Thursday, July 2, 2015

The history of dog advocacy in Nova Scotia

Sit back, this is going to be a long one.

Chandler and Piper - 2 superstars from Seaview Park - many years ago 

I'm going to talk about the history of dog advocacy here in Nova Scotia going back almost 20 years - where we started, and how we've come to where we are now - and where we hopefully are headed in the future.

Almost 20 years ago - prior to 2002 - the Nova Scotia SPCA was killing more than 50% of the animals they took in, and they did it in a very inhumane way - they used a gas chamber to kill the animals - which didn't kill animals quickly - it was a slow painful process that is not only awful for the animals, it's very hard for the staff to watch.

In 2002 a new management took over the at provincial level - and at the Dartmouth SPCA at least - the gas chamber was decommissioned and things began to change - we'll talk about the Cape Breton SPCA later. Adoption rates started to rise, and things began to look better - animal advocacy in Nova Scotia started to look up it seemed.

Daisy, a very special rottweiller

It was around this time that dog owners around the province - and generally everywhere across North America - started to become more savvy politically - more dog magazines like Bark Magazine started to spring up, and we started to talk with our tax dollars - the terms "breed specific legislation" and "dog friendly" started to become household terms - "puppy mills" and "puppy brokers" entered the vernacular and normal dog owners started to understand what all these terms meant - not just crazy dog people became involved in the dog friendly movement.

Spring ahead to 2004 - and New Brunswick's legislature talks about passing province wide breed specific legislation - luckily they don't pass it after much conversation with the province's population - but in 2005 - Ontario - much to the displeasure of everyone across the country and many experts - DOES pass BSL - that still exists to today.

Zeus and Sandy from Guysborough

Also in 2004 - a fight was brewing in the municipality of the district of Guysborough - a pit bull by the name of Zeus, was under attack by the municipality - the warden, Lloyd Hines wanted him dead - and there was a 2 year fight - but in December 2006 - Justice Stroud deemed the BSL in Guysborough as being "vague and over-reaching" - and Zeus was able to live out his days in peace - much to the displeasure of Mr. Hines. Hines would later try to bring this same law to all of Nova Scotia.

That brings us to 2006 here in Nova Scotia - when a small article appears in the Chronicle Herald - "Municipalities ponder dog breed bans" - the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities had struck a committee to look at the issue of banning certain breeds of dogs province wide. In 2008 it started working it's way through the legislature and it ALMOST passed - it was called "Bill 138" - we almost had province wide breed specific legislation here in Nova Scotia - except that it was caught in time by the dog advocacy community here in the province and it never passed. We REALLY dodged a bullet here - all you people who currently own pit bulls here in the province - you are SO LUCKY, you have no idea.

We DO have BSL in several pockets though - Richmond County, the district of the Municipality of Guysborough, Digby, the municipality of the District of Antigonigh, and a couple of other places in the province - DO have BSL - and it is also written into our Municipal Government Act - so if any municipality or town in Nova Scotia wanted to very easily write it into their bylaws - they COULD. Anyplace in Nova Scotia, with very little discussion - could have BSL written into their bylaws very quickly. I hope everyone who owns a targetted breed realizes that.  This is a conversation we need to continue to be talking about.

I have talked on this blog over and over about this fact - that the BSL needs to be removed from the Municipal Government Act - but no one seems to listen to me about this. But anyway.

The history of dog advocacy in Nova Scotia can't be talked about without talking about the Celtic Pets scandal at the beginning of 2008 - it almost brought the end of the Nova Scotia SPCA because of the corruption that was happening at the very top of the organization.

Jack - mine and Netta Armitage's Celtic Pets dog

They allowed a corrupt rescue group to continue to abuse animals in their care for years and did nothing about it - Celtic Pets rescue in Cape Breton - the mother of the head of that rescue was a Special Constable with the Nova Scotia SPCA, and an animal hoarder herself and the people at the top of the NS SPCA turned a complete blind eye to everything that was going on because that was what was convenient for them.

 Zeus - who was abandoned in a cage for 3 years by Zonda MacIsaac - and then loved unconditionally by his Dad Blaine for the best years of his life

They were complicit in the abuse that was going on - and ultimately it led to the end of their involvement with the organization, the complete crash of the NS SPCA - and a rise from the ashes for the organization with a whole new group of people who were committed to bringing the once well respected SPCA back to where it once was - which is what they ultimately did.

