Letter to the Editor

Humane Society comments on animal protection law The current definition of “distress” in the existing Animal Protection Act is open to…

Humane Society comments on animal protection law

The current definition of “distress” in the existing Animal Protection Act is open to legal interpretation.

What is proper care, food, shelter, or water? What is undue or unnecessary hardship, privation or neglect?

Legal interpretation can be crucial in answering these questions and has resulted in failures to adequately protect animals from suffering distress.

Whitehorse has narrowed the interpretive field, by being more specific in its definitions within its animal control bylaws.

Humane Society Yukon strongly urges the government to review and take into consideration Whitehorse’s animal control bylaw, provision of needs, and unsanitary conditions prohibited sections and incorporate them into the Yukon Animal Protection Act.

The consultation paper notes that the government will establish an animal protection officer position, which the society applauds.

We do have concerns about just one position being funded (workers’ compensation and job safety come to mind).

One person cannot work without time off, nor could they be reasonably expected to competently deal with complaints from every corner of the territory.

It has been said that the government does not expect this person to be too busy.

Unfortunately we believe this to be a gross underestimation of the demand that will arise.

A primary aspect of this position, second to investigating complaints, should be given to public education, in Yukon schools in particular. This duty alone, is very time consuming and very important.

Another important, and time consuming, part of the job should be dedicated to implementing a dog care/training program within Yukon corrections facilities.

These programs have had outstanding success in other jurisdictions and the benefits to inmates, animals and the public, are enormous.

Amending the Yukon Animal Protection Act is long overdue and Humane Society Yukon applauds this government for moving forward on that front. Funding to support legislation is another issue.

Without adequate funding, legislation is only worth the paper it is written on.

Humane Society Yukon urges the government to fully fund and support a minimum of two animal protection officer positions, with a commitment to review the needs of the positions in two years’ time (or sooner if needed) and, if necessary, be prepared to hire additional officers and provide the administrative support they will require to carry out their duties in a competent and professional manner.

We wish to thank Ken Kilpatrick, a veterinarian, for his thoughtful work on the proposed amendments, and the government for fulfilling an election promise that other governments failed to meet.

Board of directors, Humane Society Yukon, Whitehorse

‘Consultation’ far

from serious

This is my take on the Yukon Animal Protection Act review “consultation” meeting.

The meeting was well attended by those concerned parties, myself included, who wished to submit their personal views about what the ‘new and improved’ act should look like.

Unfortunately, however, the real consultation was apparently done long before (outside of the public eye) in private meetings with approved stakeholders (“key stakeholders”) such as the dog mushing, trapping, big-game outfitting lobby groups, and others who exploit Yukon animals for entertainment and financial gain (there was little or no involvement by actual important players, such as Yukon First Nation governments).

The meeting was a tightly controlled, patronizing exercise involving a show of hands (agree/disagree) where attendees hurriedly commented upon, and voted on a series of seemingly random proposed laws and amendments.

This took up most of the three hours before time expired around 10 p.m. as the Canada Games Centre was closing for the evening.

Many people left throughout the meeting. Some of these people may have hoped to submit public comments to the panel as I had hoped to, but did not see the likelihood of that happening.

The people who stayed to the end were forced to blurt out their most important opinions when they were even remotely related to any of the laws under consideration.

This caused some heated exchanges among the various proponents at times, which was unfortunate and unnecessary, had a proper forum been arranged.

My proposed submission pertained mainly to the welfare of sled dogs in the Yukon.

Near the end of the meeting, as time was running out, I and a fellow animal advocate needed to express our remaining vital concerns about sled dogs to the panel.

In relation to a proposal that public animal welfare authorities, including Yukon government employees (possible Yukon animal protection officers) be immune to lawsuits brought about by their legal actions in the line of duty, my colleague asked a question along the lines of “what if the government itself is sanctioning animal cruelty?”

The individual tasked with guiding the consultation process, Ken Kilpatrick, asked for a specific example of such a situation.

The dog-mushing industry and Yukon Quest were given as prime examples around which animal exploitation and cruelty (apparent culling of otherwise healthy unwanted dog and puppies; real exposure to death, suffering and injury for dogs used in the Quest) can and does occur.

This was not well received by Kilpatrick and the meeting moderator.

We were informed that the meeting was not the place to express these concerns (sponsorship of Yukon Quest with public money, promotion of Quest in Yukon classrooms, government promotion of sled-dog tourism industry) and that we should contact our territorial politicians.

We should have expected such a reception seeing that Kilpatrick chose to wear his finest Yukon Quest polar fleece vest for the occasion.

He is also a licensed veterinarian who apparently has close ties to the Quest (listed as on-call vet for 2008 race).

We departed with a bleak outlook for the hopes of much-needed regulation of the Yukon dog-mushing industry and protection for sled dogs being included in proposed legislation.

Tragedies, if not outright crimes such as the one that helped kick-start the need for enforceable animal protection laws — the shooting of scores of dogs in April 2006, by a transient Dawson-area resident described as a ‘dog hoarder’ or collector — can still take place in the Yukon in the future.

It was made apparent at the meeting that it is not considered inhumane, nor will it be a criminal act, for society to euthanize unwanted dogs, or control dogs considered to be pests, by gunshot — a longstanding Yukon and northern tradition.

An analogy to this would be the Western powers going to war over the invasion of Poland and then handing the star-crossed country over to the good graces of the Soviets at war’s end.

When it comes to the welfare, rights and protection of Yukon animals, many dogs in dog yards throughout the territory (and other animals) will remain ‘out in the cold’ as a result of this exercise in ‘window dressing.’

Terry Cumming

Whitehorse