This dog came into the care of the Haida Gwaii SPCA with a choke chain grown into its neck. Put on the dog when it was a puppy, the chain was not removed as he outgrew it. The dog survived, and has since been adopted off-island. The BC SPCA does not support choke chains, especially on a loose dog, since the chain can catch on objects and strangle the dog in its struggle to get free. (Haida Gwaii SPCA/Submitted)

Abuse cases highlight need for islands animal shelter, bylaws

One dog had a collar grown into his neck. Another had several broken ribs, likely from being kicked.

RCMP recently seized three starving pitbulls while searching a house — each was so skinny that every bump showed on their backbone.

Another badly kept dog has bitten people and killed several cats and small dogs, some right in front of their owners.

The Haida Gwaii SPCA had the dog neutered last year, hoping it would calm down, said Leila Riddall, a volunteer with the Masset Animal Helpline. But at eight years old the dog is now past rehabilitating and needs to be put down.

“We tried,” Riddall said. “If it’s not dealt with, it’s going to be somebody walking at night who is going to get torn up.”

“We have a dangerous, aggressive animal in the community that’s not being dealt with because we have no one to deal with it — we’ve got our hands tied.”

With just one-part time staff person and no animal shelter on island, volunteers are feeling tapped out, said Anna Maria Husband, a volunteer with the Haida Gwaii SPCA.

“There is some pretty serious stuff going on,” Husband said.

Luckily, the SPCA has had few cat rescues since the islands’ only cat-fostering facility closed in February. An SPCA special constable also visited this spring.

But recent abuse cases have been traumatic for all involved.

“It’s hard to close your eyes at night and not see that sort of stuff,” Riddall said.

“I’ve had moments where I almost gave up, but then you have something that brings you back,” she added, taking out her phone to show a photo of a baby girl sitting in the living room by a rescued deer fawn.

“This is a community’s responsibility,” Husband said.

“If we pool our resources, we can make it better.”

In June, a working group of animal welfare volunteers and elected community leaders had a second meeting to discuss the possibility of having a shared animal responsibility bylaw across Haida Gwaii.

Based on the SPCA’s model bylaws, Husband said the draft rules are tailored for the islands.

They’re still a work in progress — at the June meeting, people pointed out that they need a provision to stop chronic abusers from owning pets.

The group also spoke about the need for a permanent animal shelter that can handle rescues, fosters, and public education programs. After looking at the old fire hall in Queen Charlotte, they are now asking Masset council to consider one on the site of the existing Masset dog pound.

One benefit to locating the islands’ shelter in Masset is being close to Masset Airport, where Pacific Coastal has flown many rescued animals free of charge.

“That’s huge for the SPCA, and for Animal Helpline,” Husband said.

Another benefit is having a police detachment nearby. SPCA volunteers have been harassed and threatened over cases of seized or surrendered animals.

But the toughest issue may be enforcement — pooling enough resources to hire someone to enforce the animal-responsibility bylaw islands-wide. That is one reason why the working group is looking for more support from the BC SPCA, as well as grant funding for a shelter from Gwaii Trust, NDIT, the Vancouver Foundation, and the Co-op Community Spaces program.

“We see the need, and the special constable who was up here saw the need,” said Husband.

“People spoke up,” said Riddall, talking about the special constable’s visit.

“People saw there’s help here, wow, and his phone ran off the hook.”

For all the horror stories, there are happy ones too — a small white dog was rescued last week after it was stranded on East Beach.

Several people saw and tried to rescue the dog, but it kept running off. By chance, Chris Ashurst, a ranger with BC Parks, happened across it when it was too weak to move but still had a fighting chance.

After a visit to the Haida Gwaii Animal Hospital complete with an I.V. drip, Shane Windatt, the islands’ long-time dog trainer and foster mom, said he’s had a dramatic revival.

“He’s home sleeping on my bed,” she said, smiling.

Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly reported that a dog was put down for having several broken ribs and an embedded colar. In fact, one dog had its embedded colar removed and survived, and a second dog that had several previously broken ribs was put down due to a tumour.

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