Shelley Cuthbert walks two of her pitbull-mix rescue dogs, Bebe, left and Brutus, in Whitehorse on April 4. The territorial government is petitioning Yukon Supreme Court to have her removed from a plot of land off of Atlin Road she has relocated herself to. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

EMR petitions for Shelley Cuthbert and her dogs to vacate from Tarfu Lake site

The owner of a dog rescue formerly located in Tagish has set up a camp off Atlin Road

The owner of a Yukon dog rescue formerly located in a Tagish neighbourhood has relocated herself and more than 50 dogs to a plot of land off of Atlin Road — and the territorial government wants her gone.

In a petition to the Yukon Supreme Court Oct. 23, the minister of energy, mines and resources is requesting a summons directing Shelley Cuthbert to “vacate or abandon” a site near Tarfu Lake, “including the removal of all fences, structures, tents, and other physical debris from the lands as well as all the dogs.”

Cuthbert could not be reached for comment before press time.

According to the petition, Cuthbert is “unlawfully” occupying a site southwest of Tarfu Lake, where she’s living in a tent, has erected three to four more tents “for various storage purposes,” and has “constructed enclosures using wire fences and tarps which she is using to house over 50 dogs and to enclose the tents.”

“She is also responsible for several dogs which are tethered to trees in the nearby area and for bringing dogs to the site which are now at-large in the surrounding area … Ms. Cuthbert has stated that she plans to stay on the site in a heated tent over the winter along with some of the dogs,” the petition says. “The rest will remain outdoors at the site.”

The site is estimated to be more than 200 metres by 50 metres in size, according to the petition.

It’s the latest in what’s becoming a lengthy legal saga for Cuthbert and her rescue, which was originally based at her home in Tagish Estates before several of her neighbours sued her over the noise caused by the up to 80 dogs Cuthbert kept on-site. Her neighbours won the lawsuit, with Yukon Supreme Court Justice Leigh Gower ordering Cuthbert in October 2017 to remove all but two dogs from her property.

Cuthbert refused, saying that any dogs she gave up would surely be put down, and appealed the decision. Her appeal was dismissed in May.

Cuthbert left her Tagish property in June, taking all of the rescue’s 40-something dogs with her.

She had previously refused to disclose where she had relocated to.

In an affidavit filed alongside the minister of energy, mines and resources, natural resource officer Jason Colbert says that he was sent to investigate a complaint “regarding possible unauthorized occupation and the keeping of dogs on territorial land just off Atlin Road.”

Colbert says he visited the site Aug. 7 but did not inspect the whole area “because I did not want to enter the fenced areas on account of concerns for my personal safety,” explaining that there were a “large number of dogs” present with some exhibiting “aggressive behaviour.” He left a note requesting whoever was responsible for the site to contact him.

Colbert says he conducted a follow-up inspection with a conservation officer and animal protection officer Aug. 9, during which they observed “numerous dogs at the site, some at-large and others chained up or in fenced enclosures … as well as four small tents.”

Colbert visited the site twice more and didn’t see anyone there, the affidavit says, but, during a visit Aug. 22, saw a man who said he was staying on the site for “several days” at Cuthbert’s request.

“He indicated that it would be unsafe for me to walk through the site as some of the dogs could get loose and attack,” the affidavit reads.

On Aug. 24, Colbert says he posted two copies of a letter at the site requesting the person occupying it to contact the director of land management. The same day, according to the affidavit, Colbert received an email from an animal protection officer saying he had a phone conversation with Cuthbert during which she confirmed she was responsible for the site.

Colbert says he conducted another inspection of the site Aug. 29, during which Cuthbert, among other things, told him she no longer had a permanent residence in the Yukon and that she had told the “bank to take it.”

On Sept. 11, Colbert says he delivered a letter to Cuthbert informing her that her occupation of the land “appeared unlawful” and requesting that she leave the site by Sept. 26.

However, during a follow-up inspection Sept. 27, Colbert says that he found the size of the site had increased and that a new wall tent and dog enclosure had been erected.

Colbert notes that every time he attended the site, the dogs would bark loudly and that there was a strong smell of dog urine and feces throughout the area.

A letter from Cuthbert responding to the Sept. 11 letter, dated Sept. 20, is included as an exhibit. In it, Cuthbert writes that she is allowed to camp on any undesignated area for up to 400 days.

“I am requesting to be left alone until I am able to find (a property for the rescue),” the letter reads in part. “The last issue the Government of Yukon wants to deal with is a homeless woman who owns a bunch of dogs that is legally camping.”

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

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