COLUMN: B.C. falling short on animal welfare

It took the massacre of 56 sled dogs near Whistler to improve animal welfare in British Columbia

It took the massacre of 56 sled dogs near Whistler to improve animal welfare in British Columbia, but now that another layer of protection was added for sled dogs that continue to work, it should be up to the province to ensure the new rules are enforced.

It’s also an excellent opportunity to expand the new Sled Dog Code of Practice to be applied to other industries where animals are used to make money.

I’m thinking rodeos, horse racing and animals used for entertainment. Tethering sled dogs for long periods of time was a concern for the B.C. SPCA, and that concern should be addressed in all facets of animal ownership.

While some argue rodeo and racing animals are already well cared for – they’re an investment, after all – many don’t realize that once an animal’s ability to make money ceases, so too does any investment to secure their well-being. These discarded animals also need protection.

One has to wonder what efforts were made to save those sled dogs after they were determined to be surplus.

Outdoor Adventures, the outfit that was discovered to have killed the dogs shortly after the 2010 Vancouver Olympics because it was in financial distress, was transformed into a not-for-profit foundation that uses its proceeds to improve animal welfare.

The world watched in horror in the spring of 2011 as B.C. SPCA crews dug through mass graves, extracting the remains of animals that were once so eager to please.

As a reaction to that tragedy, the province amended the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act by increasing maximum fines from $10,000 to $75,000, and increasing jail time from six months to two years.

The problem is that legislation has no teeth when one considers that only one per cent of animal cruelty allegations see actual charges from the Crown.

Case in point: no criminal charges were ever laid against those responsible for the massacre of the sled dogs.

The B.C. SPCA admits it is physically impossible for the 26 constables funded by SPCA donors to conduct onsite visits to all of the province’s sled dog outfits, and the province has indicated it will not provide additional funding.

While the shocking revelations of what happened at Outdoor Adventures caught the attention of the public, thousands of disturbing cases of animal cruelty continue in B.C. every year.

In 2011, 32,098 injured, neglected and abused animals were rescued by B.C. SPCA officials while 5,047 lost animals were reunited with their owners. Despite relying solely on public donations, B.C. SPCA found homes for 16,936 animals (almost 5,000 dogs and more than 10,000 cats) and helped 1,996 injured or orphaned wild animals.

A disturbing statistic, however, reveals that of 7,013 cruelty investigations conducted in 2011, 948 animals were removed from dangerous or neglectful situations and just 103 warrants were executed under the Criminal Code.

It’s clear that animals, whether they’re farm animals, pets or investments, need more protection than an amendment to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, and animal welfare needs to be more than a passing reaction to a high-profile black eye.

There is no government department overseeing the well-being of animals used for agriculture, entertainment or commercial purposes in B.C. despite a rise in cruelty investigations.

One has to look only as far as the appalling deer culls in communities like Cranbrook and Kimberley to gain an understanding of why improved protections and standards need to be put in place. Killing for the sake of convenience cannot, and should not, be tolerated. We were horrified by the cull of the dogs, but is a cull of deer so different?

B.C. has the toughest animal laws in the country, but if it is serious about animal welfare, it needs to do more to protect creatures that are at the mercy of the whims of humans.

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