Animal abuse on the rise across Canada

Reports of cruelty to animals are on the rise, and animal shelter workers across Canada are calling for tougher laws against people convicted for such crimes.

An animal shelter near Port Hope, Ontario is one group passing out such a petition, as it takes in donations to help pay Nikita's mounting vet bills.

Nikita is a one-year-old Rottweiler pup. Her owner chained the dog to the back of a truck and dragged her down a country road.

George McCullough says it was a horrible accident. "I didn't see her chained," he says. "I didn't know." McCullough is facing a charge of cruelty to an animal.

Nikita's been getting a lot of attention in her community, but this is just one case of alleged animal abuse. Experts say cruelty to animals is a growing problem across the country.

Tens of thousands of animal abuse complaints are laid every year in Canada and in some regions the numbers are rising.

According to the Ontario Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, complaints of animal abuse are up from nearly 13,000 incidents in 1996 to almost 16,000 last year.

Charges are rarely laid in such complaints. The maximum penalty is six months in jail, a $2,000 fine, and a two-year ban from owning another pet.

Martin Cole of the Ontario Humane Society believes there should be provisions for a judge to give someone convicted of an offence against an animal a lifetime ban on owning a pet. Psychologists agree, saying people who abuse animals are at risk for hurting children.

Ottawa is working on a new law on animal cruelty, but it's not known when the legislation might be tabled.

A Justice Department spokesperson said groups working to prevent animal abuse have been consulted and "overwhelmingly favoured the toughening of sentences for those who abuse animals."