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Abuse and abandoned pets

Rescue groups want legislation needs updated and better enforced

Dara Best-Pinsent (left), Sonny and Simone Mercer at the Southwest Coast SPCA. – Submitted photo

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter WEST COAST — In Newfoundland and Labrador, animals are protected under the Animal Health and Protection Act, which defines what normal and accepted practices are for animals under the care of individuals and families. There are also Animal Protection Regulations, 2018, which protects all animals from being in distress. It covers a vast expanse of edicts such as animal care duties, prohibited activities, protection of service animals, and protection of certain animals against dogs. Under these regulations, certain cosmetic procedures are outlined as being acceptable, such as docking a horse’s tail or cropping of a dog’s ears; however, other practices such as cosmetic surgery, declawing cats, and docking the tail of other animals are strictly prohibited. There are also detailed outlines providing individuals of accepted and prohibited ways of euthanizing animals with the use of chemical agents, drowning, burning, and suffocating on the extensive list of illegal methods. Standards of Care are also meticulously outlined, ensuring that all domestic and agricultural animals are provided with the appropriate care. Such standards, specifically for dogs, include that they must be provided with the following: (a) clean, fresh, unfrozen drinking water at all times; (b) sufficient quantity and quality of food to allow for normal, healthy growth and the maintenance of normal, healthy bodyweight; (c) clean food and water receptacles located in a manner that prevents spillage and contamination by excreta; (d) adequate veterinary attention when necessary; and (e) care that is necessary for the general welfare of the dog. There are also significant regulations surrounding outdoor enclosures and dog houses as well as proper tethering methods, as a breach of any regulations could be viewed as a form of animal abuse or neglect. Animal abuse and neglect are crimes that are punishable by law and the consequences for violating the law could be as severe as imprisonment for up to six months or fines of up to $50,000. If an individual were to murder an animal, the punishment allowed is up to five years in jail upon conviction of an indictable offence, and a $10,000 fine or 18 months in jail for conviction of a summary offence, which is less serious than an indictable offence. In the case of Mittens, a cat in Port aux Basques that was killed while funder the care of one of the individuals charged with her death, the two charged, Jody Anderson and Peter Rossiter, were given five months in jail and two years of probation, with a lifetime ban on owning or living with another animal. Velda Tapp, President of Shadow Rescue Group, was heavily involved in the case, advocating for Mittens and more severe punishment for animal abuse, and believes the punishments often don’t fit the crime. “The laws definitely need to change. With Mittens, for instance, the law says if you abuse an animal in that manner, you can go to jail for five years. If you look it up in the law books and Google it, maximum sentence can be five years,” said Tapp. “For each charge, there was proven without a reasonable doubt that they killed Mittens and disposed of her body. That was all proven and they got six months, which she (Anderson) only did about three in jail, and each of them was given a sentence of not to own a pet or be around pets for the rest of their life. It’s not enough.” Tapp was in the courtroom every day, and has dealt with other cases of animal abuse, all concluding with punishments lower than what she thought was appropriate. “I sat in every court with Mittens. I didn’t miss a court, and the prosecutor got information all across Canada, and she brought forward, would say, 20 cases, and she spoke on each case who the person was, what area it was, what the judge had done, the sentencing, and what the crime was,” said Tapp. “At one point, they had a cat that was killed and the man videotaped himself killing the cat, and you got to watch it, and he still only got six months. So in all of the cases that she read out, I did not hear anything over six months. So I questioned, why is the law saying you can get a maximum of five years and nobody uses that? Why don’t the judges use that?” Understandably, when a rescue group takes in an animal that has been subjected to abuse and/or neglect, the process becomes a lot more difficult when it comes to the care and placement of the animal. Misty, the dog taken in by Shadow Rescue who was stabbed 19 times, required significant care and rehabilitation before she could be re-homed. The rescue group had to perform extensive due diligence to help the dog recover and move towards a better future. Aside from the time required to help abused animals, there is also a financial cost for these non-profit and volunteer animal groups, who are usually reliant on public donations. “She had extensive care. She was whimpering for days. They put her on a Trazodone drug, 150 milligrams twice a day. So basically, she didn’t know she was alive, really, and having to go back and have all these stitches. So we left her for about a month