Sask. SPCA under fire in horse neglect complaints
Agency says it's acting appropriately, but struggling in year of heavy workload
The Saskatchewan SPCA is being accused of ineffectiveness, while scrambling to handle a caseload that is growing heavier.
In the past two months, concerned citizens have contacted the CBC about two separate complaints of horse neglect. Each time, they have levelled allegations of insufficient action by the SPCA.
One case involves a herd just south of the village of Scott, near Wilkie. A woman from Unity, Vicky Hallett, fears the horses are starving. She contacted the SPCA last April, complained again last month, and finally alerted the media.
"Well I mean, come on, get out here and make sure they [the horse owners] do what they're told to do. And if they don't, how many chances are they supposed to get?" said Hallett.
She wants to see all of the horses removed immediately.
horse owners, farmers and ranchers have little faith in reporting equine and livestock abuse and neglect to the SSPCA- Mitzy Tait-Zeller
Four were seized on Feb. 14, and the SPCA is planning another inspection with a veterinarian in tow. Meanwhile it's waiting for test results on other horses that have died, to determine the cause of death.
In January, a couple near the town of LeRoy complained about starving horses on a neighbour's property.
"It is unfortunate that we have to threaten to contact media in order to get anything done by the SPCA in regards to horses or livestock," Mason Walstra wrote.
And, a woman in Swift Current also complained about the outcome of another SPCA investigation in 2011.
"Perhaps that is part of the reason that people consisting of other horse owners, farmers and ranchers have little faith in reporting equine and livestock abuse and neglect to the SSPCA," wrote Mitzy Tait-Zeller.
The SPCA's manager of animal protection services, Kaley Pugh, said investigations can be complex and time-consuming.
We can't be everywhere all the time- Kaley Pugh, SSPCA
"Peoples' expectation of something being done is not necessarily what we can do," Pugh said. "Sometimes people expect a seizure on a first visit. Or they expect that because there's, for example, 20 horses on a property, if there's one in distress that I can seize all 20 and that's not how it works."
Pugh added that if the investigative procedures required under the law are not followed correctly, a case can be thrown out of court.
When asked if she ever faces a choice between saving the life of an animal, and saving a prosecution, she responded: "Ideally, no. But again we can't be everywhere all the time."
Nor did she agree with suggestions the animal welfare laws should be toughened up. Pugh said it's important to also protect peoples' charter rights.
The criticisms of the SPCA come in what is shaping up to be a record year for animal welfare complaints. Since October, 174 new cases have been filed, 73 of them concerning horses. Pugh said at the current rate, the previous record of 730 cases in a year could soon be surpassed.
Added to this, the SPCA is currently operating with one of its four animal protection officer positions vacant. And Pugh said the organization has asked the province to fund two more officers, a request that has so far gone unfilled.
The Ministry of Agriculture said it can't talk about what might be in the upcoming provincial budget, adding that the number of animal welfare cases has been stable over the last five years.
Meanwhile, Pugh has frustrations of her own. Mason Walstra, who went to the media, stopped talking after he got a response from the SPCA. Pugh said without his ongoing co-operation, she does not have the evidence she needs to lay a charge in the LeRoy case.