Now that 2017 has come to a close, the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies is once again asking: are things getting better or worse for animals in Canada?
Below, CFHS takes a look back through 2017 and compiles the biggest stories of the year on the advances, setbacks and jaw-dropping stories of Canadian animal welfare in 2017. As a bonus, we've included the top international animal welfare wins. The lists appear in no particular order.
- The Senate got more animal-friendly. Despite some dicey moments, Bill S-214 and Bill S-203 progressed from the committee stage to third reading this year. Bill S-238, which aims to ban the import of shark fins, was also introduced in 2017 and is currently before the Senate Standing Committee for consultation.
- Canada’s farming industry is inching closer to ending intensive confinement. This year, we saw the start of the phase-out of cruel battery cages for hens and the introduction of rigorous, world-leading standards for cage-free housing systems. We also saw the first steps toward the ban of veal calf crates in Canada.
- Reversal of Montreal’s pit bull ban. Animal advocates across the country cheered as Valerie Plante was elected as Montreal’s new mayor on November 5. She has been following through on her promise to alter the city’s recent animal control bylaw to remove or amend breed-specific provisions.
- Focusing on owner responsibility in municipal animal bylaws. Cities across Canada, including Chateaguay, Laval, Surrey and Rankin Inlet have introduced new animal control policies for their municipalities focused on responsible pet ownership rather than short-sighted policies like BSL.
- Cetacean ban for Vancouver Aquarium. In a bold move, the Vancouver Park Board has banned the captivity of cetaceans on its park lands, effective immediately. This ban includes Stanley Park, where the Vancouver Aquarium is situated.
- New provincial cruelty legislation in PEI. After introducing a new provincial animal welfare law early in 2017, Prince Edward Island has gone from near the bottom of the list to number one in a ranking of provincial animal welfare laws.
- On May 4, an Ontario Court judge found animal advocate Anita Krajnc not guilty of criminal mischief for giving water to thirsty pigs on their way to slaughter, saying he's not convinced a crime ever occurred.
- The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association released a new position statement on cat declawing this year, taking the stance that the surgery is ethically unacceptable and should not be performed as an elective surgery. Just before the end of the year, Nova Scotia became the first to ban the practice provincially.
- For the first time ever, a corporation has been charged with animal cruelty. More than 20 charges were laid against Chilliwack Cattle Sales and seven of its workers, and the company has been fined close to $350,000. The Crown has launched an appeal, saying the sentences should be longer.
- BC government adopts full grizzly hunt ban. In a sudden change of policy direction, the government of British Columbia has announced it's closing a much-criticized loophole in the province’s recent grizzly hunting ban. Public consultations have made it clear that killing grizzlies cannot be allowed, with the exception of First Nations people.
- In a shocking development, all charges against Marineland were dropped by the Crown in the case, who said there was no reasonable possibility of conviction.
- It was discovered that infamous hoarder April Irving, who severely neglected more than 200 dogs who were living on her Milk River, Alberta property, fled Canada for Jamaica.
- Canada is falling down on its responsibility to protect wildlife. Each and every province and territory missed the deadline for submitting a caribou protection plan to the federal government, the federal government missed a 90-day deadline for endorsing updates to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and sockeye salmon counts remain much lower than expected despite years of work to implement federal protections.
- Tens of thousands of farm animals died agonizing deaths in barn fires across Canada again this year. Some of the worst happened in Abbotsford, Sarnia, Chilliwack, the Montérégie region, and Bothwell and Steinbach, Manitoba. Animal advocates are calling on the Manitoba government to reinstate the fire regulations repealed earlier this year for buildings with low human occupancy, such as barns.
- In July, following a dispute over voting rights, the Ontario SPCA suspended the Ottawa Humane Society’s affiliate status, preventing the organization from investigating animal cruelty and enforcing the law. OHS went to court to challenge the decision and ensure that Ottawa’s animals were well-protected, but the restriction remains in place.
- Abusive vet continues to practice. Dr. Mahavir Rekhi, whose license to practice veterinary medicine was temporarily suspended after the release of videos that showed him physically abusing several animals in his care, has had all charges dropped against him despite extensive video evidence.
- Hidden camera footage obtained by CTV’s W5 showed abuse and mistreatment of dogs, pigs and monkeys being used for research at ITR Laboratories Canada in the West Island region of Montreal. The claims are being investigated by the Canadian Council on Animal Care.
- More than 9,000 fish and frogs died after a power failure at a University of Alberta research lab disabled two dechlorination pumps, releasing chlorinated municipal tap water into freshwater tanks.
