Saskatoon SPCA wants to see tougher laws for kennels

Saskatoon's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) says Saskatchewan needs tougher laws when it comes to animals — especially when it comes to kennels.

SPCA investigating kennel where 14 dogs died after being overheated this weekend

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      Saskatoon's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says Saskatchewan needs tougher laws when it comes to animals — especially when it comes to kennels.

      This weekend, 14 dogs died at the Playful Paws Pet Centre after the building's heating system malfunctioned. The Saskatoon SPCA is currently investigating what happened. 

      While the group can't comment on an active investigation, it says the province's Animal Protection Act leaves a lot to be desired.

      Right now, animal protection officers have the right to enter businesses that either sell or provide animals for entertainment without a search warrant. That doesn't include kennels.

      "Most animal-related businesses have a good relationship with the Saskatoon SPCA," executive director Patricia Cameron told CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning. "But there are other businesses we know of in the province where there are serious concerns, and the enforcement agencies can't get access."

      Kelsey Friesen says that her daughter's dog (left) died while in the care of a Saskatoon kennel. (Submitted by Kelsey Friesen)

      This year, the Animal Legal Defense Fund ranked Saskatchewan's animal protection legislation in 11th place in the country, higher only than the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. 

      Cameron said there are numerous problems with Saskatchewan's laws. Right now, animals are not allowed to be put in distress through a lack of food and water, veterinary care or to be put under unclean, unsafe conditions. However, that doesn't cover all situations.

      "Animals are more, in the legal sense, considered property," she said. "So, for example, you could have a situation where a person takes a perfectly healthy, happy animal, and kills it in a particularly brutal way — let's say, smashes it in the head with a board. But if it dies instantly, that is not an offence."

      Ultimately, Cameron hopes this high-profile case will lead to changes.

      "There's been an outpouring of feeling, and desire for something better for animals," she said. "When you have a high-profile case, or anything comes onto the internet, there are hundreds and hundreds of people who immediately are moved by that, and demand something better for animals."

      Making changes

      Betty Althouse, Saskatchewan's chief veterinary officer, said the Animal Legal Defense Fund's ranking is relative, and only focused on legislation, not on outcomes.

      "As provinces make changes or updates to legislation, they tend to move up [the list] and that tends to move everybody down," she said. "When we had our most recent update to the act [in 2010], we were in the middle of the pack. Since then, other provinces have made updates and included more things that they think are important."

      While changes to the legislation are likely several years off, Althouse said it's unlikely that the province will enact separate, stronger laws for companion animals, seen in provinces like Quebec.

      Saskatoon SPCA executive director Patricia Cameron would like to see the province's animal cruelty legislation strengthened. (Steve Pasqualotto/CBC News)

      "I really don't see a benefit to that," she said. "I think we can have legislation that benefits all animals in one piece of legislation."

      Still, Althouse would like to eventually see changes made to the act.

      "Does the definition of distress need to be expanded?" she said. "Should there be mandatory reporting? Are there some things related to penalties that could be increased, or more options on penalties?"

      Ultimately, she says it's up to owners to fully research any kennel they are sending their pets to.

      "Licensing and regulation is something that has been mentioned, but a licence involves sporadic inspections and depending on the time of inspection, it's not like there's continual oversight if something is licensed."

      Buyer beware

      Meanwhile, Cameron has some tips for people who are interested in boarding their animals at a kennel. She said going for a tour, and asking tough questions is important.

      "If you're told that any area is off limits, that would be a red flag," she said. "If there's any hesitance to talk about practices, I would query on what kind of level of experience staff has. For example, do they have pet first aid?"

      Cameron said it's also a good idea to ask if your animal is enclosed overnight, rather than being left in a space with an unknown animal. She said it's a bad sign if the kennel smells bad, and if the space doesn't have proper vaccine protocols in place.

      While it's not binding, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association does have a code of practice in place for kennels.

      "For example, temperature should be adjusted to the particular dog's need," she said. "A little pitbull with practically no hair is going to need warmth. A big furry dog is going to be uncomfortable in a place where a chihuahua is going to be comfortable."

      Anyone looking for more information can contact their local animal protection agency.

      With files from Saskatoon Morning, Jennifer Quesnel