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Despite being only three seasons into his career as running back for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Brady Oliveira has already reached the apex of the Canadian Football League by winning two Grey Cups — the sport’s highest accomplishment. But while other top professional athletes spend the offseason resting their bodies, letting loose at the club, or getting together to ride a banana boat in tandem, Oliveira has a different tradition — rescuing animals. “I always like to say that I love being a voice for the voiceless. When you see all these helpless animals, they can’t help themselves, so that’s when we people need to step in and be their voice,” tells The Wildest.
Oliveira first started going on rescue runs shortly after he finished his first season in the pros. He was immediately moved by the difference he could make for animals in need and began teaming up with local rescue organizations and shelters in Winnipeg to save as many as he could. He now frequently posts these endeavors on Instagram and TikTok to raise awareness about the terrible situations many of these pets face, along with calls for their adoption.
A Mission to Help the Street Dogs of Canada
The rescue missions usually involve collecting street dogs from the surrounding communities north of Winnipeg and the province of Manitoba that lack the resources and regulations to properly combat the issues of strays and canine overpopulation. Given the area’s climate, the conditions Oliveira often finds these dogs in are not only unique to the region but nothing short of haunting. “Time and time again, we’ve come across dogs frozen to death just because they have no shelter and they’re living as strays outside. After my first run, it was so eye-opening and I’ve been extremely active since… I just think it’s my calling to try and save as many dogs as possible,” Oliveira says.
While it may initially seem that the intense violence of football would contrast with the heroic selflessness of rescuing dogs, Oliveira credits a lot of his ability to successfully retrieve these animals to lessons he learned on the gridiron. He notes that his training and athleticism have afforded him the agility to physically catch more skittish pups that aren’t necessarily used to being helped. But more consequential than the tangible strength is the mental toughness Oliveira developed playing football which has helped him steadily approach these situations that can regularly be tough to stomach.
“You see a lot of things in animal rescue that you wish you could unsee, a lot of dogs being abused or being neglected that are in terrible shape,” Oliveira explains. He recalls one incident early on where he found a dog who, after taking them to a vet for an x-ray, discovered they had bullets stuck within their bones. “That rescue was probably three years ago and it’s still stuck in my mind. It really challenges your mental toughness because you can fold and walk away and not do this, but then what about all those thousands of dogs out there that are counting on you and relying on you? So, you have to stay strong no matter what you see,” he says.
The Perfect Job For a Pro Athlete
According to the running back, football players who aren’t mentally tough either lose playing time or get cut from the team altogether. But those who can withstand the emotional demand of a season usually have long and successful careers. There is also a throughline between the cooperation and teamwork felt on a football field and that of various volunteers working together to save the same animal. “In those stressful situations when a puppy might escape, me having played team sports for my entire life, I’m able to take charge of the scene and make sure everyone stays cool, calm, and collected because I think team sport really teaches you that,” Oliveira says.
Oliveira’s connection to the city of Winnipeg goes beyond playing for the Blue Bombers — it’s also his hometown. And in addition to being born there, it was through a local organization Oliveira met his partner in rescue and in life, Alex Blumberg. The pair were introduced while saving dogs together for K9 Advocates in Winnipeg, a not-for-profit Oliveira has worked with extensively. They now frequently go on rescue runs with one another and it’s an experience the pro athlete finds uniquely rewarding. “It makes this rescue work a lot easier when you have someone by your side that knows what you’re going through and can feel the emotions, the pains, the struggles that you’re actually going through…We’re a perfect support system for each other. We’re the perfect team.” He adds: “I’m really glad that I’ve found someone that wants to do this with me because it does take a special person to do it. Not everyone wants to take a two-month vacation rescuing street dogs.”
How He Keeps His Head in the Rescue Game
Oliveira and Blumberg keep each other levelheaded during rigorous trips searching for strays, whether they’re successful or not. “There’s a lot of hard times with the rescue work that we do,” he adds. “I make sure to preach to Alex that we can’t save them all but for the ones that we do save, we need to celebrate those small victories and small wins because, at the end of the day, that’s another dog off the street, another dog into a loving home, another dog getting the proper care that they need.”
Animal advocacy is truly the bedrock of their relationship; it even drives how they vacation together. The couple recently enjoyed an extended stay in Bali, but rather than tanning on the beach every day, they spent most of their time helping pups in need. Just like in Manitoba, there are countless strays wandering the streets of Bali mostly due to a lack of resources for them in the area. Not to mention, there’s limited education on the importance of spaying and neutering.
Whether it be through football or rescue missions, Oliveira simply loves fighting for a collective purpose and achieving it with those around him. He compares the elation of winning a Grey Cup with the Blue Bombers to that of saving animals with his fellow volunteers.
“Winning a championship is the greatest feeling in the world,” Oliveira explains. “It is incredible. Everyone works so hard [for] the same end goal and after all your energy is drained, you get to sit back in that locker room with that championship trophy right next to you and think Wow, we did it. It’s all worth it. And that’s exactly the feeling I get from rescuing.”
In volunteers’ Instagram videos, you’ll see both the joy and the fatigue behind finding these deserving pets homes.
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“The Street Vet” on his heroic work and how you can help.
Sean Zucker is a writer whose work has been featured in Points In Case, The Daily Drunk, Posty, and WellWell. He has an adopted Pit Bull named Banshee whose work has been featured on the kitchen floor and whose behavioral issues rival his own.