When Trey Helten was given a puppy, he had no idea that his new four-legged friend Zelda would eventually learn to save lives.
“She’s a three year old Pit Bull Mastiff cross and she’s a hero,” said Helten.
Helten runs the Overdose Prevention Society, a safe injection site in Vancouver’s downtown Eastside that monitors drug users. Zelda has been an integral part of society since childhood.
“She mostly keeps people in check. When it comes to fights, she prevents them from taking place, she barks and lets her presence become known, “said Helten.
Zelda is now three years old and has learned to keep an eye on people. She grew up in the center and watched Helten walk around the tables checking out the people who were doing drugs.
She recently started doing it on her own.
Last week, security cameras caught her nudging a man who wasn’t moving. When she got no answer, she poked him again in the back until she saw movement.
“I had to check the CCTV footage up close. It was pretty shocking, heartwarming, ”said Helten. “She’ll go around in circles and see if anyone is passed out. Sometimes she likes to go straight in the face – they get that cold, wet dog’s nose right in their face if they don’t react. “
And if there is a problem, Zelda will make it known. Helten says she once saw someone behind his van take an overdose.
“She started barking the staff and didn’t stop until someone came back over there and checked and that person would probably have died 100 percent if it hadn’t been for the dog,” he said.
Customers who joined OPS have now built a strong bond with Zelda. According to Helten, one bond in particular had a life-saving effect.
“One day (the client) felt suicidal and Zelda snuggled up against him and he said that if it hadn’t been, he would have done something stupid,” said Helten with tears in her eyes.
Figures released this week show that BC’s overdose crisis is showing no signs of slowing. The latest update from the provincial chief coroner reveals 184 deaths in July, making it BC’s second deadliest month in years of crisis.