- The BC SPCA is recommending federal and provincial animal cruelty charges after undercover footage captured heinous abuses on a chicken farm in Chilliwack, BC.
- Twelve endangered whales die in Canadian waters. Marine mammal experts say that ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear are to blame for the deaths of 12 critically endangered North Atlantic Right whales, who were all found dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence throughout the summer of 2017.
- Smile, you’re on camera. England and France both implemented policies that require CCTV in slaughterhouses to help curb animal cruelty.
- Ringling Circus closes. After 146 years of operation, the owner of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus closed the show for good in May, in part due to years of pressure from animal advocacy groups.
- Expedia is one of a growing number of travel companies that have committed to no longer selling tickets to exploitative wildlife rides and shows. The booking service has announced that it will no longer sell tickets to “activities involving certain wildlife animal interactions.”
- Days after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a decision to lift the ban on elephant trophy imports from Zimbabwe and Zambia, President Donald Trump announced plans to reverse course.
Have you heard that CFHS is presenting Canada’s first national conference on the violence link in December?
If you aren’t familiar with the violence link, it’s the proven link between violence against animals and violence against people. This can manifest in many ways, including a pet being harmed or killed after a woman leaves an abusive relationship or a serial killer practicing his or her abuse on animals before moving on to human beings. Over the last decade, this pattern has come to be known as the violence link.
We now know that, not only does animal abuse co-occur with human abuse, but it can predict future violence against human beings. In fact, animal abuse is more clearly correlated to family violence than mental illness, drinking or drug abuse*.
Our conference is the first big step that Canada is taking to find ways to coordinate and improve our response to the abuse of both people and animals – and better address the ways those forms of abuse intersect.
Our lineup of expert speakers includes…
- Dr. Margaret Doyle, DVM: a forensic expert on animal abuse and neglect who has worked on hundreds of animal cruelty cases, from crime scene analysis and necropsies to providing expert witness testimony at trial. She will be speaking on The Veterinarian's Role in Preventing Violence.
- Dr. Rebecca Ledger: an animal behaviour and welfare scientist who has been doing ground-breaking work as an expert witness in the prosecution of psychological and emotional suffering in cases involving cruelty and neglect. She is presenting on Determining Psychological Suffering in Cases of Animal Cruelty.
- Dr. Peter Collins: a forensic psychiatrist who works with the OPP, the FBI, the RCMP, the Toronto Police Service and the Calgary Police Service, among other organizations, who will be speaking about Animal Abuse in the Criminal Mind.
- Tracy Porteous: the Executive Director of the Ending Violence Association of BC and a three-time Governor General of Canada medal recipient for her work to prevent and end violence. She is presenting on Understanding Lethal Risks Associated with Domestic Violence Toward Keeping Women, Families and Pets Safer.
- Marcie Moriarty: Chief Prevention and Enforcement Officer of the BC SPCA, thought leader on animal cruelty enforcement and prosecution, and a key advisor for Canada’s National Centre for the Prosecution of Animal Cruelty. She is co-presenting on Investigation and Prosecution of Animal Abuse and Neglect.
- Alex Janse: Animal Cruelty Resource Counsel for British Columbia with the BC Ministry of Justice, thought leader on animal cruelty prosecution, and a key advisor for Canada’s National Centre for the Prosecution of Animal Cruelty. She is co-presenting on Investigation and Prosecution of Animal Abuse and Neglect.
- Dr. Frank Ascione: an internationally-renowned researcher and author on the development of antisocial and prosocial behavior in children and Scholar-in Residence at the Graduate School of Social Work of the University of Denver. He is presenting on The Roots of Animal Abuse and Neglect and the Connections to Interpersonal and Societal Violence.
Who is this conference for? Police officers, Crown prosecutors, judges, animal cruelty enforcement personnel, veterinarians, social workers, first responders, animal welfare advocates and policy experts. All of these key stakeholders in the fight against violence and abuse will gather for cross-training on these issues so we can begin to take real action on preventing the cycles of abuse that harm both animals and people.
*Source: Dealing with Animal Abuse to Alleviate Family Violence. Zorza, Joan. Family & Intimate Partner Violence Quarterly. Spring 2010. Vol. 2 Issue 4, page 345.
It’s International Homeless Animals Day, a day that, for the past 25 years, has been highlighting the crisis of companion animal overpopulation and its solution: spay/neuter. In most of Canada today, this crisis is centred around our most popular companion animal – the cat.
