If an officer from the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) comes to your farm, you need to be ready to defend yourself.
Here’s a 10-point plan.
1. If an OSPCA officer knocks at your door and asks to look around, politely decline and tell him he is not invited back.
“Don’t create any animosity that can hurt you later,” says Ottawa agricultural lawyer Kurtis Andrews. The officer is not allowed to wander around if no one is home or if he has not been given permission.
2. Anything you say or the officer sees in the yard on the way to and from your door can be used against you, says Andrews.
If that’s a concern, put up a locked gate. The officer is prohibited from entering because the lock expresses that there is “no implied invitation” to knock at your door.
3. A locked gate only helps in some cases. OSPCA officers, like Children’s Aid Society officers, have more power than the police if they believe there is a victim in serious distress and that a life is in immediate danger.
The OSPCA officer can climb the fence and go right onto your property, look around, and bring anyone else with him that would be considered of interest to the case.
If you are there, ask them what animal’s life is in danger.
4. If the officer says that an animal is in distress, call your veterinarian to come to your farm immediately. Your vet is your expert witness to prove your animals are not in danger. Do not rely on the judgement of a vet that the OSPCA calls in.
“Your best use of money is to pay your veterinarian to come as soon as possible,” Andrews says. “If not the first day, you could be in trouble already. You need an expert witness the same day.”
Otherwise you could be spending 10 to 100 times more money on something that is harder to prove later. Pay a veterinarian a premium for same-day service if you have to.
“There’s no better way to spend your money than to do that. The only thing that will trump the OSPCA officer in court will be your vet.”
5. If you absolutely cannot get a veterinarian, call a friend. “A neighbour is not going to give you much credibility in court,” Andrews says. But a neighbour can make basic layman observations. If a farmer is accused of having a downer cow, it helps if a neighbour saw that the cow was standing on all fours.
6. Use your cell phone to video and/or audio record the visit.
7. Take detailed notes of the visit.
8. You will likely have questions. Call a lawyer.
9. If the OSPCA is likely to come back, put up a locked gate.
10. If you are served documents, call a lawyer.