Shelley Cuthbert says she just wants to be left alone.
It’s been nearly five months since the owner of what is perhaps the most controversial dog rescue in the Yukon suddenly left her property in Tagish Estates after losing a legal battle with her neighbours, taking all 40-something of her dogs with her.
Until this week, Cuthbert has largely kept the new location for her rescue a secret — but that changed when the minister of Energy, Mines and Resources filed a petition to the Yukon Supreme Court requesting a summons directing her and her dogs, now somewhere closer to 50 in number, to vacate a site near Tarfu Lake.
Cuthbert said she’s planning on fighting the petition.
The News visited the site off Atlin Road, on Cuthbert’s invitation, Oct. 24. She motioned for a photographer and reporter to stay in the car as she secured a makeshift pen housing more than a dozen dogs and a large wall tent before allowing her visitors to approach.
“Number One rule — no sticking your fingers through the fence,” she said, her voice competing with the sound of dozens of dogs riled up by the arrival of unfamiliar faces. “Number Two rule — I stand between you and the dog if there’s a dog that gets loose. Do not scream, do not yell, nothing. Just stand behind me, stay calm. I’ve got control of all these dogs. You have nothing to worry about. Okay?”
Cuthbert’s camp is set up along an old but easily-accessible dirt road. A massive pile of firewood and an old truck camper immediately greet any visitors who follow a series of “BEWARE OF DOG” signs off the highway, but what catches the eye — and ear— are the rudimentary dog pens made up of chain link fencing and tarps set up amongst the trees.
“I’d love it if I had peace and quiet, where people weren’t bugging me all the time,” she said of her new living situation. “Because my biggest stressor is people showing up and making false accusations, or all the stress of having to go to court all the f—-ing time, you know what I mean?”
Along with pointing out the infrastructure — the dogs all have shelter from the rain and straw beds and nothing’s permanent or installed below-ground — Cuthbert also introduced various dogs by name.
“Everybody’s got a name, everybody’s got their own personality,” she said. “I could tell you exactly who’s who and what their histories are and what their personalities are and everything … I find it pretty easy, because a lot of these dogs have been with me a long time, right? This didn’t happen overnight.”
She acknowledged that not all her dogs are adoptable, but claimed that the majority are — if they go to the right person with the right home.
“They have to tell me what’s going on, and then I match the dog to them, and that’s why people don’t like me — it’s because I don’t let them come in and pick a dog. You can’t walk in and pick a dog,” she said.
“At the end of the day, I work for these dogs, right? And I’m not giving up these dogs to anybody. They have to be ready and prepared to deal with these types of dogs, and if you’re not prepared, there’s the door, so to speak. In this case, there’s the tree.”
During the News’s visit, all but two of Cutbert’s dogs — she agrees she has about 50, but couldn’t provide an exact number — were either in pens, crates, her truck or her truck camper. The two dogs that weren’t contained followed Cuthbert and the News closely throughout the visit and, although initially suspicious, quickly became affectionate.
All of the dogs the News saw appeared to be in good physical condition and settled down after about 10 minutes with sporadic bouts of barking after that.
The News did not hear the dogs barking while driving along the dirt road to or from the site.
Cuthbert said that she cleans feces from all the pens daily and feeds the dogs once a day (she said she goes through 40 kg of dry dog food a day and spends up to $2,000 a month on dog food. She declined to say how she was affording to keep the operation running). She also said that, when no one else is present at the site, she lets some dogs out to run around.
Cuthbert confirmed that she plans on staying the winter, saying that she believes she’s legally camping.
“The dogs will be toasty,” she said, explaining that she’ll be setting up furnaces and tents to keep them warm. “I’m sure I’ll freeze if I don’t get that camper fixed. Or if not, I’ll sleep in the tent with the dogs, I mean, what are you going to do?”
She also confirmed that she stopped paying her mortgage on her house in Tagish and that it will be repossessed by the bank.
“I am now homeless. So does the court get that part? Do they realize the impact of what has happened here?” she asked. “I am now officially homeless, and I am camping with my dogs, because the courts ordered my dogs could not live on my property that I paid for … Now I’m in an undesignated area camping, and now I’m being taken to court, again? For what?”
“I wouldn’t stop what I’m doing,” she added. “This is my passion. What’s wrong with that? Everybody’s got a passion. My passion is taking care of dogs that are challenged.”
Contact Jackie Hong at email@example.com