When many of us hear about cat overpopulation, we picture an overabundance of cats in animal shelters and not enough families to adopt them – a situation that can have tragic consequences, including the risk of euthanasia. The number of cats needing homes rises as new litters of kittens are born and eventually surrendered to shelters. What most people don’t tend to understand is that, based on the sheer number and reproductive rates, the overall contribution of unowned free-roaming cats to cat overpopulation is much greater than owned cats, and this is what needs to be curtailed. But what’s the best way?
If a shelter is bursting at the seams with cats in need of adoption, and healthy-looking unowned cats are continuously brought in, does it make sense for the shelter to keep accepting them and risk overcrowding the entire animal population, leading to stress, potential illness and resulting euthanasia, while reducing the likelihood that potential adopters will find their feline companion?
An approach that has been successful in addressing this situation in some communities is called “return-to-field”. When free-roaming cats who are healthy and thriving in their outdoor home are brought to a full shelter, there is a better way for the organization to use its resources than to take them in and house them. They can provide medical treatment, including vaccination and sterilization surgery, a microchip or tattoo, and then return them to their home location where the cats have a better chance of survival than in a full shelter. They won’t contribute to the overcrowding that overextends shelter resources and makes it much less likely that the cats’ welfare needs will be met. Back in their territory, they will be less prone to fighting, roaming and mating behaviours associated with intact cats and, best of all, they will no longer contribute to an increasing feline population. For some of us, this approach may involve shifting our view of what a “home” is – perhaps to align more closely with the view of the unowned cat.
The concept of return to field is related to TNR, or Trap, Neuter, Return. TNR is the only humane, effective solution to managing and eventually eliminating populations of unowned, free-roaming cats. If we want to reduce the impacts of these cats, including wildlife predation, TNR must be done right. In brief, it’s important to understand that any well-intentioned person who is thinking of taking a few cats to be sterilized once in a while is not likely to make any impact on a community-wide scale. Effective TNR requires solid planning, sufficient resources and community-wide support.
Cooperation is an absolute necessity for a project of this scale and complexity to be successful. Thus, it’s essential to bring together all the people affected by cats, regardless of whether they’re concerned about the nuisance or the cats’ well-being. Working together towards common, stated goals is the first step. Not all situations are the same; each community will need to develop a custom approach, with collaboration, coordination and buy-in from all stakeholders, including the public. There are also the many volunteers to coordinate – TNR requires diligent caretakers to oversee colonies of cats, providing them food and monitoring their health, in addition to trapping cats when it’s time for their spay/neuter surgery.
Because cat populations are fluid, free-roaming owned cats will interact with unowned cats. As well, irresponsible owners may abandon cats in areas where outdoor populations already exist. Thus, a TNR program must be carried out in combination with public education initiatives regarding the importance of early sterilization of owned cats (cats can become pregnant as early as four months of age) and the illegality and cruelty of abandoning animals.
It’s important for TNR advocates to get buy-in from local government, and municipal bylaws should be written to support both current and future TNR efforts. For owned cats, promoting responsible guardianship is key, including the need for permanent pet identification so lost and stray cats can be recovered, cat licensing, incentivizing sterilization, limiting free-roaming and prohibiting abandonment. However, such requirements should exempt free-roaming colony cats, whose caretakers are not really “owners” in the same sense, and for whom the policy objectives are different. Caretakers should not be punished for feeding their charges. They should be allowed to provide feed to the colony in a way that does not attract wildlife or encourage immigration of new cats to the area. Colony cats should not be counted as “owned” if bylaws include a limit to the number of cats a resident can keep. Similarly, returning cats to their colony or neighbourhood after vet care should not be considered “abandonment”. Smart municipalities support TNR because it addresses public health and safety concerns as well as reducing cat-related complaints.
With regard to actually devising a TNR population management program, there are a number of best practices to follow:
A TNR initiative should be geographically targeted to areas where the highest concentration of free-roaming cats exist or areas that are important to vulnerable wildlife.
It’s important to get one population or colony under control before tackling subsequent ones.
Start by addressing the resources in the area, such as food sources, prior to tackling sterilization. If there is abundant, freely available food, immigration of other cats into the area can thwart any decreases in population that could be achieved through spay/neuter efforts. Caretakers should provide the sole stable food source to colony cats, on a set schedule.
A minimum of 65 or 70 per cent of the population should be sterilized, understanding that population stabilization and reduction will be achieved faster with as rates approach 100 per cent. Progress towards the sterilization target and other goals must be monitored and must guide the next trapping targets.