or so. She also wasn’t spayed, so when they did up the money that was sent in, there was like $800 left and they asked me what to do. I said to just take the full amount of money, pay it to the vet and what’s over, just leave on an account with her name on it. So that money was there, and we waited for a while for her to heal up and then got her spayed and got her vaccines and made sure she was all checked out. Dr. Boyd did a really good job in Stephenville. She did an amazing job with her, I must say,” said Tapp. “We got all that done, and she went into foster care right from surgery and she rested a lot, and then she started walking. So then the search was on for an adopter.” The Southwest Coast SPCA in Stephenville have also had experiences with animals that were subjected to abuse and/or neglect. “We get a lot of calls from the public in general, just trying to report neglect and abuse and it doesn’t always have to be visible. It could just be they don’t have adequate shelter. They don’t have water. They’re tied on their whole life, dogs mostly, so they don’t get the proper exercise. So all of that obviously is neglect and abuse as well that not a lot of people think of, especially because the physical is so apparent. Thankfully, we don’t see as much physical as there is with everything else I previously mentioned, but even when we get these calls, the SPCA, at least here, doesn’t have the authority to do anything about these cases. We always have to direct people to call the RCMP or Crime Stoppers, and then if the RCMP deem that it is a form of abuse or neglect enough for an SPCA to step in, that’s when they call our president and then they would ask him to attend with them and basically claim the animal. So that part is really difficult for us because we have seen some what we also believe is neglectful situations,” said Jenna Loder, Shelter Manager of the Southwest Coast SPCA (SWCSPCA). “But if there’s no signs of abuse or starvation, oftentimes it can be dismissed. It’s definitely a work in progress, the laws and the Animal Act. It’s not enforced enough, that’s for sure. Each day there’s definitely more and more individuals being charged with these crimes and I’m glad there is some change. I think the Act was last updated in 2010, so by now, I mean, that’s 13 years later. It’s definitely outdated, and it needs to be reviewed. There’s been some work in between, at least with the provincial SPCA board reaching out to all the other branches and kind of trying to see what they think and to ask know what needs to be improved, what’s okay, so there is like attempt there for change, but it’s a slow progress.” Loder explained that for the animals, especially dogs, who have experienced such hardship, special requirements are indeed necessary for any homes they are placed in. “They’re normally way harder to move past these things sometimes, especially if it’s a physical abuse. You definitely need to have the right owner. And as us, specifically the Southwest Coast SPCA, we’re very upfront and honest with all of our animals, cats, dogs, birds, whatever it is, and we strive and have a lot of pride in ourselves to match the correct home with the right pet. So if somebody comes in and they see this pet that did have an abusive background and they are in love with it, but that pet is scared of them, maybe because there’s a woman or a man or anything that reminds them of their past, and they’re scared of them, we can’t let that pet get adopted unless there’s a connection both ways and at least a lot of understanding on that,” said Loder. “And I say that for dogs because they can be harder to manage, especially if they came from a bite history or something like that. So oftentimes though, we do try to reach out across the province. St. John’s helped us out a lot in the past with certain dogs that needed more training because honestly, we just don’t have the means.” A lack of volunteers is also a hindrance to the work they can do. “We have no money to hire trainers or anything like that, so if we can’t manage it, then we do ask for help elsewhere. The cats are the same really as well. They’re easier to manage because they’re smaller, but you definitely need to understand their personalities, their boundaries, their triggers,” said Loder. “In the past we have had cats, for example, from homes that were kind of picked on by children and mauled — and not only children, I’m sure adults have done it too — but just pushed beyond their boundaries and then they kind of act aggressive and overstimulated to little things, and we need to work with them for sometimes months before we can even post them as adoptable because we don’t want them to go when they’re not ready. So we do a lot of work behind the scenes and then once we feel that they’re ready and we know them, then we broadcast for adoption, and we match with that right family who’s going to understand them. If they came from a bad background with kids or other pets, we won’t let it go until they find the right home, right? So we’re very cautious on who gets them, especially when it comes to their background.” In September, the SWCSPCA dealt with a case where a dog was abandoned on the side of the road. It’s a situation that has seemingly become more commonplace. “We still have that dog in our care. Her name is Bella and she will be available for adoption