Shania Pierre, a member of K’atl’odeeche First Nation, pets her cat, Shadow, at a makeshift shelter on May 11.Caitrin Pilkington/Cabin Radio

Original Published 12:27 May 17, 2022

By Caitrin Pilkington, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Returning home this week, many of the South Slave’s evacuees have one question uppermost in their minds: are the animals all right? 

Many residents were forced to leave behind pets and livestock as floodwaters rose. Some Old Town and West Channel residents thought they would be away for just one night, as has been typical in recent years, but were gone for days.

“It’s very emotional,” said Elaine Lamalice, a Kátł’odeeche First Nation resident, speaking of West Point First Nation friends. “One of our friends’ houses is totally in the water, and she had her cat and dogs there, and she says they’re upstairs, but she’s sick over it. She told me she just sits in her truck and cries.

“She said she worried hotels and accommodations wouldn’t accept them. She left lots of food for them, but I hope she didn’t put it on the floor because I heard water had already gotten there. Oh, I felt emotions for her.”

Beatrice Lepine, who lives in Hay River’s Old Town, left behind her 18-year-old cat.

“We tried bringing him up to the hotel at first but he was totally out of his environment and all he did was cry,” Lepine said last week. “So we took him back, thinking, ‘Oh, we’ll just be a day or two.’ But it’s been five days now. He’s been alone in there.” 

Still, Lepine is trying to stay hopeful. She set him up on the second floor and left plenty of food. 

“One of my friends is a wildlife officer,” said Lepine, “and he said, well, all the mice are going to be seeking high ground, so he’ll have lots to keep him occupied.”

West Point First Nation sisters Shannon and Wendy Ross said this month’s disaster brings back memories of a flood that deeply affected the area in 1985, when dog teams were intrinsic to the community.

In those days, their father took Shannon hunting and to fetch wood with the dog team. She describes his deep connection to his animals.

“I was the eldest, so he always took me. He was a good musher. His dogs listened to him, and he knew how to talk to them. One whistle and they knew where to go. I always remember that,” she says. 

When an unusually serious flood hit the area, the water rose so quickly he was unable to untie the dogs fast enough. He lost the whole team, and the sisters remember the same happening to other families in the area. 

Dog teams, they said, became a less common sight.

“After that, he could never have a dog team again,” Shannon said of her father. “I remember him crying as he told us what had happened. And what’s happened in this flood has just brought up all those old memories.”

Her husband, who stayed on the island, has been inundated with requests to feed cats and dogs and check on their well-being.

“They want to know if their animals are still alive, because they don’t want to bring their kids home to that,” she said. 

Other have been asking anyone still in town to break down doors to let pets out. 

Dogs rescued

Hay River and K’atl’odeeche First Nation volunteers have been feeding as many animals as possible. In many areas, like the West Channel, it’s often not safe to do so. 

The sisters said one West Point First Nation member was desperate enough to cross the bridge to Vale Island, currently impassable to vehicles, on foot. Someone with a working car on the island drove her as far as they could. When they had to stop, she kept going, wading through high water. 

“She had a dog and a young puppy and she was adamant about getting those dogs back,” said Shannon.

“She had been trying to get people to feed them but they told her there was too much water to reach them. 

“We haven’t been able to get a hold of her since, but someone said they saw dogs in her car, so we hope everything worked out all right. What she did was very risky. “

For many residents of Paradise Gardens, the loss of animals means the loss of a livelihood.

In posts to Facebook, Mark Benoit described saving the family cats and a few baby chicks, but the livestock that was his father’s legacy is gone.

“Not much left,” he wrote last week. “So sorry, dad. All that work. I tried.”

Still, there was some positive news.

At the Fox Farm outside Enterprise, Kathy Beaupré had been rescued from her roof a week ago. Her friends said a number of her animals, including members of her sled dog team, had been lost to the flood.

Writing online on Sunday, Beaupré said rescuers had overcome rubble and debris to safely retrieve three of her dogs.

“The dogs are doing well and our hearts are filled with thanks and love,” she wrote.

This item reprinted with permission from Cabin Radio, Yellowknife, NorthWest Territories