Sudbury·Special Report

Stray dog rescue service founder waits on review board decision

Laika Fund for Street Dogs founder Rebecca Ashworth appeared at a hearing before the Animal Care Review Board in an effort to get the 70 dogs back that were seized last July by the OSPCA.

The Laika Fund for Street Dogs rescues dogs from war-torn countries like Albania and Romania

The Laika Fund for Street Dogs rescues dogs from war-torn countries like Albania and Romania, placing them in homes across Canada and the world. (CBC)

The video simply titled Albania contains one disturbing photograph after another.

A stray dog lies curled in a ball beneath a car. Its eyes appear to have been gouged out. 

In another, a cream-coloured mutt with miserable brown eyes, rests its head in the hand of the photographer......its body so emaciated, each rib can be counted. 

This video and others like it on the Laika Fund for Street Dogs YouTube channel highlight the plight of stray dogs in eastern Europe. 

The dog rescue had its 71 canines seized by the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals [OSPCA] from its Trout Creek Ont. farm last July.  One of the dogs has since been put down.

Monday, the rescue's founder, Rebecca Ashworth, appeared at a hearing before the Animal Care Review Board [ACRB] in an effort to get the 70 remaining dogs back. 

'Horrifying' seizure

Ashworth says she was in Albania rescuing street dogs there when she learned about the seizure form her daughter on Facebook. 

"It was pretty horrifying. I didn't sleep that night."

OSPCA spokesperson Alison Cross says their investigation began after they received a complaint about the care of the rescue's animals.

"We receive reports of animal cruelty and then we are obligated to investigate based on the evidence given to us," she says.

The society issued a list of orders for Ashworth to complete, including having a vet examine some of the dogs. 

Ashworth says she complied with the orders, but the animals were still removed, although no charges were laid.

The Laika Fund for Street Dogs rescues dogs from war-torn countries like Albania and Romania, placing them in homes across Canada and the world. 

Many of the dogs have suffered traumatic injuries from living on the streets, such as lost limbs or paralysis.

"To somebody walking in, it's pretty shocking to see. A lot of the dogs we see overseas have injuries, whether they've been injured by cars because they live in amongst traffic or whether they've been intentionally harmed by people," says Ashworth.

Cross says the OSPCA policy is to determine whether the animal is receiving the proper care for its current state, but would not comment directly on the case as it's still before ACRB. 


Ultimatum from OSPCA

Two months after the dogs were seized, Ashworth received a letter that demanded $104,746.66 in animal care costs to be paid to the OSPCA within five days, otherwise the society had the right to "dispose of the animal(s)." 

The OSPCA has since said nothing will happen to the dogs until ACRB has made its final decision, but billing animal owners without laying charges is common practice for the publicly-funded charity, says animal welfare lawyer Kurtis Andrews. 

 "It's not an option to just give up and forget them."-  Rebecca Ashworth, founder Laika Fund for Street Dogs

The law states the OSPCA can confiscate an animal if there is reasonable grounds to believe the  "animal is in distress," and the cost to the society for taking on the care of that animal must be covered by the owner.

Andrews says the current laws leave dog rescues particularly vulnerable because animals are often in physical distress when they first arrive.

"They may be missing limbs. They may be sick and then what happens is the OSCPA can then come and they can take a look at these animals and determine that they are in distress and rightly come to that determination. However, it may be a situation where the animals are being looked after and are improving," he says.

Additionally, rescues often rely on donations and cannot afford to pay the OSPCA back at $25 a day per canine, the organization's standard rate. This means the dogs stay in the society's care longer and results in a rapidly growing bill. 

Andrews says even if Ashworth wins her case, the rescue may still be on the hook for the bill if the animals are to be returned.

"To some people these are just dogs but we've gone through hell on earth to get some of these dogs out of the countries they came from," says Ashworth, "It's not an option to just give up and forget them."

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