A broken animal welfare system

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When it comes to animal welfare in Haliburton County and beyond, things have changed and not for the better. Incidents, such as an Oct. 30 attack on a resident and her dog on her own property, have again highlighted a broken system locally and across Ontario. The resident claims the dog that attacked her, and her pet, had been on her land before, and was known to roam the area. 

She further claims the dog is a foster from a rescue organization that had been flagged as not being good with other dogs, or cats. We live in the country and generally like to give our domestic animals a little more freedom than in the city. We also know that containment isn’t always 100 per cent guaranteed. 

Despite our best efforts, sometimes dogs get out. However, if we are in care of an animal that has a question mark or exclamation mark on its record, we must be hyper-vigilant. The most recent attack wasn’t the first and won’t be the last in our area. 

The broken system unfortunately ensures that. It used to be that the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) had a larger influence in animal welfare matters. However, the organization divorced the Ontario government in 2019 after a century of service. 

It said it would no longer take a lead role in investigating and enforcing animal cruelty laws.

It shifted into a support role in investigations, providing animal shelter, forensic evidence collection and vet services. 

The closest operations are in Bracebridge and Orillia. It was replaced with the Provincial Animal Welfare Services or PAWS. People can find a website and call a toll-free number 1-833-9-ANIMAL but the focus is on animal cruelty, not domestic dogs at large or attacking people and their pets. In the case of the Oct. 30 attack, the victim called the OPP. 

They subsequently laid a charge against the dog owner, which they can do under the Dog Owners Liability Act. The police told us they notify bylaw in the area and provide the pertinent details. Then, bylaw may implement their procedures, given the nature of the situation. However, the OPP could not confirm whether bylaw was notified in this case, although the victim did contact the department. 

Bylaw departments in other jurisdictions can do things such as issue a muzzle order, charge or fine dog owners. There appears to be a lack of communication between responsible agencies, whether PAWS, OPP, bylaw, and the health unit (they can order a dog to be quarantined to ensure it does not have rabies). 

On top of that, our townships don’t have the resources to respond to the majority of animal call-outs. The bylaw departments are one-or-two-person operations attached to the planning and building department. With the explosion of new construction and renovation, they’re busy doing inspections, not responding to animal complaints. 

Nor do they have a pound for animals they’ve picked up. To say there are gaps in the system is an understatement. There are huge cracks and unfortunately it is victims of animal attacks, and in some cases, helpless animals, that generally fall right through them. 

What can we do? As a community, we have to be responsible for the animals under our care. It means making tough decisions, such as having to fence that yard or tie that dog up, even though we would love our animals to have freedom. 

And it means that we must provide food, water, shelter and love to the animals in our care, whether household pets or working animals, such as hunting dogs or horses. It’s up to us as a community, since the systems are unable to do it for us.