Of course her dogs bark, the owner of a Tagish dog rescue testified in a Whitehorse courtroom Sept. 21, but not for hours on end or without provocation like the neighbours who are suing her are claiming.
Shelley Cuthbert backed up her point, as well as ones about the cleanliness of her property and her professionalism in running the rescue, with testimony from two witnesses and hundreds of documents, videos and photos on the third day of a trial that will determine the future of her operation.
Six residents of the Tagish Estates neighbourhood, represented by lawyer Graham Lang, are seeking an injunction against Cuthbert to limit her to having a maximum of two dogs on her property. They claim the excessive, constant barking currently coming from the rescue, as well as the smell of dog feces, has severely and negatively impacted their ability to enjoy their own properties since Cuthbert moved in in 2012.
Lang concluded his submissions Sept. 20, which included testimony from seven of Cuthbert’s neighbours.
Cuthbert, who is representing herself in court, called a total of three witnesses of her own. Reba Miller, who visited the rescue in May out of curiosity, testified that she had gotten in touch with Cuthbert earlier this year after getting into a fight with a coworker about the rescue and wanting to see first-hand what was happening.
The property was “nothing” like what’s been reported in the news or on social media, Miller said, describing it as more akin to a farm. The dogs barked when she entered the rescue with Cuthbert, Miller said, but quickly settled down once they realized she was not a threat. The dogs were sorted into pens by size and how long they’d been at the rescue, Miller said, and did not appear to be mistreated and were well-behaved.
At no time did she feel unsafe at the rescue, said Miller, who also testified about watching Cuthbert taking in a surrendered puppy at a feed store parking lot in Whitehorse and remembering her as acting “professional” and “non-judgemental” throughout the interaction.
At one point, Cuthbert asked Miller if she’d board her own dog at the rescue.
“Having seen your place … yes, I would,” Miller said.
During her own testimony, Cuthbert said that when she bought her land in 2012, she specifically chose an area of Tagish where the lots were big and already filled with agricultural activity and two dog mushing teams. She also looked into any zoning, bylaw or legal rules that might keep her from running a dog rescue but found none, and bought her lot with the intention of retiring there.
For the majority of the afternoon, Cuthbert played videos and displayed photos of her property to illustrate the noise level and dogs’ living areas. She submitted 30 days’ worth of video as evidence but only played a handful in court at the request of Justice Leigh Gower.
In one video, Cuthbert gives a tour of her property and films for more than 10 minutes without a single dog bark to be heard. Cuthbert also played videos of her “night crew,” made up of about 15 dogs who go out at night, and “day crew,” made up of about 45 dogs who are out during the day. In each of the videos, the dogs appear calm, walking around with tails wagging or taking naps, and any barking, like when Cuthbert returns home, only lasts for about a minute.
One exception to that was a video that Cuthbert said shows her neighbour, Stefan Angerer, walking around by the fence dividing their properties. In the video, dozens of dogs rush to the fence and began barking, following Angerer as he moves back and forth along the fence.
The videos and photos also show the “privacy fences” that Cuthbert has set up along the edges of her property, which appear to be made of horizontal pieces of wood stacked up to minimize the dogs’ visual triggers.
“Nothing’s fancy at my place, but it’s practical,” she said.
Cuthbert also submitted 50 letters of support and the result of an ATIPP request for notes about all visits by animal control to her property that show no violations or illegal activity at the rescue.
Just before the proceedings ended for the day, Gower addressed Cuthbert, saying he was concerned about how much longer her submission would be.
“There may be a point where I just cut you off (tomorrow),” he said, noting that he did not want to extend the trial another day.
Cuthbert said she understood.
The trial is expected to conclude Sept. 22.
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org