Tagish dog rescue owner Shelley Cuthbert stands outside the Whitehorse courthouse Jan. 25, after receiving a judges orders to start surrendering dogs. In an interview Feb. 16, Cuthbert said she euthanized 10 dogs after surrendering them to animal health unit the day before. (Jackie Hong/Yukon News file)

Tagish dog rescue owner says she’s euthanized 10 dogs

Shelley Cuthbert said she put down 10 dogs after surrendering them to the animal health unit Feb. 15

Tagish dog rescue owner Shelley Cuthbert says she euthanized 10 of her dogs Feb. 15.

The development is the latest update in a years-long legal battle between Cuthbert and her neighbours, who, last year, successfully launched and won a nuisance lawsuit against her. Cuthbert has since appealed the decision, which had come 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. Instead, Cuthbert now has to surrender 10 dogs per month of 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, surrendered 10 dogs to the unit’s custody and then 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 that that result is inevitable because none of her dogs 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.

Graham Lang, the lawyer representing Cuthbert’s neighbours in the lawsuit, said in an interview Feb. 16 that his clients’ intentions have never been to have animals put down or to have Cuthbert’s rescue dismantled in an inhumane way. He noted that Cuthbert waited until the last minute to file her appeal, her application for a stay on the injunction and, now, an application to alter the amended stay.

“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.”

The animal health unit’s chief veterinary officer Mary Vanderkop said that the unit doesn’t comment on specific cases. But she said generally it’s “rare” for people to surrender animals to the unit 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.”

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

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