Shelly Cuthbert is defending herself in court against a lawsuit that seeks to limit the number of dogs she can keep on her rural Tagish property. (Mike Thomas/ Yukon News)

Trial over Tagish dog shelter begins

‘It’s a dog shit smell’

The “constant” noise of barking dogs in a Tagish neighbourhood is “unbearable,” anxiety-inducing and absolutely not what residents signed up for, a Whitehorse courtroom heard on the first day of trial that will determine the future of a local dog rescue.

Six residents and landowners in the Tagish Estates neighbourhood are suing their neighbour Shelley Cuthbert, who, after moving to the area in 2012, started Any Domesticated Animal Rescue and Boarding Kennels on her property. In previous statements to the News, Cuthbert had said the number of dogs on her property ranged from 29 in 2012 to 80 in 2016.

The lawsuit, filed back in 2016, is seeking an injunction to limit Cuthbert to keeping a maximum of five dogs on her property, the “only possibly remedy” to what the plaintiffs say is a noisy and foul-smelling situation, lawyer Graham Lang said in his brief opening statement Tuesday.

Lang called five witnesses to the stand Tuesday, all property owners in the Tagish Estates neighbourhood, who each testified about how their once-quiet area was now dominated by the sound of loud barking coming from Cuthbert’s property. Each claimed the noise negatively impacted their ability to enjoy their own properties, their feelings of safety and, in one case, a business.

One witness, Anne Middler, began crying on the stand when she recounted visiting a neighbour who lived next to Cuthbert. About a dozen dogs were barking and lunging at the fence separating the properties and causing the fence to bend, Middler said, with other dogs in other enclosures just as loud and agitated.

Middler also recalled an earlier incident where she said she and her toddler had been in her rhubarb patch when two “giant” dogs she believed to be Cuthbert’s had wandered over to her property and began “threatening” them.

On top of what she described as “really unbearable” bouts of barking at all hours, Middler said both incidents caused her to fear for her safety and her child’s, should Cuthbert’s dogs ever get loose.

“Is it my kid that has to be sacrificed before somebody realizes this is an inappropriate location for this facility?” Middler said.

In addition to the barking, some witnesses said there was also another aggravating issue about the dog rescue.

“It’s a bad smell,” testified Stefan Angerer, who shares a property line with Cuthbert and is a plaintiff on the lawsuit.

“It’s a dog shit smell.”

Cuthbert, who is representing herself in court, cross-examined each of her neighbours after Lang finished with them, pressing them on how they knew the dogs they claimed were causing issues were hers.

Cuthbert pointed out each time that there were several other dog owners in the neighbourhood, including at least one dog musher, and that other people’s dogs roamed freely as well.

She also questioned the intentions and approaches of the three neighbours who had filmed videos of her dogs barking, several of which were played in court.

Neighbour Stefan Landfried recorded one video as he walked near a fence along Cuthbert’s property line in November 2016. Several dogs can be seen near the fence, and barking and yipping can be clearly heard.

“Would you say you were antagonizing the dogs (by walking along the fence)? … It’s not normal for dogs to bark when somebody’s in their area?” Cuthbert asked Landfried, who said the bed-and-breakfast business he runs on his property was suffering because of the constant barking. “You don’t think that would antagonize the dogs?”

“No,” responded Landfried, who is another plaintiff on the lawsuit. Earlier, he had testified that had he known that a dog rescue would be moving into the neighbourhood, he would have never bought or developed his plot of land, a sentiment echoed by the other witnesses as well.

“I didn’t build the place to be stressed out,” he said.

The trial, which is expected to last four days, continues Wednesday, with six to seven more witnesses total expected to testify.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com