegan storm for Canadian canines. By Jenny Elliot-Bennett

John Rush is a fullback for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Canadian football team. Five years ago, he began to investigate a vegan diet out of interest from a sports performance perspective. He says, \"The first week, my body felt significantly better and I started learning more about it, learning about animals, making that connection; how much better it is for the environment.

This all makes a lot of sense to me and what I value, so I continue to do it and now I'm on my fifth year.\" Fast forward those five years and now he has a popular vegan food blog, where he demonstrates how simple it is to make tasty and nutritious vegan food.

Many people have said they have used his blog as a means of introducing veganism to their families, and in this way, John is proud to be helping to make veganism accessible and more mainstream. \"People tell me how much these recipes are helping them talk to their spouses or talk to their family about going vegan and helping them realise that vegan food is delicious.

It makes me feel really good that I'm helping people live this lifestyle as well.\" The food blog is called Rescue Dog Kitchen and is a tool by which John raises money for animal shelters and promotes the fostering of shelter dogs. John has two rescue dogs himself, called Bone and Bailey, and is a long-term fosterer, having been brought up to understand the plight of shelter animals.

The older of the two dogs, Bone, was on the euthanise list when John came across him on a pet listing site in 2018. His previous owners thought they'd bought a pure-bred Great Pyrenees from the breeder, but he is not. They got rid of him for getting too big.

In 2020 John adopted the younger dog, Bailey, who had been abandoned at a farm by her previous owners after only two weeks, when they realised they were not ready for a dog.

Public awareness

John, Bone and Bailey travel to different shelters in Canada. John explains: \"We do this to bring awareness to shelters and to why everyone should look to them first when searching for a new forever friend.

We take high-quality pictures of the dogs to help them get adopted, and hope to get all the long-term adoptables out of the shelters and into homes.\"

Humane Canada's™ 'Canadian Animal Shelter Statistics' publishes the most comprehensive data available on companion animals entering Canadian shelters, as well as the numbers of animals adopted out and euthanised.

This information illustrates the important role shelters play and the sheer scale of the battle they are fighting to try to save these innocent animals, whose only crime is that no human wants them.

As with all countries, the public in general are not aware of the reality of the rescue/shelter situation; do not realise the enormous numbers of animals that, through no fault of their own, enter the shelter system, and nor do they know what generally becomes of them.

With the best will in the world, shelters are finite spaces and there is simply not enough space or money to save every animal in need of rescue and a safe place.

There is a massive shortfall in fosterers and adopters. Shelters get full, and there is no space for incoming animals. Awful decisions have to be made about which animals get euthanised in order to free up space for the next ones coming in.

The public need to understand this and open their hearts and homes to shelter animals either as a foster (until an adoptive home is found) or a forever home, and in this way free up space in shelters without the use of a gas room or needle.

John Rush is a fullback for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Canadian football team.
John Rush is a fullback for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Canadian football team.

\"Every day, I wake up and see the love in their eyes and it's an amazing feeling that they know I saved them.\"

Shelter avoidance

The statistics for 2020 are not available yet, but the stats show that in 2019, just short of 28,000 dogs entered the shelter system in Canada and over 2,700 dogs were euthanised. That is, 10 out of every 100 dogs that entered the shelter system got killed - simply because they had nowhere to go.

John says: \"A lot of people don't understand why a lot of dogs go into shelters, end up in rescue or get abandoned and they think it's the fault of the dogs, like they were aggressive. A lot of the onus ends up on the dogs. But in reality, almost all of the reasons, if you look at the stats, are because of humans.

Most reasons a dog is aggressive, for example, is because of poor treatment by people, or not being trained. People avoid shelters and shelter dogs because of misconceptions about why dogs end up there and there's a negative connotation.

People don't even realise what goes on in these shelters and how stretched thin they are. When I first adopted Bone, he couldn't use his hind legs because he'd spent so long in a cage. It was no fault of the shelter, they are run on shoestring budgets and run by volunteers.

They could not afford the special food for him, so they had to feed him food he was allergic to or put him down. They do their best.  But the reality of the situation is there's too many dogs entering shelters and not enough dogs getting adopted out.

Too many people continue to buy dogs and surrender them later. My proposed solution is to get rid of breeders! The government needs to step in and enact some legislation. We have a dog problem that no one is talking about. People breed dogs with no licence, no registration and they breed for easy money.

We have a huge stray dog population problem. There needs to be some intervention. We can't keep breeding these dogs into existence and then have to put them down because there's too many of them. It's not fair to the dogs. There's not a shortage of dogs, and breeders should be stopped.\"

Lockdown puppies

One of the many unhappy side effects of COVID-19 has been an increase in dumped puppies and dogs. People were stuck at home in lockdown, perhaps with bored children, and the demand for puppies skyrocketed. This saw a surge in the activities of back yard breeders and thefts.

Unfortunately, rather than adopting from shelters, people's first thoughts are to buy companion animals, usually from unlicensed selling sites.

Of course, many of  these impulse purchases were regretted, and there followed a sharp increase in animals being abandoned (and the stats for 2020 already show higher figures than 2019 and the compilation of numbers is not even complete yet).

This happens for multiple reasons: children tire of their 'new toy'; the animal does not behave in a way that the new owner 'expected', the new owner had not understood how much 'work' a dog is and so on. Irresponsible sellers (back yard breeders and thieves) sell to anyone, and do not care if the animal will be safe in their new home.

Rescue shelters do thorough home checks and always provide RBU - Rescue Back Up - that is, if something goes wrong and the adoption does not work out, the adopter signs a contract to state that they will return the animal to the shelter and the rescue shelter guarantees to take the animal back.

These modes of operation - the rigorous home checks, adoption contracts and RBU - are imperative, in order that animals are placed in responsible and appropriate homes and that should circumstances change, there's a safety net to make sure the animal does not get dumped.

The breeders who bred and sold Bone and Bailey were only interested in quick money, not the welfare of the animals, not concerned with where they might end up, selling them to unsuitable people who had not seriously considered dog ownership.

Adopt and foster, don't shop

I know I don't need to bang this drum at the vegan community, who generally, know and understand the situation, but we must all push this issue into the consciousness of wider society, just as John is doing, because veganism isn't just about what's on your plate.

To get the 'euthanised' statistics down, shelters need foster homes and adoptive homes, and they need everybody's help to find them.  You can sign up to be part of John's 'dog squad', read the blog, buy Rescue Dog Kitchen merchandise, donate and see all the free Rescue Dog Kitchen recipes at:

Words by Jenny Elliot-Bennett



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