Allegations of animal neglect on Haida Gwaii have prompted over 900 islanders to petition for local animal-welfare bylaws.
“We need bylaws that set a standard of animal care in our community,” says a Change.org petition started by Tllgad Gyagun / Animal Rescue Haida Gwaii.
The petition was started two years ago, but it gained hundreds of signatures last week after photos of an underfed dog and a derelict house said to be used for sheltering dogs were widely shared on Facebook.
Shane Windatt, an 18-year volunteer with the Haida Gwaii branch of the B.C. Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), said the home in the photos has been visited by RCMP officers in the past, but no one was charged under B.C.’s animal cruelty law.
“The legislation is weak, and in some places kind of vague and untried,” Windatt said.
“Unless something is really glaring — the animal doesn’t have any food or water or shelter — then the RCMP don’t really go any further.”
Windatt said she understands that many islanders expect the B.C. SPCA’s special constables to investigate allegations of animal cruelty — that is what happens in larger B.C. cities.
The SPCA is designated for that role in the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, B.C.’s animal welfare law. But the society is understaffed, with only 30 special constables for the entire province.
“Everyone agrees there are not enough, and there are specifically not enough in the north,” Windatt said.
Without a dedicated SPCA constable on the islands, Windatt said it’s difficult for RCMP to gather the evidence needed to prosecute animal cruelty.
“It’s a hard one to prosecute,” she said. “And the big problem on Haida Gwaii of course is that no one will testify against anyone else — in small places, people just don’t want to do that.”
Windatt said she has seen cases where a dog was fed, but severely neglected.
“The animal has stayed chained up all its life and died on the end of a chain, and nothing was done.”
In 2016, the head of animal cruelty investigations for the BC SPCA visited Haida Gwaii to meet with local RCMP and islands community leaders.
On Monday, the Haida Gwaii SPCA invited Gwaii Trust officials and elected leaders from every village to meet with local police, wildlife volunteers, and veterinarian Dr. Don Richardson for a discussion about improving animal welfare.
In the invitation letter, local SPCA Chair Anna Maria Husband said the four things Haida Gwaii is missing are appropriate bylaws, bylaw enforcement, a pet fostering and adoption facility, and a permanent pet-care fund to support people on low incomes. Husband noted that the BC SPCA has some model bylaws that local governments could adapt to their own circumstances.
“There are ongoing cruelty and neglect cases that cannot be resolved because communities do not have the necessary regulatory and enforcement tools in place to remove animals from unacceptable living conditions,” Husband wrote.