WARNING: This story contains details and images that may be disturbing.
Four puppies are recovering with the help of a Winnipeg dog rescue group after they were found abandoned in a rural area just south of the city.
The pups were extremely malnourished, covered in fleas and nearly frozen when they were found near La Salle on March 22, according to Manitoba Underdogs Rescue.
The dogs were in a box near a road and spotted by a passerby, said Lindsay Gillanders, a spokesperson with the rescue group.
"I just imagine them being so scared and cold. It's heartbreaking," she said.
The Good Samaritan who found them took the animals, estimated to be six to eight weeks old, to Pembina Veterinary Hospital in Winnipeg. Once they were checked over, the clinic called the rescue group.
Three were immediately set up at a foster home but a fourth pup — the runt of the litter, since given the name Parsnip — needed another day with the vet.
"She just couldn't maintain her body temperature. She's still lethargic — she'll just kind of fall over. But she's getting stronger," Gillanders said, adding that Parsnip is now with her siblings at the same foster home.
"Once they're doing better, we do split puppies up into pairs, so two will go to a foster home and two will go to another. But right now we're just giving them some time to sort of acclimatize, and they're in such a great home. They're so loved."
The rescue suspects a backyard breeder abandoned the dogs after failing to sell them. It's the second time in as many months the group has come across this situation.
"It breaks our hearts. But we know that there's so many dogs out there that need our care and this is just a small slice of a really big problem," Gillanders said.
Demand for dogs dropped after COVID lockdowns
Demand for dogs increased during the COVID-19 lockdown, as people looked for companionship and families felt like they had time to take care of a pet, she said.
"So more people were breeding and selling dogs, and then that that need decreased — but the planning for [breeding] these dogs would have been in the works months ago, kind of before the climate shifted."
Now backyard breeders who tried to take advantage of the lockdown spike in demand for pets just can't sell them.
"So they need to get rid of them, and there's no bargain-basement place that you can go take overstock of dogs," Gillanders said. "So they're euthanized, they're killed in a way I don't want to know, or they're abandoned.
"It's just … absolutely horrible, horrible, horrible."
That, combined with the number of people relinquishing animals they adopted from shelters during the lockdown, means the stray population is ballooning in Manitoba, says Manitoba Underdogs.
The rescue group, which is 100 per cent foster-home based, is juggling more than 100 dogs in care. Expenses are climbing while donations are trending down.
"We have got people's homes crammed to the roof with dogs, as many as they can help us take," Gillanders said.
"Having four new dogs with medical problems come into our care — we're more than happy to help, but it definitely puts a drain on our resources that are already being incredibly drained.
"We're definitely coming to a point where we're not going to be able to provide help anymore. We're just we're too overextended."
The rescue has faced capacity issues before, but never to this degree, Gillanders said.
"We've volunteered with this rescue because we love dogs so much, and then to not be able to help due to a lack of resources … it's so hard."
Gillanders said the rescue would love to hear from anyone able to offer food, time, money or a home to be a foster.
She also urges prospective dog owners to adopt, not shop. But if you are buying from a breeder, make sure it's licensed and reputable, she said.
"Ask to meet the [dog's] mom and dad. Go see the operation and make sure all the dogs are healthy," Gillanders said. "Most breeders have a waiting list. They don't breed dogs until the dogs are already sold, so they're not coming up against the problems that we're seeing here."
There are "absolutely fantastic breeders out there," but people need to understand that if they buy a dog from a puppy mill, "they're also causing the problem," she said.
"They are just feeding in to that horrible industry."