Tagish dog rescue owner Shelley Cuthbert was back in court to ask a judge to put a hold on a court order for her to get rid of all but two of her dogs until her appeal can be heard. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)

Tagish dog rescue owner asks for court order to get rid of dogs to be put on hold

Shelley Cuthbert argued forcing her to get rid of all but two dogs would cause ‘irreparable harm’

Tagish dog rescue owner Shelley Cuthbert was back in court Jan. 22 to ask a judge to put a hold on a court order for her to get rid of all but two of her dogs until her appeal can be heard.

Representing herself, Cuthbert, largely reading from her written submissions and affidavits, argued that the injunction issued by Justice Leigh Gower in October 2017 that gave her four months to reduce the number of dogs on her property from 60 to two would cause “irreparable harm.”

Six of Cuthbert’s neighbours successfully sued her in 2017 over what they said was the unreasonable level of barking and other noise coming from her rescue. Cuthbert, who also represented herself throughout that trial, is appealing the decision, arguing that, among other things, Gower failed to properly consider all evidence, that she was not informed about legal procedures and that she wasn’t given an opportunity to recommend alternative remedies.

In front of B.C./Yukon Court of Appeal Justice John J.L. Hunter, Cuthbert said that should Gower’s injunction not be stayed, she’d be forced to “get rid of 53 dogs in the next weeks, or face contempt of court proceedings.”

“These 53 dogs will not simply find their way to loving and caring homes at the snap of the appellant’s fingers,” Cuthbert read from her written submissions. “They will be killed.”

In one of her affidavits, Cuthbert wrote that she lives “every single one of my dogs with all of my heart” and that they are “important for my emotional, mental and financial stability.” She noted that to date, she’s managed to transfer five dogs out of her rescue and that an additional five are waiting to be transferred, but the remaining 50, due to age or behaviour issues, have proven difficult to re-home.

“My shelter is often the last stop for dogs,” Cuthbert said. “They come here because no one else, including other rescues, shelters and potential adopters, will take them in.”

Between now and the hearing of her appeal, the soonest of which would be in May, Cuthbert said she that she willing to “take steps to acknowledge and diminish the inconvenience alleged” by her neighbours, including erecting a privacy fence as soon as the weather allows. She also argued that several of the neighbours who sued her are currently away from their properties and would not be impacted if Gower’s injunction is stayed.

Cuthbert added that she was still “very confused by the whole (legal) process” but that she now has a “friend” with legal knowledge who is assisting her, and that with his “invaluable” help, she hopes to “expedite things forward.”

“I wouldn’t be able to stand here without him,” she said.

Hunter acknowledged that she was in a “difficult” position.

“I’m sorry that you haven’t been able to obtain counsel, because really, running an appeal in the Court of Appeal without counsel is virtually impossible,” he said.

Lawyer Graham Lang, who is representing Cuthbert’s neighbours, said in his submissions that he believed the merits of Cuthbert’s appeal were “weak” and that Gower had gone “above and beyond” to ensure that she had a “full and fair trial.”

“We are willing to concede that Ms. Cuthbert may suffer irreparable harm by (the injunction), but I’d like to point out to the court that some of this urgency is manufactured by Ms. Cuthbert,” he said, noting she didn’t bring the application for a stay until the “grace period” granted by Gower “was basically running out.”

Instead of granting Cuthbert a full stay, Lang proposed the court grant a stay based on a series of conditions. He proposed that, starting Feb. 15, Cuthbert begin surrendering 10 dogs to the Yukon government on the 15th of every month, or however many dogs the government is willing to accept, until the number of dogs on her property is down to 10. The conditions would also include that Cuthbert keep all her dogs inside at night and that she stop taking in dogs starting Feb. 15.

Cuthbert later said that she has seven dogs at the rescue that need to stay outside 24-7. In response, Lang suggested that those dogs be part of the first group she surrenders to the Yukon government.

“The point there isn’t to put her into contempt of court, the point there is to start dealing with the inevitable, which is starting to unwind this program,” Lang said. “…By the time we get to the May hearing, we’re down to about 25 dogs, 20, 25 dogs, so it gives some incentive to Ms. Cuthbert to have this heard in May.”

Lang had also applied for a motion asking Cuthbert to put down money to guarantee that she can afford to cover the cost of potentially losing the appeal. That application was adjourned after Hunter raised questions about the court’s authority to approve it.

Hunter reserved his decision on the stay and is expected to deliver it Jan 24.

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

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