We need more animal cruelty cops

Pam
Pam Frampton
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Anyone who's ever reported finding a stray dog or an injured bird in St. John's knows how efficient and compassionate the city's Humane Services staff are.
I once watched in horror as a distressed gull with a nearly severed wing hopped around someone's front yard, leaving a trail of dark red blood in its wake, as the homeowner looked on helplessly from her door. Minutes after a phone call was made, a green city vehicle pulled up to the curb, two women calmly got out, gently picked up the gull, popped it into an animal crate and drove away.
But what many people don't know is that if Humane Services receives a report of a pet that is clearly neglected or abused, its staff have no authority to go onto private property and seize the animal.
That's because they don't have special constable status, and many people think that situation should be rectified.
This province has about 16 special constables, all with huge territories to cover, and most of them volunteers with full-time jobs to attend to in addition to those significant and stressful responsibilities.
In the area stretching from St. John's to Clarenville, there are only three - one is an expert in equine cases, while the other two respond to a myriad of reports of tethered dogs and feral cats, abandoned hunting animals and mysteriously ownerless litters of kittens. There are no special constables based in Mount Pearl, Paradise or C.B.S.
"Susan (Deir, the SPCA shelter manager) or I could get a call that takes us out to Cape Broyle, and we can't get to them as quickly as we would like," said St. John's SPCA executive director Debbie Powers.
She'd love to see the province appoint more special constables when it rolls out its new Animal Protection Act this spring, but she isn't holding her breath.

No new recruits
The province has frozen the number of special constables until the new act is proclaimed, and Powers suspects the government is worried that it would be legally responsible if a special constable ended up in harm's way while enforcing provincial legislation.
And it can be dangerous work. But it's important work, too - work special constables willingly take on and are passionate about.
"The world is changing," Powers acknowledged. "You go to doors now (to seize animals) and you don't know if you're going to be in trouble. … Basically, you have to size up the situation quickly and get out of there if you need to."
According to the Department of Natural Resources, which is developing the new legislation, "Issues around special constables have been raised and the current review is considering these issues, including training levels of special constables and the use of volunteers for enforcement. The department felt that it was appropriate to put a freeze on appointing special constables until the new act governing them was proclaimed."
Powers thinks once the new act is in place, the province should immediately give the city's Humane Services staff the authority to enforce the new law. After all, what's the point of tougher legislation if there aren't enough people to enforce it?
"It would help tremendously …," Powers said. "So often their hands are tied and they just can't enter a property. It would be great if we could work together - we all do the same work and we have a great rapport."
St. John's SPCA president David Buffett agrees the number of special constables is totally inadequate.

While police can also be called upon to seize animals in distress, they often don't have the time, training or resources to respond to such cases.
And let's face it, police detachments aren't equipped to function as animal shelters.
"We simply need more (special constables)," Buffett said. "We've been after the province. … It's a concern and one that we've expressed. The government is not paying these people; most are volunteers."
Still, he said, they've never had a problem in the course of carrying out their work.
"Any time that our people have perceived a risk on the attendant property, we call for police accompaniment."
Buffett also supports Humane Services' bid to have some of its staff made special constables - a request that has formally been made to the provincial government but has received no response.
"We certainly felt that we were entitled to that status," said Paul Mackey, the city's director of public works and parks, which encompasses Humane Services.
"We've been working on it for awhile, and as recently as a month ago we requested it. It can be frustrating for our people, who are certainly capable and more than willing to do it."
Like Powers and Buffett, Mackey is keen to see the new legislation, which many people hope will include far tougher penalties for animal cruelty.

