Dec. 4, 2013 -- One minute you're a luckless dog in Vegas, left homeless by your master's home foreclosure and facing all but certain extermination. The next, you're being whisked off to Canada by jet, where your new family (which has paid a cool $500 to adopt you) clasps you to its bosom. Sweet!
This September, Pono, a 3-year-old male Pomeranian, became the 1,000th dog to make that trip. Since then, more refugees have been airlifted out of Vegas, at the rate of eight to 16 dogs a week, according to Everett Croxson, executive director of Foreclosed Upon Pets International.
The dogs owe their survival to an unlikely marriage of charity and commercial interest, and to the ineluctable law of supply and demand: Vegas has a dog surplus; Canada, a shortage.
It was the foreclosure crisis of 2008 that set dog exports in motion.
Home owners, turned out of their homes, turned out their dogs and cats -- or left them behind to die indoors. Holly Marquardt, a Las Vegas real estate agent, tells the Las Vegas Review Journal that she has found 18 dead dogs and cats in foreclosed houses in the past three years.
Most evicted animals wind up at Las Vegas' Lied Animal Shelter, which, according to its website, is the highest-volume single-site animal shelter in the nation, taking in an average of 117 dogs and cats every day. It took in close to 50,000 homeless animals in 2011 and another 43,000 in 2012. Every day, 65 animals on average are exterminated.
Crosxon started Foreclosed Upon Pets International, or FUPI, in 2008 to help find homes for foreclosure-displaced animals.
In Canada, he says, the situation is very different: The Canadian economy is relatively strong, people can afford pets. Demand for dogs is strong. But supply is weak, curtailed by rules requiring owners to spay and neuter pets.
Richard Kaga, executive vice president of Petcetera, a pet store chain in Canada comparable to PetCo in the U.S., tells ABC News that Canadian dog owners "would not think of having a pet without taking care of that." Nor are puppy mills as prevalent in Canada, he says, as they are in the U.S.
Eventually, says Croxson, he and Petcetera worked out a deal: FUPI would fly dogs up to Vancouver, where they would be taken in hand (or paw) by Petcetera for adoption through the chain's 18 big-box stores.
More than 1,000 dogs have been adopted so far, with owners paying $499 (U.S.) per dog. The money, says Croxson, helps cover the costs of the animals' transportation, spaying or neutering, shots, health certificate, plus their care and boarding at Petcetera.
Getting the logistics and pricing right, he says, took a little time. "It took us about six months to get our ducks in a row. When we started out, I wondered: Will we be able to get people to adopt a dog at that price?" Adopting a dog from FUPI in Las Vegas costs just $150. But buying a puppy in Canada, unneutered, costs about $300, he says. "And then you need the shots, and everything else. Adoption is cheaper than going to a breeder."
Kaga says the program has given a leg up to Petcetera's marketing. "Like people, dogs have to have toys and food," he says. "When we adopt a dog out, we hope the customer will come back to us for all that dog's needs for the rest of its life. It's worked out really well for all concerned -- especially the dogs."
It might be colder for them in Canada, "but in Las Vegas," says Kaga, "their prospects were not very good."