The pickup is already making its way down the snow-packed route when this reporter notices that one of the dogs — an anxiety-riddled, white-and-orange boy named Oliver — has somehow escaped his crate and is scampering over the four other kennels packed into the truck bed.
Shelley Cuthbert eases on the brakes and hops out of the driver’s seat. Oliver bounds into the truck’s cab as Cuthbert walks to the tailgate to make sure the other dogs are still securely in place.
“I have no idea how he got out,” she says as she hops back in.
“Oliver’s going to have to ride in the cab with us. Jackie, can you hold on to his collar?”
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Cuthbert, the owner and operator of a dog rescue once run out of her home in Tagish Estates, was once again on the move Feb. 16, and, like the last time, doing so because of a court order – in late January, Yukon Supreme Court Deputy Justice Bryan Mahoney ordered her to vacate the site she was squatting on, along with 50-plus dogs, by March 1.
The order stemmed from a petition filed by the Yukon’s minister of energy, mines and resources to the court in October 2018 saying that Cuthbert was unlawfully occupying a portion of territorial land along Atlin Road near Tarfu Creek.
Cuthbert had unsuccessfully argued that she was legally camping at the site, and that all the structures she’d set up, including several dog pens and a large wall tent, were temporary.
She moved there in the summer of 2018 after unsuccessfully appealing the outcome of a nuisance lawsuit brought against her by her neighbours in Tagish Estates, which ultimately resulted in a court order for her to keep no more than two dogs at the property. Cuthbert chose to leave her house, dogs in tow, than to give up any animals to anyone.
* * *
It’s sunny and relatively mild on moving weekend, and Cuthbert starts with the largest pen — one that houses at least two dozen dogs as well as a large wall tent with a stove, where Cuthbert has been living after failing to get the heat in an old camper to work.
As the reporter and photographer she’s invited to watch her move stand back, Cuthbert enters the pen and disappears into the tent, emerging soon after with a Rottweiler (“He’s not friendly,” she warns) on a leash.
She takes him out of the pen, ordering all the other dogs, many of them barking or yipping in excitement, to back off, and then clips him on to a tether attached to a nearby tree as she hauls an already-assembled kennel into the bed of her truck.
She then reattaches the Rottweiler to the leash and leads him to the kennel, which he enters without much complaint.
She does this six more times — one dog, while totally willing to hop into the truck bed, refuses to enter a kennel, so she walks him back to the pen and picks another dog instead — before she secures the five kennels with bungee cord, and, after the brief stop to bring Oliver into the cab, starts the roughly half-hour drive to her new location.
This is her second ferry of dogs today, and later on, she’ll get help from a few more trucks, one of which has a trailer large enough to fit about 20 kennels and crates at once.
Cuthbert requested that the News not reveal her new location, or take pictures at it. It’s in the Yukon though, on a large swath of private property that doesn’t appear to have any nearby neighbours.
There’s a dilapidated cabin with a barrel stove in the area set aside for Cuthbert, and she’s set up several wire-fence pens, similar to the ones she had on the Atlin Road site, around or near the structure for the dogs.
Cuthbert said she’ll stay here until she can find her own piece of land to house her rescue – when that’ll happen, she doesn’t know. She also doesn’t know if she’ll be able to get her wall tent or about 15 crates off the Atlin Road site before March 1, because they’ve all frozen into the ground.
“I feel bad, but I can’t do the impossible,” she said. “They could have waited until spring to order me off.”
Cuthbert added that now that she’s on private property, her dogs and their barking isolated from the world at large, she’s hopeful that she’ll finally be left alone – by the courts, and the people, she claims, who are out to get her wherever she goes.
Asked if she ever gets lonely, Cuthbert barely skips a beat.
“Not really,” she replies.
“I wish I had more friends, don’t have too many of those. But I keep myself so busy that I don’t think about it.”
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org