The Nova Scotia SPCA today is a shadow of what it once was - in 2008 it was corrupt beyond belief, with a lot of it's donation dollars being paid to lawyers fees and vehicles for board members - today it is an organization that seems to truly being doing what it is mandated to do - protect the animals of Nova Scotia, and it has taken a lot of work by dedicated individuals along the way - all of them unpaid volunteers to make it the group it is today - one that Nova Scotia can finally be proud of.

It has made Nova Scotia a "no kill" province - not a moniker that many provinces in Canada can claim - and one that we should continue to work toward - insisting that all of our Animal Control departments across the province pick up this pledge as well - the Halifax Regional Municipality's Animal Control pound - Homeward Bound City Pound is "no kill" - so there's no reason why every other pound in the province can't be no kill as well.

It was in 2006 that Kjiji came to Canada - and dog activists immediately saw the danger of people being able to give away or sell animals online - we pled with the company that ran the service not to allow for the sale of animals on their website - but we were ignored - soon, we and everyone else saw how people like Gail Benoit used the service - and today, just about everyone in Nova Scotia knows the name "Gail Benoit" - and who she is and what she does.

And that's a good thing.

Ms Benoit at her best

And today, it's pretty hard to sell a diseased and dying dog on Kijiji anymore - you have to go through some pretty good hoops to sell a dog on Kijiji now, you have to use a credit card, and there's a paper trail - so for people like Gail Benoit - it's almost not worth it anymore - but for rescue's - Kijiji has become a pretty good platform - and that's a good thing too.

In 2010 The Nova Scotia Veterinary Medical Association got involved in a big way with the dog advocacy movement when they banned docking and cropping within their organization in Nova Scotia - totally pissing off the purebred dog community, but making the dog people who are into natural looking dogs very happy. They weren't the first Veterinary Medical Association in Canada to do this - and hopefully they won't be the last.

In response to the start of Kijiji - in 2006 "Advocates for Responsible Pet Ownership" was formed - a grass roots group of dog owners across the province dedicated towards attaining a dog friendly Nova Scotia and educating pet owners about the best places to acquire their pets - and lobbying government to end the sale of pets in pet stores.

I think the group achieved just about all the aims we set out to do because around 2011-2012 pet stores in Nova Scotia voluntarily stopped selling pets in their stores - it was a big win for the dog advocacy community - and it was long fought for - we had many protests in front of their stores and educated a lot of people in the process - and the pet stores listened to their customers.

Nobody can forget in 2010 when a guard dog froze to death in Cape Breton - and nothing was done to change things for chained dogs in this province - that was the start of a long road that has led to a paradigm shift for dogs today.

Since then, advocacy and dog politics has done nothing but continue to raise awareness in Nova Scotia - around 2010 the issue of chained dogs and tethering raised to the top of consciousness in our province - and with a lot of hard work, and with the cooperation of the government of Nova Scotia - because it is the right thing to do - in December of 2014 - legislation was passed that makes it illegal now to tether your dog for longer than 12 hours in Nova Scotia - and there are a host of regulations around letting your dog live outside now. Another huge win for dog politics in Nova Scotia.

Good things continue to happen for dogs in Nova Scotia.

It is also illegal to leave your dog in a hot (or cold) car, illegal to put them in the back of your open truck, and illegal to not get them groomed properly.

And talking about paradigm shifts - through the hard work of a couple of dedicated people - there are a lot less stray dogs in Nova Scotia now - through the work of the Nova Scotia Lost Dog Network - dogs are no longer considered stray - they are now considered lost - and literally thousands of dogs have found their way home because of that network, and their lives have been saved because of it.  This is something for our province to be hugely proud of - we are leading the continent in this movement.

As for the Nova Scotia SPCA - in Cape Breton - things are going fabulous down there - up until a couple years ago - the gas chamber was still being used there - it is no longer being used. 75% of their animals were still dying there - they are now no kill now - thanks to a transfer system that sees a lot of their animals coming to the HRM where animals are adopted quickly from here where they might languish in a cage down there. They have also recently opened a low cost spay and neuter clinic down there which will see unwanted litters diminish their overall animal population over time - things are looking great in Cape Breton thanks to the NS SPCA now. And for decades things looked very bleak there.

So what is next for dog advocacy in Nova Scotia? We have so many things that other parts of North America can only dream about - we don't have heart worm here, we don't have rabies - we are already no kill, our vets don't crop or dock our dogs, our pet stores don't sell puppies, our dogs are allowed at all parks on leash, and we don't have any public space bans in any of our towns - and we do have some BSL around the province - but we will continue to work at that - so things sound to be quite ideal, don't they?

