Provincial animal welfare inspectors are continuing to investigate the owner of a Minden Hills property in the wake of an animal cruelty allegation involving 14 hunting dogs.

However, the owner denies the accusations. In a Jan. 30 press release, Haliburton Highlands OPP said they visited the property Jan. 22 and called the new Provincial Animal Welfare Services (PAWS). Police said inspectors were working with the family to improve the health and well-being of animals on the property.

Ministry of the Solicitor General spokesperson Brent Ross said Feb. 4 that work continues.

“The ministry can confirm the inspectors are working with the owners of the dogs to ensure that orders are being complied with,” Ross said. “To date, we have seen positive progress in this regard, and we remain committed to bringing any outstanding matters into compliance.”

The property has a cabin but is not currently lived on, according to owner Brett Bongard. He keeps his hunting dogs on the property, chained to insulated dog houses.

The allegations stem from neighbours Shanna Dryburgh and Courtney Marlow. They described calling police out of concern for the dogs crying in distress and getting permission from them to come onto the property to help. They said the habitats were unkempt and Dryburgh described the dogs as emaciated.

“There were no dishes, water bowls to speak of,” Dryburgh said, adding she was shocked. “(I thought) this is wrong, this is so bad, my heart is broken. How can this be legal?”

“They’re unhealthy,” Marlow said. “I was saddened and just sick.”

The encounter prompted them to further contact authorities to press the issue.

But Bongard contests the allegations. He said he goes to the property twice a day to provide water and raw meat for the dogs.

He further said he understands where people are coming from and he has witnessed bad animal situations. But he added his dogs are not unhealthy and though they appear thin, the weight is normal for hunting dogs.

“They’re just in shape. People don’t understand that,” Bongard said. “A hunting dog has a job. It’s a working dog.”

He said he has been working with a PAWS inspector and has largely received approval for the setup, though he has had to make some adjustments, such as adjusting the chain size for some of the dogs and adding more straw.

Neither police nor PAWS have announced any charges against Bongard. Ross said given it is an ongoing investigation, it would be inappropriate to provide specific details.

But Dryburgh remains concerned and said PAWS has not contacted her for updates or any evidence she gathered during her visit. She said she feels Bongard was breaking rules and the dogs should have been seized, at least temporarily until improvements were made.

“The laws are there. Why make the laws if they’re not going to be enforced?” Dryburgh said.

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