The house where Bullet used to live. Photo courtesy of Kelly Baker-Joyce
Last week's column about Bullet, a Burin Peninsula dog who spent nine years at the end of a six-foot chain, sparked anger, outrage and tears.
It also prompted many of you to take action - by signing a petition calling for anti-tethering laws or writing the provincial government and recommending the rules be beefed up.
Our animal-protection law is under review, but right now it's tough to take neglected animals from their owners as long as they've been provided with minimal food, water and shelter. But what about isolation, sensory deprivation and confinement?
Your voice might help the provincial government develop an improved Animal Protection Act - one that makes it a crime to leave animals constantly tied on.
In Ontario, for example, new legislation was unleashed in March that makes it illegal to cause distress to an animal; train animals to fight other animals; fail to comply with standards of care and to obstruct an SPCA inspector.
There are stiffer penalties, "including jail of up to two years, fines of up to $60,000 and a potential lifetime ownership ban."
Those are provisions and punishments we should have here.
In addition, the have-not province of Ontario provides its SPCA with a grant of $500,000 a year for training (up from $100,000 in 2008), while the province of Newfoundland only recently started providing a $50,000 annual operating grant to the SPCA in St. John's and $5,000 apiece to the province's six rural branches. There is no money for training and the St. John's shelter alone costs $375,000 a year to keep open.
No new recruits
And unfortunately, we've got a bigger problem.
Not only do our SPCA special constables not get any training, pay or equipment from the provincial government, their ranks won't be expanding anytime soon.
Special constable Pauline Beazley of the Burin Bay Arm SPCA, who removed Bullet from his deplorable conditions, says she and other volunteers found out last weekend that the provincial government has put a freeze on the appointment of any more special constables.
That was a big blow. Gander, for example, only has one special constable and has been trying for three years to have another experienced volunteer appointed.
Beazley and other existing special constables sure could use some extra help.
"Pauline gets calls from the police and social services all the time to pick up or deal with animals," said a colleague of hers who asked not to be named.
"She drives a big old station wagon that she would rather trade in for an efficient compact car, but she needs room for big cages. She is essentially doing work for government in her own car, using her own gas. … Provincial SPCAs should get some financial help from government. … Half their efforts, that could go toward education and other things, are used up trying to constantly fundraise just to keep (shelters) open."
When you think of how other cases of animals in distress are handled, you can appreciate the frustration.
When a polar bear was stranded on a cliff in St. John's a few years ago, a high-angle rescue team rescued it. If your dog falls through ice on a pond, the fire department will do its best to try to save it.
If a moose wanders through your neighbourhood, wildlife officers will come and tranquilize it and release it into the woods somewhere.
But if there's a dog quietly going crazy and rotting away at the end of a chain, you'd better hope there's a volunteer somewhere who gives a damn and is willing to risk insult or injury to do something about it.
"I'm mad," a dejected-sounding Beazley said last week.
See 'NOBODY,' page A18
"I feel very used, to be honest with you, because whatever actions I take, I am totally and completely responsible for. If I make mistakes, I am to blame, and there is no other alternative. And I can't give it up because there's nobody to pick up the slack," Beazley said.
It's the occasional rewarding experience that keeps her going.
Recently, her shelter rescued a malnourished 10-month-old pointer cross and, despite his behavioural problems, they've found a family willing to take him.
"This little guy got a family," Beazley said, sobbing quietly over the phone.
"He's doing wonderful now."
Imagine how many other animals might be rescued and rehabilitated if there were more special constables.
According to the Department of Natural Resources, "The department decided until criteria is put in place as to the appropriate level of training for individuals being appointed as special constables, no additional appointments would be made. … The training levels and qualifications of special constables … is an issue that is included in the current review."
Perhaps the government is concerned that it might be found liable if a special constable is injured trying to enforce provincial law.
Beazley said her shelter managed to raise enough funds to pay for private insurance in the event that a special constable is hurt doing SPCA work and has to take time off from their day job. But not every shelter can raise enough money and some volunteers have no recourse.
She wonders if the provincial government is afraid it could lose court cases because special constables have not been taught the proper methods of evidence collection or the rudiments of court procedure.
"I think the answer for this is training," she said. "For us, there's nothing - absolutely nothing. There's no course to go to."
Let's hope that when the government finishes reviewing its animal protection legislation next year, it will introduce tougher penalties for animal abusers, and provide the proper training, equipment, resources and remuneration so that animal protection services in this province are efficient and consistent.
Education campaigns needed
And if the province really wants to reduce the number of animals living in misery, it will roll out two education campaigns. One would target adults, since I suspect much of the animal abuse in this province stems from ignorance. The other would be part of the school curriculum, because if you can send kids home with lifelike dolls to teach them empathy, surely you can teach them how to treat animals ethically and responsibly.
Until all of this happens, too many dogs and cats will keep being abused, seized and put out of their misery, one Bullet at a time.
Pam Frampton is The Telegram's story editor. She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.