Tonight I'm going to talk about transparency.
Transparency is a very important word when it comes to animal protection. When you are dealing with sometimes the most important thing in person's world - their pet - you had better get thing's right when you are an authoritarian organization coming into a person or family's life and threatening to take away that animal, or actually taking away that animal - or even just generally mucking about in your life.
And that being said - there needs to be transparency - and accountability - all through the process - from the first interaction to the final step - whether the human is charged with cruelty to animals and goes to trial and is convicted or whether there is an order to comply - or whatever the outcome is.
There needs to be accountability and transparency on both the animal owners side and the authoritarian organization's side.
And what is this all for? It is to protect the humans? No. I think we at least can all agree about this - it is for the protection of the animal - for the dog or cat or gerbil or even fish - as lately in the news, Gail Benoit has been in the news for having some fish seized from her in her prohibition order for harbouring fish that she was not allowed to own. (and kudos to the NS SPCA for doing that!)
The NS SPCA is the only organization in Nova Scotia who are empowered to enforce the Animal Protection Act, and they take that very seriously. They have been given policing powers to do that. They don't have guns, but they do carry billy bats and wear flak jackets and I'm sure they probably need them on a regular basis because there's nothing that inflame people like animals - just try to say anything on facebook that is against someone's philosophy and you will soon learn how angry someone can get. But I digress.
The Special Constables of the NS SPCA see a lot of horrible things on a regular basis as I'm sure you can imagine. Sometimes it's hard to keep ourselves alive so keeping our pets in tip top condition can be a challenge at the best of time - and then there's cultural differences that can come into play - I know this from running a dog rescue that rescues dogs who have been chained out their whole lives - there are actually people out there who think that if you have a backyard that's where dogs are supposed to be - and even worse - that's where they enjoy being, especially if they are certain breeds of dog.
And if the dog isn't living inside with you on your couch, there are health conditions that creep in that you don't notice, their nails can start to get pretty long and gangly, things can just get out of control. Epsecially when they've been outside for a few years.
So it would make sense that the SPCA constables would start to get a bit hardened by the pain that they see day in and day out - but somehow they don't - I think that in order to do this job it really is a calling - you can either do it or you can't. And the animals of Nova Scotia are the better for it.
9.5 times out of 10 the Special Constables work with owners - providing educations, working with the owners, giving them notices of orders to comply - they do it for the love of the animals, and they understand that the owners want the best for their animals - but if they see that the animal is in dire distress - sometimes they do have to seize an animal - they will do it, and thank dog they are there to do that.
There is a lot of work that has to go into having an animal seized, gathering the information and documenting the condition of the animal so that a case can be made for the charge of cruelty.
Some times it's pretty cut and dry - you'd think it would be, but lawyers are very funny people. They question everything, and if there's the least question of anything - they will not proceed. Especially Crown Prosecutors - they are the most busy government workers in this province - and when it comes to animals - the court system is not in the 21st century - I think we can all agree to that.
So if a Crown Prosecutor sees that an animal has been given back to a person at an Animal Cruelty Appeal Board Hearing - a person who has been charged with animal cruelty by the NS SPCA - do you think that they are going to proceed with the charge? I will give you one chance to answer.
That's why we need transparency and accountability from the Animal Cruelty Appeal Board the same as we have with the Nova Scotia Court System - and also the same that we require from the NS SPCA.
Today in a CBC News article the Chief Inspector of the NS SPCA says that she's seeing a troubling trend of animals being returned to owners from the Animal Cruelty Appeal Board - and that is not good news - and we need to find out why that is happening.
There needs to be some transparency and accountability from this board - and find out why this is happening - we need to get the past decisions of the board to see why those animals were returned - maybe they were returned for good reasons - but right now we don't know why, and that's not good.
It would behoove the NS SPCA to step up their transparency as well - last week they announced the Animal Cruelty Appeal Board meeting this past Monday - that's how I knew to attend. I think when these board meeetings are happening they should start announcing them. I know I will start attending them - and if need be - be kicked out of every one of them.
Maybe we should go back to having a judge make these decisions and not have veterinarians and breeders make these decisions. I don't know but there needs to be a light shone onto this - because I don't want animals to be suffering unnecessarily in this province - to be being put back into the hands of abusers if that is what is happening.
I do know for a fact that the court system in Nova Scotia needs to be changed when it comes to Animal Protection - but that's for another post.
But right now we'll just stick with trying to find out what's happening with this "quasi-judicial" board.
Here's the CBC News article:
'Concerning' pattern emerging in animal protection cases, says SPCA
N.S. SPCA seized 6 dogs, 2 returned to owner days later after appeal board ruling
Moira Donovan - CBC News
The SPCA's chief inspector says in roughly half a dozen cases, dogs have been returned to their owners by the appeal board after being seized by the SPCA
The chief inspector with the Nova Scotia SPCA says a troubling pattern is emerging where pets seized by the organization are being returned to their owners by the body in charge of hearing appeals of decisions made under the province's Animal Protection Act.
Jo-Anne Landsburg said the most recent case involved the return of two dogs to their owner, Duncan Sinclair of Falmouth, by the Animal Cruelty Appeal Board just days after they were seized by the SPCA.
"It's happened before," Landsburg told the CBC's Information Morning.
"We've seen animals that have been seized by the SPCA returned to owners by the board, and where we think it's more or less to suit the owner and not so much for the best welfare of the animal, so that's why this pattern that we're starting to see is becoming very concerning."
'Really in a bad state'
Sinclair had 19 dogs on his property when the SPCA received a complaint from the public. Landsburg said the majority of those dogs were in good condition but alleged that six were "really in a bad state."
"I mean severe matting, unable to walk ... pus kind of oozing from their face," she said.
The Animal Protection Act requires the SPCA to work with the owner to rectify the situation, but since Sinclair wasn't present at the time, Landsburg said the organization had no choice but to seize the dogs.
Sinclair has been charged with causing an animal to be in distress and failing to provide adequate medical attention to an animal in his care. He has declined requests for comment.
Landsburg alleged Sinclair hasn't been able to afford basic vaccinations or deworming for any of his 19 dogs.
She also said Sinclair has claimed to be breeding dogs to pay for winter wood but she added the possible financial impact of the SPCA's seizure shouldn't be a factor in whether to return the animals.
Landsburg said she doesn't condemn someone for trying to make a living, "however, if you're going to do that, you need to take the animal's welfare into consideration."
Due in court in October
Sinclair is due in court in October to answer to the charges. Landsburg said while it is a concern the appeal board's decision could influence the court case, the charges laid relate to the condition of the dogs when they were found.
"We just have to prove that this situation happened at that time," she said.
'A very sad situation'
Of the four dogs remaining in the SPCA's care, Landsburg said three will be put up for adoption after "extensive surgeries," including procedures to treat cleft palates. The fourth has only one viable limb and will be euthanised.
"It's a very sad situation," said Landsburg.
Trevor Lawson, chair of the Animal Cruelty Appeal Board, did not respond to requests for comment.
With files from CBC's Information Morning
Previous posts in this series:
Accountability Post #1
What does the Animal Cruelty Board Have to Hide?