TNR efforts should be coupled with vaccinations (particularly rabies), parasite treatments and a general health check. The sterilized cat should be marked with the universal sign of a left ear tip and preferably another form of permanent identification and, once recovered, returned to their home territory and monitored. Friendly strays and kittens who are young enough to be socialized can be integrated into homes or adoption facilities, where space exists. That said, it’s important to stay focused on meeting the project’s sterilization targets rather than diverting resources towards fostering and adoption, or population control will not be effective.
A long-term commitment to the program (on the order to five years or more, depending on the population) is essential to produce a decline in the population – the ultimate goal of TNR. As a result, continued funding is essential for lasting success. All of this requires many volunteers, including caretakers and vets and, of course, funding sources.
Relocation of cats or colonies is not an easy process and should not be undertaken lightly. Cats are very strongly bonded to their territories. Any attempt to relocate them will mean confining them in their new home for weeks while they build confidence that resources will be sufficiently provided by the caretaker. Otherwise, they are likely to leave in search of their previous home. Relocation may be necessary to protect important wildlife habitats.
Readers interested in learning more about TNR can find online resources from organizations with fantastic expertise in the area, such as PetSmart Charities.
If you want to learn more about advocating for accessible spay/neuter services in Canada, please explore our Accessible Spay/Neuter toolkit here.
For decades, cat people and bird people have been at odds with each other. But the welfare of one does not need to be sacrificed in order to protect the other. We have a responsibility to all of this country’s animals and need to work to improve the situation for both cats and birds. Pitting them against each other fails to address the perils facing both. Solutions for our embattled birds are necessary, but we can’t lose sight of how dire the situation is for Canada’s cats.
That’s why we’re partnering with Nature Canada on the Keep Cats Safe and Save Bird Lives program, an initiative that brings together cat people and bird people and encourages them to work together to better protect both groups of animals. By bringing together Canada’s oldest conservation charity and Canada’s largest animal welfare community, we’re increasing knowledge and education on the benefits to cats, birds and others when owned cats are prevented from roaming unsupervised outdoors. And we’re ensuring that broad-based strategies and actions initiated to help one group don’t cause harm to the other.
We know that both cats and birds are facing very difficult odds in Canada. Twice as many cats are brought to shelters as dogs and, in 2015, approximately five times more cats were euthanized than dogs. Generally, about 70 per cent of stray dogs taken in to shelters are reclaimed by their guardians, compared to 10 per cent of stray cats. In the outdoors, cats are exposed to a variety of threats, including diseases, vehicle collisions and fights with wildlife and other cats. While a cat’s independent nature might lead some people to treat them like something between a pet and wildlife, we owe cats the same level of care we give our dogs.
While cats are facing a number of different threats, so are our birds. The official list of bird species at risk increased from 47 to 86 between 2001 and 2014, and some bird populations have declined by more than 90 per cent. Predation by free-roaming cats only adds to the much more significant risks that birds face due to habitat destruction and climate change.
For the welfare of cats and birds, we need to change how we care for our feline friends. It’s counter-productive to malign cats in the hopes of protecting birds, which is why we’ve chosen to get involved in a unified campaign that aims to educate the public and transform assumptions about how to approach cat and bird protection. Let’s curb the vitriol between these two camps. Together, we can – and will – do better.
How you can keep your cat safe and save bird lives at the same time:
Consider harness training
Training your cat to walk on a harness is a fantastic way to give your cat access to the great outdoors without risking their safety or that of other local wildlife. Just remember to let your cat take the lead in the process and don’t push them to do anything they’re resisting. For tips on how to go about humane leash training, check out this blog post.
Build a safe outdoor space
Cat enclosures, catios and cat fences can be built by you or bought from a manufacturer. These enclosed spaces allow your cat to enjoy all the perks of the outdoors without risking their safety.
Enrich the indoor environment
Many cats can easily transition to the indoors when given the proper stimuli. Enrich their indoor environment by providing a window perch next to a properly screened and secured window that will allow them to view the outdoors. Cats also enjoy stable and safe play spaces to climb, like cat trees, gyms or condos. Ensure play spaces are fit with a variety of both interactive and simple toys. Spaces that include a scratching post are the most enjoyable and allow cats to exhibit natural behaviours.
Two years ago today, Canada’s Criminal Code was amended to make the harming or killing of police, military or other service animals a special offence. Called the Justice for Animals in Service Act, this piece of legislation is better known as Quanto’s Law.
The law’s more common name is a memorial to Police Dog Quanto, a German shepherd with four years of service and more than 100 arrests to his name who was killed on the job in Edmonton in 2013. Quanto took risks on the job every day and, sadly, paid the ultimate price while protecting his community.
