By Connor Lynch and Patrick Meagher
Plenty of farmers across Ontario have felt the investigative sting of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) or know someone who has. The case in Chilliwack, B.C. last year was a stunning example of how far charges by the animal police can go. Six farm workers were sentenced to jail time, up to 45 days, after being convicted of various animal cruelty offences. They had been filmed hitting cows with rubber canes, kicking cows that were down, hitting them with chains, and in one case lifting a cow with a chain around its neck. Some of the actions looked more brutal than they actually were but the actions were hardly defensible.
Protecting animals is commendable. However, sometimes the law goes too far. A New Hampshire man was fined US $124 last month for accidentally kicking a seagull at a beach while trying to shoo away a group of gulls. They were after his cheeseburger, he told a local news station. Late last year, a man from England was sentenced to 12 months of community service after kicking a small dog that he was walking on a leash, while at the same time “using threatening or abusive words or behaviour likely to cause alarm or distress,” London’s Metro News reported. The man’s defence? The dog bit him first.
In Ontario, if the SPCA believes an animal is in distress, an officer can enter the property without a warrant. In 2011, Lyndhurst resident Jessica Johnson was sleeping when an SPCA officer came in through her window to check on her dogs. One of the dogs at the property, about 40 minutes south of Smiths Falls, had a severe buildup of tartar on its teeth as well as gum disease, and the SPCA whisked it away to get its teeth cleaned. The Animal Care Review Board decided in 2013 that the officer was in the right to climb in through the window. Johnson told Farmers Forum that while she was ordered to pay for the dog’s teeth cleaning, she herself doesn’t get her teeth cleaned because she can’t afford it.
The same year, the SPCA ordered a number of Amish dog breeders in Western Ontario to give toys to their dogs so they wouldn’t get bored. According to Ottawa-based agriculture and animal lawyer Kurtis Andrews, the SPCA can only issue orders to relieve distress. Said Andrews recently: “Certainly the OSPCA interprets (distress) in amazingly different ways.”
Sometimes, animals are the cause of the distress. A York region farmer was investigated by the SPCA in 2016 after shooting a neighbour’s dog that allegedly attacked his pigs. Charges were dropped because it is legal for farmers under provincial legislation to shoot any animal that comes onto farm property in order to protect crops or livestock. Everywhere in Canada, it is legal to kill your pet or wild animal. But if you’re using a gun, you had better be a good shot because you can be charged with animal cruelty if you don’t kill it instantly and the animal suffers.
Not allowing dogs to pee where they want to can you get you into trouble in New Haven, Connecticut. A restaurant window sign asked people not to allow their dogs to pee on the eatery’s outside flower pot. The restaurant owner was fined $250. The restaurant owner is appealing.
While there are a plethora of dumb fines, there are as many dumb and crazy laws. Still on the books in Alaska, it is illegal to push a live moose out of a moving plane. In Connecticut, dogs with tattoos must be reported to the police. In Massachusetts, it is illegal to frighten a pigeon. In Michigan, it is illegal to have sheep in the cab of a truck without a chaperone. In New Jersey, it is illegal to offer cigarettes to animals in a zoo. In Cleveland Ohio, it is illegal to trap mice without a hunting licence. And, of course, this law is necessary in Arkansas: It is illegal to keep alligators in bathtubs.
More and more jurisdictions in Canada are making it illegal to even tie up a dog. Tying up a dog is either banned or the length of time is restricted in Calgary, Victoria and Delta, B.C. In Vancouver, it is illegal to tie up a dog and leave it unattended in public, even if it’s just to pick up a coffee at a café. If you’re caught, it could be an expensive coffee. The fine is $250. The good news is that you are 20 times more likely to get a warning.