Nova Scotia

SPCA officers don body armour as animal cruelty prosecutions mount

Animal cruelty investigation officers get Kevlar armour after assaults on officers in 2015.

Animal cruelty investigators have been assaulted, even had their vehicle rammed

SPCA officers in their new Kevlar vests. On the left is Sgt. Nancy Noel and on right is Const. Jo-Anne Landsburg, the chief provincial inspector. (Nova Scotia SPCA)

It's not dog bites or cat scratches that have forced animal cruelty investigation officers to put on body armour, but the very real threat of attack from people. 

"We had officers that were assaulted on scene, our vehicle was rammed," said Jo-Anne Lansburg, the chief provincial inspector for the Nova Scotia SPCA. "It's becoming more and more dangerous out there."

That vehicle ramming and assault happened in October 2015, and prompted the SPCA to get more serious about the safety of its officers. Last year, its 16 officers across the province were outfitted with body armour.

The Kevlar vests are meant to protect the wearer's vital organs and are similar to those police use, said Lansburg. 

"The thing we have to look for first of all is officer safety so that was something that we really had to take care of," she said.

The SPCA laid 20 charges of animal cruelty in 2016. (CBC)

Back in 2012 the SPCA only had three officers. Lansburg said the increase in staff has cut down on how long it takes to respond to a complaint. In the past, it could take up to two weeks for officers to investigate a complaint; now many are dealt with the same day. 

Animal cruelty charges on the rise

Along with the greater number of officers there's been a steady increase in the number of people charged with animal cruelty. In 2016, 20 people were charged compared to 15 in 2015, 12 in 2014 and just two in 2013. 

Those numbers are alarming to Lansburg because the SPCA tries to work with people first to avoid prosecution. It's only if that fails that charges are laid.

"When we charge people in the field it's not the first thing we look at, we're looking at getting compliance and education," she said.  

An increase in better trained officers and tougher legislation has led to the increase in animal cruelty charges being laid, said Lansburg. (Vadim Ghirda/Associated Press)

Cruelty charges come under the Animal Protection Act. Most are laid because an animal is neglected. These are serious cases where animals are injured or suffer such severe neglect they have to be put down.

Tougher legislation on the treatment of pets and a greater number of better trained officers have led to the increase in animal cruelty charges, said Lansburg. 

Most people in Nova Scotia know they have to take responsibility and look after their animals, she said, and it's only a small minority that still think it's OK to neglect or harm pets.

"I think that these charges and, you know, the publicity that they're getting in the media is certainly helping as well," she said. "We will come in and help, it doesn't have to be a matter where we just come in heavy handed." 

With files from CBC's Information Morning