soon. Again, we only got her, I think it was about two weeks ago, so we’re still getting to know her, know what she likes, what she doesn’t like, so that we can advertise her correctly and find the right home for her. That was an unfortunate situation, and it’s stuff that happens everywhere. Not that you always know about, but it just so happened that we had to turn this animal down at the door because we can’t accept animals and snap the fingers if we don’t know anything about them. We don’t know where they came from,” explained Loder. “If the owner can’t tell us any information, it’s kind of a red flag, and it’s like, well, we can’t put ourselves in danger, but especially our volunteers. We need to know information, but we also need to be able to provide a place for them to sleep. We need to make sure we have food for them so things can’t happen as soon as people want them. We definitely need patience and help because we’re here to help. We’re here to educate.” Having an understanding with your local SPCA becomes imperative in these kinds of situations. “We’re here to do everything to help you and the animals, but we need grace and we need time. Even if it’s 24 hours, at least there’s some type of a heads up, and then we can make sure we have the correct foster home, we have the right means for this dog or cat because we can’t overload ourselves as well. We have to make sure that we can accommodate everything, and it’s getting a little bit intense in the last couple of months because I think everybody’s dealing with different things, and vet care is expensive,” said Loder. “Ultimately, there’s not a lot of rescues on the West Coast, and all of them are always full because it’s inquiry after inquiry, daily calls, dogs, cats, abandoned. So I guess in Bella’s case, in that man’s mind, I guess he thought that dumping her was the correct thing to do. He didn’t know what else to do, so he dumped the dog. Definitely not the correct thing to do at all, because if he had given us even a couple of hours to discuss it, we could have helped then and there. So it’s just about time and patience, letting us know ahead of time, telling us the details that we ask.” Those details are pretty standard. “It’s quite simple stuff. Why are you re-homing? Is the dog good with other animals? Is there a bite history? Is the dog spayed or neutered and vaccinated? Just things that we need to know.” In some situations, the animal isn’t easily surrendered, and that can necessitate involvement from the RCMP or RNC. “Sometimes, we go with them and the owner surrenders them to us right away, and then it’s kind of a done deal. Other times they do not want to surrender, and then a court case has to go through, and so when that happens, we have no choice but to hold this animal until the court case is dealt with and this can go from months into a year,” said Loder. “Obviously, you know how the courts work, and it’s not quick. We’re currently dealing with a situation like that, without too many details, that we have to hold a dog until the court case occurs, and then this means that bills for us. We have no choice but to get the dog seen when it was found because of the condition it was in, and then after that, there’s Parvo circulating sometimes in the town from dogs so we have to get him vaccinated. So there’s vet bills on top of things like this for those cases, and then we have immediate needs for food, for boarding, for anything. So those are extra costs on us too, that people aren’t always aware of. What we deal with is not just owned pets, but it’s seized pets or strays.” Tapp has plans to semi-retire in the next few years, and her spare time will be dedicated to advocating for changes to the provincial animal protection laws and the appropriate punishments. “It’s a big job. We started this back about seven years ago. There’s a group right across the island, and when this happened to Mittens, everybody on the island came together and we were all going to go to government. We got out and we signed all these petitions, and then the virus came. COVID came along and stopped us,” said Tapp. “Nothing has changed. Everybody went quiet again. Nothing’s happening. I’m basically going to retire within the next few years, but over the winter, that’s what I’m going to be doing when rescue settles down a little bit. The Animal Protection Act, I’ve got to read it, I’ve got to understand it my way. That’s who I am. I’ve got to pick it all apart, truly understand it, and once I do, then I can speak and say what changes need to be made.” One change she wants to see, is for SPCAs to be given more rights, for people to be able to report animal abuse cases directly to them instead of the RCMP ad RNC. “I know the SPCA wants their rights back. They want their rights back and ability for the RCMP to step in when needed with animals being abused,” said Tapp. “The RCMP got the control and they bring the animals to us, and it shouldn’t have to be that way. I’ve seen a lot of abuse. It’s heartbreaking. I can’t imagine working in social services with children. I would never make it compared to what I see. You can see it right in their eyes and their face, and people think they don’t have any feelings or anything, but I tell you now, they can’t talk, but there’s no trouble to see. They’re just like children.”

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