New animal laws coming

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Barb Sweet
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Legislation

St. John's SPCA executive director Debbie Powers was overjoyed Monday when the province announced it would bring in a new animal protection act in the spring sitting of the legislature.

"Hallelujah is all I can say," Powers said. "We worked hard to get legislation through."

She said recent atrocious cases of neglect have triggered a public outcry.

Among them a horrendous case of two mistreated dogs and one cat was revealed near Placentia, Feb. 15.

Debbie Powers

St. John's SPCA executive director Debbie Powers was overjoyed Monday when the province announced it would bring in a new animal protection act in the spring sitting of the legislature.

"Hallelujah is all I can say," Powers said. "We worked hard to get legislation through."

She said recent atrocious cases of neglect have triggered a public outcry.

Among them a horrendous case of two mistreated dogs and one cat was revealed near Placentia, Feb. 15.

When members of the SPCA and the RCMP entered a house in Dunville, they found one dog severely malnourished and tied to a wall; another dog was dead and lying in its own feces, and a dead cat was also found in the house. The RCMP announced Monday charges would be laid in the case.

A 34-year-old Dunville man now living in St. John's - the alleged owner of the animals - will appear in court April 14 for breaches of both the Animal Protection Act and the Criminal Code.

The investigation didn't reveal any wrongdoing on the part of the area municipalities or any proposed caretakers of the animals, the RCMP said.

Just hours before those charges were announced, the Department of Natural Resources and Agrifoods said it will introduce the new Animal Health and Protection Act this spring, but released few details other than to say it will address fines and penalties.

In a news release, Natural Resources Minister Kathy Dunderdale said her department has received letters and e-mails about recent cases of neglect.

"We are now ready to bring forward an all-encompassing piece of legislation for debate that will address concerns and issues raised over cruelty to animals in this province and stiffer penalties for such behaviour," Dunderdale said.

"I hope it passes," Powers said of the proposed new act.

She said she's pleased the fines will finally be addressed.

"It has to hit hard in the pocket," Powers said, adding the fines are "absolutely no deterrent whatsoever."

Most of the existing legislation dates to the 1970s. Six acts - the Animal Protection Act, Dog Act, Heritage Animals Act, Livestock Act, Livestock Health Act and Poultry and Poultry Products Act - will be consolidated into one new piece of legislation.

Powers expects it to address, among others things, animals riding in the backs of trucks without proper safety restraints.

She also said she wants the provincial government to appoint more special constables around the province.

"We've requested and requested repeatedly ad nauseam about getting more special constables," Powers said.

"It's certainly fallen on deaf ears."

She said Gander, for example, has just one special constable.

"Gander has been on the books so long it's embarrassing," Powers said. SPCA special constables around the province - including Powers - have had to train themselves and do their work on a voluntary basis.

"We are doing government's work without any pay whatsoever," Powers said. "Nor have we asked for any. We are saving them a hell of a lot of money. What other organization is there seven days a week?"

David Buffett, president of the St. John's SPCA, said if the new act does nothing more than increase fines, it will "have failed miserably."

There are at least a dozen areas that need to be addressed, he suggested.

"(The current act) has been so lacking and so deficient in an endless number of ways, it's not even funny," said Buffett, who drafted proposals submitted to the province recently.

Some of the items Buffett wants to see in the act are the ability for the judge to prohibit a person from owning future animals, broadened authority for the SPCA to euthanize animals, and putting the onus on a person to demonstrate their fitness to have a seized animal returned.

He also wants provisions for inspections to take place without notice on premises where animals are kept for sale, breeding or exhibition.

Buffett said there also needs to be regulations clarifying the responsibilities of labs that use animals for research.

Tethering is another issue, Buffett said, there's a need to have minimum standards for how animals are kept in backyards.

He wants a ban on breeding of animals for fighting and a ban on allowing circus animals into the province.

He said he would prefer the animal protection legislation to be distinct and singular instead of being combined with others acts.

A Natural Resources spokeswoman said the act has been under review for a year and is not finalized so it would be premature for the government to discuss the details.

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Fine comparison

A comparison of fines for animal cruelty in Newfoundland and Labrador and those of three other provinces:

Newfoundland

For a first or second offence, fines range from $50-$200, and in default of payment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, or to both a fine and imprisonment. For a third or subsequent offence, fines range from $200-$500 and, in default of payment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or to both a fine and imprisonment.

Nova Scotia

For a first offence, a fine of up to $10,000 and, in default of payment, imprisonment for up to six months or a combination of fine and imprisonment. Subsequent offences can carry fines of up to $50,000 or imprisonment, or both.

Alberta

Penalties include prohibition from owning an animal and/or fines of up to $20,000.

Ontario

Penalties can vary from fines of $1,000 to $60,000 with possible imprisonment of up to two years.

Organizations: RCMP, Department of Natural Resources and Agrifoods

Geographic location: St. John's, Dunville, Placentia Newfoundland and Labrador Nova Scotia Alberta Ontario

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