Sled dogs seized by the BC SPCA in February may never be returned, despite a ruling that found no abuse by their Salmo owner.
In an appeal ruling May 27, the BC Farm Industry Review Board sided with the seizure of 40 dogs from Spirit of the North Kennels and owner Alan Magaw. The dogs had been removed on Feb. 16 after the BC SPCA said it found evidence of disease, poor living conditions, dehydration and hypothermia.
The review board’s Tamara Leigh and David Zirnhelt added there was no alleged abuse in the case.
“This is an issue of ongoing marginal care provided to working animals,” they ruled in a written decision.
“The Panel believes that everyone was operating with best intentions and to the best of their abilities, but the evidence in the condition of the dogs and their environment is that the care was not adequate to ensure that the dogs remained free of distress.”
Magaw was also ordered to pay the BC SPCA $64,517 in costs incurred from care for the dogs after they were seized.
When contacted by the Nelson Star on June 11, Magaw disputed several of the conclusions made by the board and said he intends to pursue legal action against the BC SPCA.
“This is not the angel of the dog world that it used to be when I volunteered for them a few years ago,” said Magaw. “This is a non-profit that’s really concerned about the bottom line. This is for money as far as we’re concerned.”
Of the 40 dogs initially seized, BC SPCA’s chief prevention and enforcement officer Marcie Moriarty told the Star two had to be euthanized for poor health, while eight that were being boarded were returned to their owners.
An injunction granted in Magaw’s favour, however, guarantees 30 dogs will stay with the BC SPCA for the time being.
Spirit of the North Kennels, located near Salmo south of Nelson, advertises sled dog tours, boarding and behavioural therapy.
The BC SPCA said it received a complaint on Jan. 12 that the dogs were in poor care. It added there had previously been 12 other such complaints against Magaw’s business.
On Jan. 14 it told the review board it instructed Magaw to release his dogs from containment once per day and provide vet care to several of the dogs. But after two more visits, inspectors were unsatisfied by Magaw’s progress and seized the animals Feb. 16.
Moriarty, in a March 31 decision, took issue with Magaw seeing nothing wrong with the behaviour of his dogs, which one vet characterized as unusual and consistent with coping mechanisms animals develop in cases of chronic confinement and neglect.
Magaw told the Star his dogs were agitated by the BC SPCA inspectors.
“I think it’s ridiculous to say dogs barking at strangers in the yard is atypical behaviour,” said Magaw. “It would be atypical behaviour if they didn’t bark at strangers doing strange things in their yard.”
Magaw had two American vets testify in his favour, although neither of them was present at the kennel on Feb. 16. The review board said that gave more weight to testimony from the BC SPCA’s vets.
The BC SPCA told the panel that among the 40 dogs at the time of seizure, 13 were underweight, 10 required immediate treatment, five were found to have parasites, and eight of the 12 dogs six years of age or older had serious health issues.
In its decision, the review board said the kennel didn’t meet the requirements for hygiene, housing and record-keeping in the Sled Dogs Standards of Care Regulation.
“While he objects to any interpretation of the regulations by the Society as misleading, his own evidence takes liberties with interpretation and implementation,” wrote Leigh and Zirnhelt.
Mackenzie Kirk volunteered for Magaw twice a week from Nov. 11 to Dec. 30, 2020, and testified she quit over disagreements with how the kennel ran.
On Nov. 18, she alleged a dog fight ended with one animal suffering a bloody bite to its neck. When she suggested a vet appointment, she told the panel Magaw dismissed her account and did nothing to treat the injury.
Another allegation against Magaw was that his dogs were suffering from hypothermia. But because their body temperatures were read using an ear thermometer that isn’t meant for dogs, the review board dismissed the allegation.
In the end, the review board ruled against Magaw. Health issues, poor living conditions for the dogs, and a lack of regular veterinary care contributed to the ruling.
Magaw said the decision by the BC Farm Industry Review Board won’t be the end of his fight.
“We’re going to court,” he said.
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