Animal protection laws must apply to all, says humane society

Alberta defines an animal as any creature that isn’t human. Here, under proposed changes to the Yukon Animal Protection Act, the definition of…

Alberta defines an animal as any creature that isn’t human.

Here, under proposed changes to the Yukon Animal Protection Act, the definition of animal would not include wildlife or exotic animals.

The Humane Society Yukon wants the government to adopt similar language found in the Alberta and British Columbia animal-protection legislation.

“It’s an animal protection act, not a some animal protection act,” said society spokesperson Andrea Lemphers.

“If some animals aren’t protected, a potential for cruelty always exists.”

It’s one suggestion the humane society has made to the Yukon government, which is soliciting public opinion about its proposed amendments to the animal protection act.

Animal rights supporters have long criticized the legislation as being antiquated and lacking any real power to prevent cruelty to animals or to deter owners from harming their pets.

The 22-page document released by the Yukon Party government last month lists 17 proposed amendments to the outdated legislation.

It includes increased penalties and stronger powers for protection officers and RCMP.

Fines for violating the act would increase to $10,000 from $500 and maximum jail time would rise to two years from six months.

It also redefines animal to include wildlife in captivity, but leaves out wildlife and exotic animals.

If that definition were changed to include everything but a human, the legislation would cover every animal, said Lemphers.

Overall, the proposals are supported — with suggestions — by the humane society, which has been asking for changes to the act for years.

“These laws are designed to catch people who take pleasure in harming animals,” said Lemphers.

“A lot of thought has gone into the (proposals), but there’s room for improvement. Now is the time to tackle the deficiencies.”

One change would allow animal-protection officers to secure a warrant more quickly by using the telephone or other means.

As it now stands, officers can only obtain a warrant in person, which has delayed investigations in remote parts of the territory.

And under proposed changes, the RCMP could enter homes without a warrant in emergency cases of animal abuse.

But new powers for animal-protection officers will still be ineffective if other policies aren’t changed, too.

“Without adequate funding and support, no legislation will be effective,” said Lemphers.

One animal protection officer for the territory isn’t enough, she added.

Eventually that one officer will need a vacation, or might be in Carcross when something happens in Mayo.

And dealing with complaints leaves less time for other things like education in the schools, said Lemphers.

“If they’re not dealing with complaints there’s so many other things they could be doing,” she said.

While the fine increases — and the provision that increases penalties every subsequent day an offence is committed — is welcome, the fine should be in line with the $50,000 maximum found in the Yukon Wildlife Act, said Lemphers.

“Why differentiate between a wild and captive animal? It’s creating a different class of animal,” she said.

The proposals follow an 11-page report by veterinarian Ken Kilpatrick that found the current laws outdated and ineffective.

The process of consultation and amendment development has been positive, said Lemphers.

Already, Kilpatrick has said he’s searching for answers to several questions posed in the society’s response to his work.

Kilpatrick indicated the local humane society chapter is not receiving the support and funding it needs to properly protect animals.

“To improve the effectiveness of the Yukon Animal Protection Act, the primary focus should be on policy, procedure, funding and staffing to be put in place to support the act,” he wrote.

“Implementation of the act can be improved without changes to the legislation itself.”

Commissioned in 2006, the report compared Yukon legislation to that of the Northwest Territories, British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Those jurisdictions have much stronger laws that better protect animals, said the report.

The Yukon Party government decided to study the legislation after a 2,500-signature petition was introduced in the legislature in December 2006.

Several troubling incidents of animal abuse — dozens of cats abandoned in freezing weather, the mass slaughter of dogs and a gruesome incident of a dog left to die after being dragged behind a truck — have been reported in the Yukon over the past two years, prompting the call for tougher legislation.

To obtain a copy of Humane Society Yukon’s suggestions, call Lemphers at 633-4337.