Every year, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) ranks Canadian provinces and territories in terms of their animal protection laws and, once again, the NWT has been slotted into the bottom tier.
A new report released by the animal-rights organization ranked the NWT in 11th place in the country, just above Quebec and Nunavut.
“I’m not surprised, but of course it’s disappointing,” said Nicole Spencer, president of the NWT Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). “Our ranking won’t change unless improvements are made, and no significant improvements have been made, so we’re going to be stuck in the third tier until that changes.”
The mindset needs to change in communities in the North, and that starts with teaching children about the value of their dog. Many people don’t use them traditionally anymore, so there needs to be a new value put on dogs and that needs to be educated to people.
The ALDF, an American organization, bases its rankings on a 60-point list of legal protections for animals. The report takes into consideration substantive protection laws; which species are covered by those laws; any exemptions; breed-specific legislation; animal abuse penalties; mental health evaluations and counselling; cost-mitigation and recovery; entry, seizure and inspection laws; forfeiture and post-conviction possession rules; reporting of suspected animal cruelty and immunity; and law enforcement politics.
“Manitoba is number one and we have similar issues with climate and weather and small communities and things like that,” Spencer said. “Why not follow what Manitoba is doing when we’re very similar? There’s no reason that we can’t.”
The biggest problems facing the NWT in regards to animal care come from a lack of legislation allowing officers to act on situations of neglect, abuse or mistreatment, according to both the report and Spencer.
“The ability for officers to enforce the law needs to improve,” Spencer said. “The right to seize an animal on the spot, they can’t do that. I did not realize this but in other provinces and territories, vets are required to report any suspected animal abuse and, up here, that’s not a requirement.”
As well, principal protection laws only exist to protect dogs; no other species are covered by the NWT.
“I think the basic standard of care needs to be improved or changed,” Spencer said. “Right now, people think it’s adequate enough to have a dog with a house and a bit of food. It’s not enough; it gets down to -50C in some places and dogs are outside and they don’t have an insulated dog house, they don’t have straw, they don’t have enough food. Every year, people find dogs frozen to death, either in their houses or outside their houses stuck to the ground and they’re so skinny. If dogs aren’t fed enough, they can’t produce fat to keep warm, so a skinny dog in -40C is going to freeze to death.”
The NWT’s animal protection laws do cover some basic rights. Penalties for mistreated animals can lead to fines and incarceration, and the penalties become more harsh with each offence. There are some actions that officials can take to protect mistreated animals, including inspecting cases of alleged abuse with reasonable grounds.
But Spencer said there is much the NWT can do to improve its animal care rating.
“For starters, I think we need larger mandatory fines and possible imprisonment for any kind of animal abuse,” Spencer said. “If people know that they’re going to get fined $10,000 or $50,000 for animal abuse, that might deter people…We also need to give officers the ability to enforce the laws that we do have. Right now it seems like their hands are tied in many instances.”
Some, like Hay River resident Bonnie Dawson, have fought to change these laws in the past. Thanks to Dawson’s efforts in a three-year battle with the GNWT, the NWT Dog Act became law in 2011, though not much has changed since that time, she said.
“At the same time the legislation finally became law, the motion for the GNWT to continue working towards the Comprehensive Animal Protection Act that I had been fighting for was approved. The half-measure step of the NWT Dog Act was described as the first step,” she said. “As of this date, no further work has been done by the GNWT to legislate a comprehensive act.”
Until a time when the rules can be amended, Spencer said the SPCA will continue doing its best to stand up for the territory’s furriest residents through educational campaigns and by offering animal health services – including spaying and neutering – to those living with pets in the more remote communities.
“The biggest way things will change is through education and, unfortunately, because we’re limited in resources, our education program is kind of on hold,” Spencer said. “The mindset needs to change in communities in the North, and that starts with teaching children about the value of their dog. Many people don’t use them traditionally anymore, so there needs to be a new value put on dogs and that needs to be educated to people.”
For more on the ALDF report, head to http://aldf.org/press-room/press-releases/2015-canadian-animal-protection-laws-rankings/.