Tagish dog rescue owner Shelley Cuthbert says she has surrendered and then euthanized 10 of her dogs Feb. 15, the latest development in a years-long legal battle between her and her neighbours.
However, the chief veterinarian for the Yukon government’s animal health unit, to which Cuthbert is supposed to be surrendering 10 dogs every month, says that as of Feb. 16, the unit has only received eight surrendered dogs from five different owners in 2018.
The cause of the discrepancy is unclear.
Cuthbert is currently in the midst of appealing a successful nuisance lawsuit her neighbours won against her last year, which came with an injunction requiring her to get rid of all but two of her dogs.
On Jan. 24, B.C.-Yukon Court of Appeal Justice John J.L. Hunter granted a partial stay on that injunction. Cuthbert now has to surrender 10 dogs per month on the 15th of every month to the Yukon government’s animal health unit until her appeal can be heard in May.
In a phone interview Feb. 16, Cuthbert said she called the animal health unit to her property Feb. 15 and surrendered 10 dogs to the unit’s custody. A veterinarian chosen by Cuthbert put the dogs down.
The court order states that Cuthbert must surrender the dogs to the unit and makes no mention about euthanizing them, but Cuthbert said euthanization is inevitable because her dogs don’t meet the unit’s standards for adoption.
“(The unit was) very supportive, made sure that a vet was there of my choice, and because I am transparent, I had to be very honest with the animal health unit and said very clearly, ‘With the criteria, these dogs cannot be adopted,’” she said. “The dogs passed away in my arms, in a private pen where no other dogs could see what was going on.”
Cuthbert added that at no point was the unit at her property in an “enforcement capacity” and that the situation was difficult for everyone present.
She also vowed to follow through with her appeal and, more immediately, to argue her application to have Hunter’s partial stay changed so she can “relocate” 10 dogs a month off her property instead of surrendering them.
Technically, Cuthbert had a seven-day window from that decision to ask for changes to the partial stay, but in a motion filed to the court Feb. 12, she stated she was not aware of that deadline. Following a hearing Feb. 14, the court granted her an additional two weeks to file paperwork.
However, in an interview Feb. 19, the animal health unit’s chief veterinary officer Mary VanderKop said that as of end-of-day Feb. 16, only eight dogs have been surrendered to the unit in 2018, and that those animals came from five different owners.
Asked about that information, Cuthbert again said that she had surrendered 10 dogs to the unit, and also sent the News a screenshot of an email dated Jan. 25 that appeared to be listing the dogs to be euthanized.
In an earlier interview, VanderKop said she would not comment on specific cases, but that in general, it’s “rare” for surrenders to happen because of court orders — the majority of surrenders happen after people approach the unit for help.
When it comes to determining whether a surrendered animal is “adoptable,” VanderKop said the unit mostly relies on information provided by the owner when the animal is signed over.
“They are the ones who know the temperament, they know the circumstances of that animal and so we rely heavily on that information but that’s not the only factor,” she said.
“If we don’t feel that we can trust an animal to be safe when put in an adoption situation based on how it reacts with us, then we have the authority and responsibility to make the decision to euthanize it. I have to say that’s rare. To date, the vast majority of animals that have come in through this program have been adoptable and they’ve actually done really well through the humane society.”
Graham Lang, the lawyer representing Cuthbert’s neighbours, said in an interview Feb. 16 that his clients’ intentions have never been to have Cuthbert’s rescue dismantled in an inhumane way.
“All the neighbours want to do is see an orderly unwinding of this operation and the best way to do that is through the humane societies in Watson Lake and Dawson, and through (the) animal health (unit),” he said. “And I thought we’d built a system that was going to work for everybody but Ms. Cuthbert, but obviously that’s not case.”
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org