Tagish dog rescue owner Shelley Cuthbert stands outside the Whitehorse courthouse Jan. 25, after receiving a judges orders to start surrendering dogs. (Jackie Hong/Yukon News)

Court orders Tagish dog rescue owner to surrender 10 dogs a month to YG

‘All we can do is hope that she’s going to start taking these seriously’

Tagish dog rescue owner Shelley Cuthbert will no longer need to get rid of all but two of her dogs by mid-February.

Instead, she will have to surrender 10 dogs a month until she’s down to 10 or fewer animals at her property, and her appeal to her neighbours’ successful lawsuit against her can be heard.

That was the order handed down by B.C.-Yukon Court of Appeal Justice John J.L. Hunter Jan. 24, two days after he heard Cuthbert’s application for a stay against a 2017 injunction handed down by Yukon Supreme Court Justice Leigh Gower. The injunction was the result of a successful lawsuit launched by six of Cuthbert’s neighbours, who complained that her dogs were causing excessive noise and disrupting their quality of life.

Cuthbert is appealing Gower’s decision and, citing “irreparable harm” and Gower’s failure to properly consider all evidence, had asked that the injunction be put on hold until her appeal is heard.

Lawyer Graham Lang, who is representing Cuthbert’s neighbours, had proposed an alternative stay where Cuthbert would have to comply with several conditions and would see the gradual reduction of the number of dogs on her property instead.

Appearing in a Whitehorse courtroom via video link, Hunter said it was clear that Cuthbert would not be able to comply with Gower’s injunction by the Feb. 11 deadline, noting she’s only gotten rid of five of her 60 dogs in three months.

Hunter continued that, at present, he could see “no merit” to Cuthbert’s appeal, which he said was a key portion of whether he should grant a stay on the injunction.

“It may be that by the time the appeal is perfected, one of these arguments will be seen to have some merit, although without the assistance of counsel, I consider that most unlikely,” Hunter said. “…Accordingly, I am not prepared to stay the trial judgement pending appeal, at least not in its entirety.”

However, he added that he does “not consider to be in the interests of justice to dismiss the application completely.”

Instead, the judge agreed with Lang’s suggestion to grant an amended stay that involves several conditions which will see Cuthbert gradually reducing the number of dogs on her property until the appeal is heard, which would likely be in May.

The conditions of the stay include that, starting in February, Cuthbert must surrender up to 10 dogs to the Yukon government every month no later than the 15th of every month. The number of dogs may vary based on how many the Yukon government is willing to take in, Hunter said, and should the government cease taking dogs, the parties can return to court to figure out an alternative. Cuthbert must also keep all her dogs inside from 10 p.m. to 7 p.m. and must stop accepting new dogs until she has fewer than 10 animals. Once she has fewer than 10 dogs on her property, she may begin accepting new ones again, but only to a maximum of 10.

In theory, the conditions should make it so that Cuthbert will have around 20 to 25 dogs remaining in May.

If Cuthbert violates any of the conditions, the stay may be revoked, Hunter said.

In an interview following Hunter’s decision, Cuthbert said that she believes the dogs she will have to surrender to the government will be euthanized.

“That’s the sad part, because them pushing me to do that is setting the dogs for a death sentence,” she said. “A lot of these dogs aren’t ready to go to homes. They cannot survive in caged environments like the humane society… I’m not being selfish. I’m being realistic. What is real for some of these dogs? These dogs are happy where they are. Yes, they bark, but stop standing at my fence and provoking the barking.”

Despite that, Cuthbert said she’s determined to see the appeal all the way through.

“It’s not over. (The) dogs’ lives are far more important than anything else and this is a hurdle that will be dealt with accordingly,” she said, adding that there are “things in the works” outside of the court process but declined to elaborate.

In a separate interview, Lang said he was hopeful that Cuthbert would comply with the conditions of the stay.

“I’m hoping that, and the neighbours are hoping that, Ms. Cuthbert starts dealing with the situation out there in a reasonable manner,” he said. “All we’re asking for at this point in time is a staged reduction of the amount of animals to bring some peace back to the neighbourhood.”

Lang added that the neighbours’ intentions are “not to go in and do anything catastrophic.”

“They want this operation to be unwound in a reasonable way,” he said. “What we’re hoping is that this time, the staged reduction will help Ms. Cuthbert reach that goal, set some easily-identifiable posts for her to hit. I mean, all we can do is hope that she’s going to start taking these seriously.”

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

This story has been updated.

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