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Innu leader says stray dogs won't be shot

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Innu officials and SPCA volunteers in Labrador are working to find homes for about 50 stray dogs after plans to shoot the animals in Natuashish raised a public outcry.

An online petition drew more than 1,600 signatures after fire department officials in the former Davis Inlet community of 700 people announced they'd take aim at the roaming packs.

There is no permanent veterinarian to spay or neuter puppies that are often left to fend for themselves.

Chief Simeon Tshakapesh said Tuesday he's now trying to find more humane ways to deal with a growing public safety issue.

"They're not going to be shot," he said from Natuashish on Labrador's remote northern coast.

Concerns escalated last week when a young girl was bitten in the face by a loose dog.

Tshakapesh said the girl is about six or seven years old and is expected to make a full recovery after being treated in hospital in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

Some wild dogs are dangerous and may have to be euthanized if they can be caught with humane cage traps, he added.

He could not say exactly how many dogs are roaming the community but said they are mostly Husky and Labrador retriever mixes.

Bonnie Learning, vice-president of the SPCA in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, said volunteers are trying to line up temporary homes so the dogs can be removed from Natuashish and ultimately put on a plane to Halifax.

She is optimistic that permanent owners can be found through Litters 'n Critters, a Nova Scotia-based animal rescue group.

"We've been very successful in getting animals out to them and having new homes found for them in the Maritimes," Learning said in an interview.

Learning said the SPCA will look for help to fly the animals out of the province. Last July, when space was tight during high tourist season, FedEx Canada made headlines when it offered to fly dozens of abandoned Labrador puppies to Halifax.

Learning said she and Tshakapesh have discussed the need for a low-cost spay and neuter program in Natuashish to control dog populations over time. Goose Bay and Labrador City are the only places with full-time veterinary practices in Labrador, she said.

An online petition addressed to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, several cabinet ministers and provincial MPs was closed Tuesday after it was signed by 1,604 supporters.

"As Canadian citizens, we do not support any such type of animal cruelty, and we are appalled that measures have not been taken by the federal and provincial governments to ensure that these animals are not killed using inhumane methods," it said.

The dog shooting plan also drew outrage on Facebook and Twitter.

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