OTTAWA -- An Ottawa-based non-profit dog rescue is preparing to transport up to 200 dogs from Barbados to Canada, to aid overflowing shelters on the Caribbean island.

It’s a massive endeavour that has been in the works for months. The Eastern Ontario Potcake Rescue, whose mission is to rehome stray dogs from Caribbean islands—such as Turks & Caicos, Bahamas and Jamaica—to loving homes in Canada, is preparing for its largest rescue ever. The organization has raised enough money to charter a plane that will transport up to 200 dogs from Bridgetown, Barbados to Toronto.

“On the islands, the shelters are completely overflowing; they’re bursting at the seams. There are dogs on the streets that cannot get medical attention or the care they need because the shelters are so full,” says Michelle Ruel, fundraising director with the Eastern Ontario Potcake Rescue. “With COVID and the lack of tourism, people are losing their jobs. People aren’t able to feed their families, let alone their dogs.”

Ruel says last month's volcanic eruption on Saint Vincent and the Grenadines added to the dire situation.

“The dogs were covered in ash, no clean water, no clean food,” says Ruel. “All these dogs will need care when they get here as well, and we’re in the final push to make this happen.”

The potcake rescue has been preparing all the necessary animal carriers, many received through donation. Each unit is cleaned, stacked and tagged with the name of the individual dog or puppy.

The carriers will be delivered to Montreal-Mirabel International airport before the end of May, where a Boeing 737 transport plane will depart for Barbados. The plane will be loaded with the dogs, and will return to Toronto where each pooch will be assessed for medical needs.

Groups of dogs will then go to other dog rescues that have partnered with the association, where they will be fostered before adoption.

“There are three rescues in the Ottawa area, Ottawa Eastern Ontario Potcake Rescue, Sit with Me, and Freedom Dog Rescue, and then there is another five in the GTA.”

Ashley Ladouceur, a volunteer with Sit with Me dog rescue, will be there when the plane touches down. She says many agencies in Ontario have few dogs up for adoption and now is an ideal time to help other countries with overpopulation. Ladouceur says their organization continues to accept applications to foster the dogs.

“They’ll all be going to individual foster homes, where they get to decompress, we get to give them some extra vetting, and then they will go up for adoption once we know their personalities and specific needs,” says Ladouceur. “We make a commitment to our dogs for the lifetime of the dog; so if the dog for whatever reason at some point is not a good fit for the family anymore they come back to our rescue.”

Adrijana Corluka applied to be a foster through Sit with Me, and will be receiving two dogs.

“I thought this was such a worthy initiative and something just bigger than ourselves to be a part of,” says Corluka. “Think of how many positive experiences and benefits 200 dogs can bring to families—mental health, physical health—and for the dogs themselves.”

While Ruel says there is enough money to pay for the flight, the potcake rescue continues to raise additional funds through a GoFundMe campaign, which will be used for ongoing care once they arrive in Canada.

“It’s stressful but very exciting there's a lot a lot of work that goes into this,” says Ruel. “When that plane touches down and we see those dogs, I think that’s when I’ll really allow myself to believe that it’s real and we’ve done it.”

There are many breeds of dogs found on island nations, but the potcake is the most abundant. Although appearance and colour varies, potcakes generally have short hair, smooth coats, long faces and weigh 14 kg to 32 kg.