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Less bite, more polite: Group outlines role for Haida Gwaii animal officer

If all Haida Gwaii communities adopt a common bylaw to protect animals from abuse and neglect, who will take on the job of enforcing it?

That was one question directors of the North Coast Regional District asked after hearing an update from the Haida Gwaii SPCA at their board meeting last Friday, Dec. 14.

Chairperson Barry Pages noted that years ago, the Village of Masset actually tried and failed to recruit its own animal control officer.

“People were very hesitant get in the middle with other people’s animals,” Pages said.

Anna Maria Husband, a volunteer with the Haida Gwaii SPCA, said it may be difficult, but it’s not impossible — the officer would be trained by the BC SPCA and encouraged to take an education-first approach.

“It is a very tough position, and you do need to find a special person to be able to do that work,” Husband said.

“It has to be somebody who is empathetic both to people and to animals, and uses a positive approach.”

Starting in March, a working group involving every local government on island began adapting a model animal-welfare bylaw from the BC SPCA to suit Haida Gwaii.

Before anyone hires an officer to enforce that bylaw, the Haida Gwaii SPCA is applying for a $20,000 Vancouver Foundation grant to hire a facilitator.

That person will meet with the all-islands working group to finalize a bylaw and secure cost-sharing plans for both the animal control officer as well as a permanent animal shelter. The Village of Masset gave formal support for the grant application, since it is the only community with an existing shelter that could be renovated.

The facilitator will also meet with the BC SPCA to make sure the Haida Gwaii bylaw works with existing animal-welfare laws, including the B.C. Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and the Criminal Code.

Amy Morris, public policy manager for the BC SPCA, said shared animal control officers are already at work in the Port Alberni/Clayoquot/Tofino/Ucluelet area, and also in Port Hardy/Port McNeill/Alert Bay. Besides issuing fines, such officers can educate people about animal welfare, collect evidence for further investigation, or recommend cases to RCMP and SPCA Special Constables.

While RCMP can enforce existing animal welfare laws, Morris said it’s often a low priority for police given everything else they deal with, “even though we have evidence that often animal cruelty is linked with human violence.”

As for the difficulty of hiring an islander to manage animal conflicts between neighbours, Morris said she had the experience herself in a little town on the Sunshine Coast. First, her neighbour’s dog attacked her own dog, and then it attacked another neighbouring dog and that dog’s owner.

Morris said she was glad that she could have the animal control officer speak with her neighbour, rather than confronting the person herself.

“I think that can be a real benefit,” she said. “That impartial party can give some guidance while making sure the neighbour is safe.”

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