North

Fort Smith trapper says town unfairly seized his 2 working dogs

William Hoffman, a trapper in Fort Smith, N.W.T., had two of his working dogs seized by the town. The mayor says the town was acting on multiple public safety complaints about the animals.

Mayor says town was acting on multiple public safety complaints about the animals

William Hoffman with his dog, Princess. Hoffman says two of his working dogs were unfairly seized by the Town of Fort Smith and haven't been returned. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

A trapper in Fort Smith, N.W.T., has had two of his working dogs seized by the town. There is no plan to return the dogs to him, and no way to appeal the decision.

William Hoffman said his dogs keep him safe in the bush, pull his sleds along traplines and help haul firewood for him and his elderly father, renowned Fort Smith trapper Karl Hoffman. Besides helping put food on the table and wood in the stove, they are also dear company.

Hoffman said he has been trapping with his father since he was five years old. He should be working with his dogs now in preparation for winter, but that's not happening this year.

Scrawny and Mr. Magoo, large German shepherd and husky crosses, were seized by a Town of Fort Smith municipal enforcement officer on Oct. 4.

 They can't even prove it to me, but they can get the RCMP to come over here and help them steal my dogs.- William Hoffman

According to Mayor Lynn Napier-Buckley, they are now considered town property and won't be returned. As of Thursday, it was unclear what will happen to the animals, or if they are alive.

Hoffman said his dogs were not free to roam, as the town claims. He said he's never been shown the evidence the town says it has of Scrawny and Mr. Magoo being at large and dangerous.

"They basically just came … saying, 'We'll give these dogs good homes,'" he said.

Hoffman, 42, said the dogs were in a six-foot high, 250-square-feet outdoor fenced dog pen on the lot where he lives — one of two adjacent lots owned by his family — when the dogs were taken away by the town's bylaw enforcement officer in the company of RCMP officers.

The police officers were there to "keep the peace," according to the RCMP. Hoffman said they warned him they would arrest him if he interfered with the seizure.

One of Hoffman's dog kennels, where he says he keeps his dogs in Fort Smith. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

'They can't even prove it to me'

Hoffman said he asked for proof his dogs were a nuisance, or that the town was authorized to seize them, but he wasn't given any documentation. Instead, he said he was told the dogs were previously seen running free and causing a disturbance.

"[The bylaw officer] said ... 'We got 'em on video,'" Hoffman said, adding he asked to see the video, but it wasn't shown to him. "They can't even prove it to me, but they can get the RCMP to come over here and help them steal my dogs."

In a phone interview, Napier-Buckley said the town was acting on multiple public safety complaints concerning the dogs.

"We felt [that] for the safety of the community, the dogs should be seized," she said.

Fort Smith Mayor Lynn Napier-Buckley after her recent re-election. She said the town received multiple complaints about the dogs. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

In a follow-up email, Napier-Buckley stated: "Multiple members of the public have filed complaints, as well as provided photos and videos of the dogs at large and harassing passersby over a period of several months. There are several reported near-misses where the dogs had formed a pack and harassed small children."

Hoffman said whatever dogs Napier-Buckley is talking about, they can't be Scrawny and Mr. Magoo. When they're not working, they're kept either in his home or in fenced kennels in his yard, he said.

"These dogs, they're just not any ordinary dogs," Hoffman said. "They're bred for running, racing."

This isn't the first time Hoffman has had a run-in with municipal enforcement.

He said he was fined about a year ago for letting his dogs run free and unlicensed. He maintains the allegations were groundless, saying his dogs were home with him at the time. He didn't pay the ticket.

He also says he's never licensed his dogs with the town.

Town bylaw

Napier-Buckley said there is no appeal process for animals seized under the town's animal control bylaws.

"Once an animal becomes property of … the municipality, it's up to the municipality on how to deal with them," Napier-Buckley stated.

"There is no appeal mechanism in the town bylaw."

Town of Fort Smith dog control bylaw 678 gives animal control officers the latitude to capture dogs found running at large and, in some circumstances, to kill them.

We felt [that] for the safety of the community, the dogs should be seized.- Mayor Lynn Napier-Buckley

"These dogs are now considered nuisance dogs as per town bylaw (similar to a dog which has been found to be at large three times) and will not be returned to the owner," Napier-Buckley stated in the email.

In Fort Smith, dogs that are known to bite other animals or people can be seized and ultimately destroyed, as well as a dog that "in the opinion of [town] council is likely to cause a nuisance."

As for animals contained on private property, as Hoffman says his dogs were, an animal control officer is authorized under the bylaw to go onto that property to seize a dog in order to enforce any part of the bylaw.

The bylaw does not stipulate that documentation or a court order must be presented when animals are taken.

In Fort Smith, dogs that are known to bite other animals or people can be seized and ultimately destroyed, as well as a dog that 'in the opinion of [town] council is likely to cause a nuisance.' (Priscilla Hwang/CBC)

Nowhere to turn

On Wednesday, Napier-Buckley referred questions about whether or not Scrawny and Mr. Magoo were still alive, and whether or not the municipality had ever shown Hoffman evidence of his dog's behaviour, to the town's senior administrative officer, Keith Morrison.

As of end of day Thursday, Morrison did not respond to a request for an interview or emailed questions.

The seizure has left Hoffman unsure how to proceed. He said he's complained to RCMP but was ultimately referred to the territorial Department of Justice in Yellowknife to file a complaint.

He said the department told him it was mailing him a form to fill out.

"How in the hell am I going to go to the bush? Yeah, I do have snow machines and stuff like that. But these animals, physically … I depend on them," Hoffman said.

"Those dogs were with me all the time."

With files from Jamie Malbeuf