Little shelter has a heart

By Christie Lagally, Special to the Richmond News
January 12, 2011

See original Richmond News article here.

For me it was one of those moments where time stops.  Dave Labatte, co-founder of the Turtle Gardens Rescue Society, was comforting and reassuring Chevy the dog for the last time.  Chevy and Dave had just arrived at a horse stable in Delta along with Dave’s friend Brian and 14 other puppies and dogs brought from the rescue society’s remote home — a 17 hour car drive away.  Dave and Brian’s job was to bring these homeless dogs to their new adoptive and foster homes in cities across Metro Vancouver and the islands.   Chevy went to her forever home in Vancouver that very morning after saying goodbye to her rescuer, Dave.

Turtle Gardens is known as the ‘Little Shelter with Heart.’  Located in Topley, BC, roughly 1000 km north of Richmond and 270 km west of Prince George, this little shelter takes in all the stray and homeless dogs for a 400 km radius in the Northern BC country.  Yvette and Dave Labatte, known affectionately as Mama Yvette and Papa Dave, run this no-kill animal shelter out of their humble home with typically 35 dogs in residence at all times.  Surrounded by first nation reservations and wild country, the Labattes have an agreement with local authorities to take the enormous number of stray dogs in the area during the frequent round-ups instead of having the authorities shoot the tame dogs.  This is where Chevy came from.

When Dave and Brian arrived at the Silverwood Stables in Delta on Saturday morning, a team of volunteers and new and potential adopters helped unload the 15 dogs.  Five little dachshund/cockapoo puppies couldn’t wait to stretch their 10-week-old legs and sound the alarm that it was time to play.  Some of the more rambunctious adult dogs were put in the stable exercise pen, where I got to play ball with Riley the 2-year-old corgi-golden retriever cross and all her doggie friends.    Melanie Clay-Smith and her family arrived in short-order to take Riley home.  Like most Turtle Garden adoptions, the Clay-Smith family applied for adoption online, and Riley seemed to fit in well with this energetic Richmond family.

But not all the dogs were going to their forever homes.  Native Richmond resident Lisa Baker has fostered 14 dogs on their journey to a forever home.  On Saturday Baker met Kibble, her next foster dog from Turtle Gardens.  Kibble, a sweet, shy, dog-friendly and very fluffy, dark-haired dog, wasn’t so sure about the abrupt change in location.  Like Chevy, Kibble needed some extra assurance and Baker had plenty of reassurance to give.  Baker said her work with Turtle Garden began when she adopted a dog that didn’t quite work at her apartment home, and she found that she could be a better ‘aunt’ to the dogs than a ‘mother’.  Sweet Kibble will stay with Baker until the right home is found.

After this morning’s doggie delivery, Dalia Tauber and her husband received their foster dog, Renata, a shaggy 4-month-old shepherd cross.  At Tauber’s home, Renata’s arrival to the Richmond city life will be ushered in by two gentle dogs in residence who act as reassuring hosts to new foster dogs.  Under Tauber’s tutelage, Renata has a bright future as a friendly, happy dog – a long way from her sad beginnings on the run.

With no spay or neuter laws back in Topley, BC and a cultural aversion to the procedure in the region, dog populations grow quickly and the Labattes frequently find puppies found nearly frozen in the snow.  Beginning in 1988, this couple dedicated their life to saving homeless, abandoned dogs from freezing, starvation and cruelty.  In the 20 or so years the shelter has been in operation, the Labattes have taken in more than 250 dogs per year and placed around 5000 dogs in adoptive homes all over BC and North America.  But in that time, they have also grown a close-knit group of rescuers who help to make sure that Mama and Papa Labatte have the support they need in their isolated surroundings.   Since nearly all of the dog adoptions are initiated via the internet and far outside of Topley, Turtle Gardens shares it the adopter screening and dog fostering tasks with dedicated volunteers like Baker and Tauber.

The Labatte’s need foster homes to help increase adoptions in the lower mainland and help the dogs start a new life with all the safety and love they deserve.  If you feel you can offer a foster home to one of Turtle Garden’s special dogs, contact them online at  Donations are needed to spay/neuter the dogs, provide veterinary care and pay for transportation.  And, of course, if you are looking for a dog to adopt, don’t forget to check with Turtle Gardens as you look around for just the right new family member.

Christie Lagally is a volunteer pet columnist and founder of the Animal Welfare Advocacy Coalition. View her blog at


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