Dead dogs raise questions about gun laws

Answering the door recently, Kirsten Vetrie was greeted by a neighbour carrying a shotgun. He told her he'd shot one of her dogs and was about to shoot the second. He made good on his promise. Moments later, the second dog was dead.

Answering the door recently, Kirsten Vetrie was greeted by a neighbour carrying a shotgun. He told her he’d shot one of her dogs and was about to shoot the second.

He made good on his promise.

Moments later, the second dog was dead.

Vetrie had never met the man before.

Her dogs, Dakota and Bella, are victims of outdated laws in the village of Tagish, she said.

“The Dog Act treats this area like the wild, Wild West,” said Vetrie. “It hasn’t been updated since 1930 when there were only five cottages in Tagish.”

Tagish has slightly more than 200 full-time residents and is home to several hundred seasonal cottagers. The area isn’t zoned as a residential or “development area” by the territory, but the gas station, stores and homes in Tagish say otherwise.

Vetrie’s neighbour shot Dakota and Bella after one of her dogs scared eight of the man’s chickens. No chicken was eaten by the dog, but they all died from shock.

In the Dog Act for the area of Carcross, no dogs are permitted to run at large. If they do, they’re legally allowed to be shot for “pursuing, worrying, injuring or destroying” livestock.

Vetrie, who considered her dogs close companions, is devastated by the loss.

“All he had to do (her neighbour), rather than shoot them with a shotgun, was knock on my door,” she said.

Bella, her nine-month-old Labrador cross, was pregnant. Her other dog, Dakota, was a four-year-old border collie cross. Both were shot to death.

“I specifically chose to live in Tagish because it was supposed to be a healthier and safer life for my dogs without all those cars,” said Vetrie.

“Now I’m blaming myself for not knowing my neighbours or the dog law.”

And the fact her neighbour discharged a shotgun so close to her home has left Vetrie unsettled.

“If you shoot off a gun in Whitehorse you’re going to jail,” said Vetrie.

Under the Yukon Wildlife Act, a person can’t discharge a firearm within one kilometre of a house except when the surrounding tenants give consent to do so.

According to the RCMP officer investigating the case, there were several homes within a one-kilometre radius of where the gun was fired.

“The neighbours are within close proximity,” said Cpl. Kurt Kamotzki. “They’re not side-by-side neighbours, but they’re between 300 and 500 metres.”

The RCMP will be canvassing Vetrie’s neighbours to ask whether they would have permitted gunfire close to their home.

“The neighbours are the people who actually have to answer to it,” said Kamotzki.

If Vetrie’s neighbours don’t approve of the gunfire, the man could be charged under the wildlife act. He would face an $86 fine.

“It’s a slap on the wrist,” said Vetrie.

The fines are outdated, said Kamotkzi.

“A good portion of these (types of) fines are dated and need to be evaluated in the future,” he said.

The courts could also find her neighbour guilty of a criminal code offence for discharging a gun in an unsafe manner, but it is unlikely, said Kamotzki, especially if he isn’t found guilty of breaking the wildlife act.

“They would need to look into case law and see what the immediate neighbours thought of (the gunfire),” said Kamotzki. “But the reasonable probability of conviction is slim to none.”

If the neighbour were handed a criminal offence he could either face jail time or be fined and have his firearm confiscated.

Only incorporated communities or First Nation communities can create their own bylaws surrounding dogs, said Jay Lester, a Yukon animal welfare officer.

“I’ve heard of dog-control issues in Tagish, but nothing that’s been reported to us as a complaint,” he said.

Control Vivian Belik at

vivianb@yukon-news.com