Cruelty case update
A recent case that captured the public's attention involved a cat and two dogs left unattended to starve at a house in Dunville. The two dogs were tethered in the kitchen within scenting distance of containers of food - a case many people feel was akin to torture.
The cat and one dog died of starvation, but Josh, an emaciated 14-year-old terrier cross, miraculously survived and was taken to the SPCA in St. John's. The man who owned the animals faces criminal charges.
A week ago, Josh was adopted by a loving couple and will hopefully live out his remaining years in comfort.
It's one happy element in what was otherwise a horror story.
Still, you have to wonder how many more nightmares are unfolding out there, and how many other helpless victims.
There aren't nearly enough heroes to save them all.

Pam Frampton is The Telegram's story editor. She can be reached by e-mail at
pframpton@thetelegram.com. Read her columns online at www.thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Humane Services, Department of Natural Resources

Geographic location: St. John's, Clarenville, Mount Pearl Cape Broyle Dunville

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Recent comments

  • Jean
    July 02, 2010 - 13:31

    THANK YOU FOR THIS ARTICLE...It's time this horrfic problem is brought to light and the blinders are taken off...

  • Jerome
    July 02, 2010 - 13:30

    Thanks Pam for an excellent column.
    I sincerely hope this issue stays in the fore-front, and doesn't fade away until there is another horrific case in the media.

  • Ursula
    July 02, 2010 - 13:19

    There is a running joke in our house that at any given time one of our four dogs ( our 24 year old cat decided she had had enough ) will be calling the SPCA because somebody's toy is missing or the pillow is on the floor again . Jokes aside , animal abuse is prevalent in this province . We do not use fertilizers and rock salt , but are being constantly being admonished by people who tell us to take care of our own needs first . This is a form of covert animal abuse. There has to be a major shift in thinking about animals before any laws , which is a good start , have any impact .

  • mary
    July 02, 2010 - 13:18

    I am so happy to hear the little dog Josh has a good home. Very sad the others were not as fortunate. PLEASEEEEE make the fines and punishment for these crimes tougher!!!!!!! Bouquets to Ms. Powers, Susan Deir & the cities Humane Services, you have to be special people to do the work you do on a daily basis not knowing what to expect when you have to rescue these helpless victims. God Bless you all!!

  • Yvette
    July 02, 2010 - 13:17

    thank you, i am so glad the dog found a good home.

  • Wayne
    July 02, 2010 - 13:13

    Thank- you.

  • elizabeth
    July 02, 2010 - 13:13

    this has to be taught in schools ..how to have respect for our animal friends,,learn that they have feelings,thanks

  • Jean
    July 01, 2010 - 20:20

    THANK YOU FOR THIS ARTICLE...It's time this horrfic problem is brought to light and the blinders are taken off...

  • Jerome
    July 01, 2010 - 20:18

    Thanks Pam for an excellent column.
    I sincerely hope this issue stays in the fore-front, and doesn't fade away until there is another horrific case in the media.

  • Ursula
    July 01, 2010 - 20:01

    There is a running joke in our house that at any given time one of our four dogs ( our 24 year old cat decided she had had enough ) will be calling the SPCA because somebody's toy is missing or the pillow is on the floor again . Jokes aside , animal abuse is prevalent in this province . We do not use fertilizers and rock salt , but are being constantly being admonished by people who tell us to take care of our own needs first . This is a form of covert animal abuse. There has to be a major shift in thinking about animals before any laws , which is a good start , have any impact .

  • mary
    July 01, 2010 - 19:59

    I am so happy to hear the little dog Josh has a good home. Very sad the others were not as fortunate. PLEASEEEEE make the fines and punishment for these crimes tougher!!!!!!! Bouquets to Ms. Powers, Susan Deir & the cities Humane Services, you have to be special people to do the work you do on a daily basis not knowing what to expect when you have to rescue these helpless victims. God Bless you all!!

  • Yvette
    July 01, 2010 - 19:57

    thank you, i am so glad the dog found a good home.

  • Wayne
    July 01, 2010 - 19:52

    Thank- you.

  • elizabeth
    July 01, 2010 - 19:51

    this has to be taught in schools ..how to have respect for our animal friends,,learn that they have feelings,thanks