New animal cruelty legislation holds out hope

Following the news in February of the horrendous slaughter of sled dogs in Whistler last year, the Sled Dog Task Force released its report in April with a set of ten recommendations to regulate the standard of care for sled dogs, certification, inspection and auditing of sled dog operators in British Columbia, and better methods of communicating animal abuse.

“British Columbians have said clearly that cruel or inhumane treatment of sled dogs or any other animal is simply not acceptable,” said Premier Christy Clark. “That’s why we are acting on all of the recommendations of the Sled Dog Task Force and sending a strong message that those who engage in that type of behaviour will be punished under tough new laws.”

After a slump in business following last year’s Winter Olympics, an outdoor adventure company ordered the cull of an excess number of dogs. One hundred were inhumanely shot and dumped in a mass grave last April. The slaughter came to light after an employee filed a successful compensation claim for post traumatic stress.

Across the country, Canadians were horrified and there was international outrage. The task force report acknowledged the overwhelming feedback the government got on this issue. The public mandate is clear. Animal cruelty is not tolerated.

Dogs have a special relationship with millions of Canadians. They are beloved pets and companions. They are invaluable working animals in search and rescue, law enforcement, or on farms and ranches. They are amazing therapy animals either as guide dogs for the blind and those with autism or those suffering serious illness or confined to a hospice.

The province has begun the process of making changes to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act including increasing penalties of up to $75,000 and 24 months imprisonment for serious offenses, a huge improvement on the current $10,000 and six months limitation in jail.

The province is improving mechanisms to report animal abuse and is encouraging the development of a self-sustaining sled dog industry association under which the certification and auditing program will be established. Agencies and organizations that market or licence sled dog sporting events (tourism, consumer groups and race organizers) will be required members of the association

Veterinarians will be under a mandatory reporting requirement to report suspect animal abuse to the BC SPCA and they will receive statutory immunity for doing so. The new animal cruelty legislation will be the toughest in the country.

The BC SPCA has received a $100,000 grant to enhance their ability to conduct cruelty investigations. Marcie Moriarty, general manager, cruelty investigations with BC SPCA said the society is extremely pleased with recommendation #7 that the province “enhance the capacity of the BC SPCA to undertake animal cruelty investigations.”

There’s no arguing the society needs more funding and constables. They have just 26 constables for the entire province and all their annual funding comes from community and individual donations. Moriarty said that in 2010 a record 7,147 cruelty investigations were carried out but “there are so many more animals out there we don’t have the resources to reach.”

The society provides shelter, veterinary care and rehabilitation for close to 34,000 animals annually and their facilities, plus their foster homes, are full to overflowing with animals that owners can’t, or won’t, care for themselves.

She expects that the cost for the sled dog investigation will be close to $200,000. The first phase is complete but the investigation team still plans to exhume the bodies of the animals as soon as the ground in Whistler has thawed.

“I hope that lessons are learned so that this never happens again,” said Moriarety who acknowledged that this case has been especially upsetting.

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