There are some things we can continue to work at if we want to have only positive experiences for all dogs in Nova Scotia - and that is to lobby government to ban the use of punitive and aversive training devices like prong and shock collars - they have been banned in other countries like Wales - and in Quebec - so the time has come to start working on that here in Nova Scotia.

We have - as a group of committed, objective, loving - tax paying, dog owners - gotten so much done in the last 15 years for our dogs here in Nova Scotia - that this is the next natural step - to have these abusive devices removed from the collars of all dogs in Nova Scotia - it is diametrically opposed to everything that we as Nova Scotians stand for.

If you go to a pet store and see a display of shock collars there - talk to the people in the store and tell them you won't shop in their store anymore if they continue to stock these devices - it worked for puppies - they'll realize that they aren't making enough money from the collars to make up for what they're losing in sales from the rest of the store and stop selling them.

Don't seek out trainers who use shock collars as part of their "balanced training" of your dogs - there are SO MANY other dog trainers in our province who successfully train dogs with other methods. It's completely unneccesary today. These trainers say that dogs would be dead if it weren't for them - that is just not true - aggression can be treated positively, and if shock collars aren't used correctly - it makes aggressive dogs even worse.

I hope you will agree and work towards having shock collars banned here in Nova Scotia.


  1. I have 3,000+ customers that say you're blowing smoke. What do you have besides assertions?

    Invisible Fence of Nova Scotia

    1. I have a customer of yours whose 2 dogs blew threw your fence and had the worst 5 days of her life while her dogs were missing - luckily thanks to the lost dogs network - she found them, much worse for the wear - and then 2 weeks after that - one of them blew threw it a gain and came home with a face full of porcupine quills - that's what your "fence" does.

    2. Not an Invisible Fence Brand containment system We offer a money back guarantee. NEXT!

    3. Not an Invisible Fence Brand containment system. We have a money back guarantee. Dog gone, money back.

    4. I don't care if you have a bazillion customers - we are still going to work to get shock collars banned in Nova Scotia - never underestimate the cunning of a few crazy dog ladies

  2. Invisible Fence is not a product category, it is a brand of electronic containment. Do a bit of research.

  3. No, it wasn't. Or we'd know about it. At least in Nova Scotia.

  4. I have my database of customers right here. Give me a name and I'll check it out.

    1. I am of course not going to do that

    2. What are you afraid of Joan? Being proven right? Or wrong?

    3. If what you're saying is true, then these people need a refund. Why are you denying something they deserve under our terms of performance?

    4. Anonymous11:21 AM

      I would just like the say to Warren Laws that getting your money back is hardly going to make up for a bad experience. Money is not everything in this world, no matter what you might think. I would not doubt for one moment this story is true. All of us in the dog community who advocate gentle methods and work closely with rescues have been exposed to all kinds of horror stories from electronic containment systems invisible fence or no. I see it as nothing but a money grab. We all have to pay our bills, but it's easier to pay them when you throw ethics out the window for sure.

    5. You know Mr Laws - the e collar people have thrown you under bus too - on another blog that been started recently to slander me and counter my arguments, they say the following about "containment systems" - Not to mention there is a HUGE difference between an e-collar and a "shock collar" like the anti-bark just mentioned. The underground fence follows that old school shock collar logic too - you mess up, you get shocked. No room to learn anything before being punished. The old anti-bark collars shocked the dog as soon as it barked, same as the underground fence would do if the dog wearing it's collar were to cross its boundary. " How do you feel about "ballanced trainers" now Mr Laws?

  5. Of course you won't. Then I could check your assertion against my records. NEXT.

  6. Great post Joan, you're heading in the right direction.

  7. Anonymous9:56 PM

    "Our dogs in Nova Scotia"? My dog is MY dog, not some communal communist property. It is none of your business how I train him nor what tools I may or may not use. I am so sick of statists like yourself who want to force others to confirm to your views regarding pet ownership, child rearing and on and on and on. Unless what I'm doing causes you actual harm, it is evil to use the state to force your views upon others in matters of personal property and conscience. Dialog and persuation fine, but not forced compliance by the state.

  8. Of course there will be loud opposition from people who make a living selling shock collars. Shouldn't stop us.
    Trainers who can train will survive without these tools, other will have to find another way to make a living. Too simple.