Yukon dog laws under review

The territory’s coroner is calling for a review of the Yukon Dog Act after last year’s dog attack that killed a man in Ross River.

The territory’s coroner is calling for a review of the Yukon Dog Act after last year’s dog attack that killed a man in Ross River.

Yukon’s environment minister says an internal review of the legislation is already underway and public consultations will happen after the territorial election.

Chief Coroner Kirsten Macdonald issued her report earlier this month on the death of Shane Glada. The 22-year-old was killed by feral or semi-domesticated dogs almost a year ago.

At the time, stray dogs in the community had become so aggressive that residents were carrying pepper spray and sticks to protect themselves.

“The community of Ross River does not have the capacity or authority required to fully address the issue of dogs in the community,” the report says.

“Yukon Government, Ross River Dena Council, community members, RCMP and others need to come together with an action plan that will set out goals, activities and measurable outcomes with regard to ensuring the dogs in Ross River will not pose a public health and safety risk in the future.”

Neither the coroner nor Ross River Dena Council Chief Jack Caesar could be reached to comment for this story.

The report says the new action plan should, among other things, hold dog owners accountable if their dogs are not properly fed, watered and vaccinated. The coroner suggests fining dog owners who allow their dogs to run at large.

Macdonald says the Dog Act — which regulates the treatment of dogs — needs to be updated. In 1969, Ross River passed its own regulations under the act prohibiting dogs from running at large.

The act allows for RCMP officers to step in and seize a dog if it is in heat or if it has a “vicious temperament.”

“The interpretation of vicious temperament relies on a witness reporting an attack or a witnessed act of aggression,” the report says.

“The Dog Act would benefit from a review and strengthening with regards to when and how dogs may be seized under the act.”

Right now the RCMP in Ross River does not seize dogs because officers don’t have anywhere to care for them.

In a statement Thursday afternoon, Environment Minister Wade Istchenko said the government is already working on many of the recommendations raised by the coroner.

Following Glada’s death, Ross River created its own working group of community members at the request of the coroner.

“The positive work and success we have already seen will help us in addressing the coroner’s recommendation to continue working with the community, establish a joint working group, and implement an action plan,” Istchenko said.

The government has provided funding for the Ross River Dena Council to hold a veterinary clinic in the community. That’s slated for November, the minister said.

This week the government also promised $30,000 to Whitehorse’s Mae Bachur animal shelter to help care for dogs that come from the communities.

Over the summer the shelter received 22 dogs from Ross River, said humane society president Brent Slobodin.

The dogs had been voluntarily surrendered to government officials during visits to the community.

Half of the money announced this week is to pay for the care of those dogs. The society originally had to cover the costs out of its own budget.

“It was a costly hit for us at that time,” Slobodin said.

All the dogs have either been adopted or placed in foster homes, he said.

The rest of the new money will be available to cover the cost of caring for dogs from the communities in the future.

The government has made three trips to Ross River since May to collect dogs that are being voluntarily surrendered, said Mary Vanderkop, Yukon’s chief veterinary officer. Their most recent trip was a few weeks ago. Officials come when they get a request from the community, she said.

“We’ve certainly removed more dogs in the three visits that we made than have ever been removed,” she said.

Some dogs have been euthanized. Vanderkop won’t say how many, citing privacy concerns.

Allowing owners to surrender their dogs has been more successful than the old program using dog catchers, she said.

“This gives them a chance to get these dogs out into other homes where there are more people who can perhaps take them on.”

There has been a noticeable improvement, said acting Cpl. Jason Pradolini with the Ross River RCMP.

“Before, when I would drive around I would see a lot of dogs in the roadway and you did have to be careful,” he said. “Now I’m driving around and I rarely see a dog that is running around loose.”

Pradolini said Ross River police have received six complaints about dogs in 2016. None involved bites.

Dogs that are not threatening are referred to the territorial officials. If an animal is an immediate threat it’s likely to be put down, he said.

Following Glada’s death the government launched a new spay program for the communities.

Rural residents can receive $250 to cover about half the cost of spaying one female dog per owner.

As of this week, 25 people had taken advantage of the program, according to government statistics. The numbers are not broken down by community.

The coroner also recommends addressing the issue of registering dogs in Ross River.

Many communities, including Ross River, don’t require that dogs be licenced or registered.

There has been an effort to put together a registry in Ross River, Vanderkop said.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com