As an animal lover, I’m dismayed and concerned about recent decisions made in several animal cruelty cases in the province. As a Nova Scotian, I’m ashamed that this could happen here. But most of all, I’m mad. And that’s OK, since oftentimes, systems don’t change until people get mad.
Here are two examples. In both cases, animals were put back into the cruelty that the NS SPCA helped them to escape. The first case involved a man charged with cruelty after his dog was found freezing and tethered outside during severe cold. The dog was rescued by police and brought to the SPCA shelter for care and treatment. It was determined that the dog was also suffering from medical conditions that had gone untreated. The owner filed an appeal with the Department of Agriculture’s Animal Cruelty Appeal Board who, inconceivably, overturned the seizure and ordered the dog be returned to the owner. The board’s decision flies in the face of the message that you cannot leave your pet outside in severe weather because it’s cruel. As troubling as this case is, of greater concern is the message this sends to those who think it’s OK to let their dog freeze outside.
This is not the first time the Appeal Board has returned an animal to an environment where they were obviously in distress. By giving animals back to the very people who were neglecting or abusing them, it becomes significantly more difficult for the SPCA to build a cruelty case in a court of law. The court will look at such situations and say that if a quasi-judicial board decided to return the animal to its owner, how does this constitute cruelty? The Appeal Board process is clearly broken and needs to be fixed without delay.
The second case involved a woman charged with causing distress to puppies after she put rubber bands on their tails until they lost circulation and eventually fell off. In court, an expert from the Atlantic Veterinary College testified that this procedure, known as docking, causes significant pain and distress to puppies. It can also result in severe infection or even death. Nevertheless, the judge found the accused not guilty due to the way the legislation is written, even though the judge confirmed there was evidence to show there was distress. In other words, the accused got off due to a loophole in the system. As troubling as this case is, of greater concern is the message this sends to those who think it’s OK to perform this barbaric practice in their backyards. Consider the irony — in 2010, the Nova Scotia Veterinary Medical Association banned tail docking by veterinarians — finding the practice not only unnecessary, but cruel.
The Minister of Agriculture Keith Colwell has the power to make needed revisions to the legislation and to fix the malfunctioning Cruelty Appeal Board process. From where I sit, he’s a good man who has been very supportive of advancing animal welfare in the province. We can ask him to prioritize needed changes so that another defenseless animal doesn’t have to suffer needlessly. And I’m asking you to do so with respect. Because being mad without being respectful doesn’t achieve anything.
Judy Layne lives in Hackett’s Cove with her husband and their two adopted pets. A lifelong animal lover, Judy is a volunteer with the NS SPCA.