The Yukon government bears some responsibility in the death of a Ross River man who was killed and partially consumed by feral dogs last October, says a former veterinarian.
Richard Herbert was commissioned by the government to develop a dog control pilot program for Ross River in 2010. But that contract was later cancelled, and Herbert said the government didn’t act on recommendations that could have prevented Shane Glada’s death.
Glada’s body was found on Oct. 17, after he’d been missing for several days. Earlier this week, chief coroner Kirsten Macdonald attended a community meeting in Ross River to explain the results of Glada’s autopsy, which show that he was killed by a pack of semi-domesticated dogs.
Herbert’s pilot program was born out of concerns about feral dogs in Ross River back in 2010. He published two reports that made extensive, far-reaching recommendations about how to solve the problem. His recommendations included a requirement for veterinary licensing in the territory, an overhaul of dog-related laws, better veterinary services in the communities and more resources for enforcement and public education.
“But they didn’t do any of it. They left everything exactly the same,” Herbert said. “If you leave everything exactly the same and there was a problem to begin with … that definitely makes you culpable.”
Mary Vanderkop, Yukon’s chief veterinary officer, said Herbert’s contract was cancelled because the reports contained factual inaccuracies and made recommendations beyond the scope of what the government was able to provide.
Back in 2011, the News was told the pilot program would be too expensive to implement.
Still, Vanderkop said some of the report’s recommendations have been carried out. In particular, the government has helped offset the cost of spaying and neutering pets for the last several years.
The government hosted a spay-and-neuter clinic in Ross River shortly after the reports were published, and later funded a spay-and-neuter voucher program through the Humane Society Yukon. About 40 dogs from Ross River were sterilized under that program between 2013 and 2015, though 60 vouchers were offered.
But six months ago, the government tried and failed to host another clinic in Ross River, because no veterinarian was able to go. “There was simply no one who had the time,” Vanderkop said.
She explained that the government can’t require veterinarians to visit communities, since they usually do so at a financial loss. “We could hardly ask them to engage in activities that would represent even more of a business loss to them,” she said. “That would not be at all fair.”
The spay-and-neuter voucher program ended on March 31. Vanderkop said the government is planning to roll out a new program within the next month.
The government also contracted a dog catcher to patrol Ross River shortly after Herbert’s reports were published, Vanderkop said. But that contract was cancelled when it became clear that people were tying up their dogs whenever the dog catcher showed up in the community.
“As soon as they see the truck drive in, everybody knows,” she said. “When those activities bear no fruit, they are not going to be continued.”
Vanderkop said she doesn’t see a need for more resources to address stray dogs in rural communities like Ross River. “We have not heard that there is a demand that exceeds our capacity.”
Still, Herbert’s reports received the support of both the Ross River Dena Council and the Kaska Tribal Council. In 2011, after the program was halted, Ross River Chief Jack Caesar wrote a letter to then-Community Services minister Elaine Taylor in protest.
“The program’s advancement was frozen during the lead-in to the recent Yukon election,” he wrote. “Minister Taylor, will you please direct Community Services’ staff to move forward with the … program?”
This week, Herbert wrote a public email to Yukon’s chief coroner, in which he accused the Yukon government of having “shirked its responsibilities in regard to dog-related public health crises.”
In response, Macdonald wrote that she had read Herbert’s reports several times.
“I have written to the appropriate government department and requested a complete update regarding all the actions taken under the pilot program and where the program is at the moment,” she wrote.
She and Herbert aren’t alone in demanding action from the government.
NDP MLA Kevin Barr is also calling on the government to modernize the Dog Act, which hasn’t been updated since 2002. The act prohibits dogs from running at large in violation of local bylaws.
But Barr said the existing legislation doesn’t help unincorporated communities like Ross River to deal with dog problems, because they can’t create their own bylaws. As it stands, he said, the legislation is unenforceable.
He also said that under the existing legislation, the RCMP can’t step in to deal with problem dogs until they become violent.
“What we need to really do is revisit the Dog Act and do a full-on consultation with affected people that are living in communities that aren’t the same as municipalities,” he said.
But when Barr raised the issue in the legislative assembly this week, the Yukon government did not commit to revisiting the legislation.
“With regard to the specific act, no piece of legislation will solve all these problems,” Community Services Minister Currie Dixon said.
But Barr says that’s not good enough. “This isn’t something new that just happened. And so it’s fallen on deaf ears. There could have been more leadership by the government to move on this.”
In the wake of Glada’s death, the Ross River chief and council have agreed to form a working group and make eight to 10 recommendations for dealing with feral dogs. Macdonald hopes to see those recommendations within a few weeks.
Back in 2011, when Herbert’s reports were released, the News spoke with longtime Ross River resident Tim Moon. He was skeptical that the pilot program would lead to any change.
“Maybe when a kid gets chewed up,” he said at the time. “Hopefully it won’t come to that.”
Glada was 22.
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