Paul Vukmanich, who killed Police Dog Quanto, was sentenced to 26 months in prison after pleading guilty to six charges in court, including one charge for killing the dog. But the short prison sentence was controversial and sparked a nationwide conversation about the need for a specific law to address service animal cruelty.
CFHS was proud to take a lead role in advocating for this law, and we’ve already seen charges being brought forward to discourage the assault and murder of service animals in Canada.
The first-ever charges were laid under Quanto’s Law in November 2015 after Police Dog Lonca was stabbed with a machete during a raid on a suspected illegal gaming house in a Toronto-area home. Then, in August 2016, officers from the Edmonton Police Service – where Quanto worked – laid a second charge after Police Dog Jagger was struck in the face several times by a man who evaded police in a high-speed chase for more than an hour. Both dogs have made a full recovery, and both suspects were apprehended. The first case has ended in acquittal, and the second is winding its way through the courts.
While police dogs clearly need our protection, this legislation was enacted to protect all service animals against the mistreatment and aggression they face while on the job. It’s not uncommon for guide dogs, medical alert animals and emotional support animals to be harassed and sometimes even assaulted by members of the public who don’t understand, value or respect the work that the animal is doing. These highly-trained, sensitive and intelligent animals have important jobs, and they deserve better than being subjected to this kind of abuse.
Quanto’s Law represents an important step forward for animal protection in Canada. But all of Canada’s animals deserve much better protection than our current federal laws afford.
As a next step, it’s crucial that we bring forward updates to Canada’s archaic federal laws, which make it so difficult to prosecute animal cruelty that they leave animals high and dry when they need our protection the most.
Do you want better laws for Canada’s animals? You can make a difference! Reach out to your MP today and tell them you support an immediate update to our federal animal cruelty provisions.
Learn more about the fight for improved federal legislation here.
I know that puppy mills are places of unspeakable animal suffering. By signing this pledge, I commit to help end puppy mills by:
- Thinking carefully before getting a dog.
- Choosing my dog wisely and ensuring that the animal is coming from an ethical source, such as a humane society, an SPCA or a breeder whose facilities I have visited to ensure that they are ethical and humane.
- Loving the dog I have chosen deeply for life.
- Educating my friends and family about how to avoid puppy mills.
To learn more about choosing a dog responsibly, go here.
Most Canadians would be shocked to know what’s legal when it comes to the transport of animals in this country. That’s because Canada's outdated transportation regulations set a dangerously low bar, causing the deaths of more than 1.6 million farm animals each year by freezing, dehydration, heat exhaustion, trampling and disease.
But that’s only part of the story. Thanks to a recent access to information request, we know that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), the government body charged with farm animal transportation oversight, is ignoring its own analysis of what is required to improve our outdated transportation regulations. In a regulatory analysis document published by the government in the Canada Gazette, the CFIA proposed amendments to the transportation regulations that would provide "clear, science-based expectations, which in turn would lead to improved animal welfare and a reduced risk of animal suffering during transportation."
Recently released internal documents show that the CFIA revised its original recommendations for significantly reduced animal transport times, giving greater weight to industry lobbying than to scientific evidence. The CFIA documents show that the agency appears to have prioritized concerns about industry profitability over what science says about the needs of the more than 700 million farm animals being transported on Canadian roads each year.
This kind of undue influence over the regulatory process cannot be accepted. Our elected representatives must ensure that the CFIA maintains the integrity of what was supposed to be a science-driven rather than industry-driven process, and bases its recommendations on the body of scientific evidence that calls for the shortest possible transport times for animals.
Animal welfare experts were heartened when Parliament decided to conduct hearings into the proposed transportation regulations before the House of Commons Agriculture Committee in April. The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies testified before the Committee about the many benefits of cutting down on animal transport times, like reduced environmental impact, better health outcomes for workers and animals, and improved food safety.
Benefits aside, as we wait for the Agriculture Committee’s report, it's worth revisiting the original basis for reviewing the animal transport regulations. In the government’s own public notice, you will see the following acknowledgment of how dire the situation is:
"The current provisions of the Health of Animals Regulations dealing with the transportation of animals do not reflect current science regarding the care and handling of animals, do not align with the standards of Canada’s international trading partners, and are not aligned with the World Organisation for Animal Health welfare standards for animals transported by land, air and sea. This leads to a continuing risk that animals will suffer during transportation."
This "continuing risk" has, in fact, been a continuing reality for the more than 1.6 million farm animals that die each year because of weak transport regulations that do not protect them.
The European Food Safety Authority’s Scientific Opinion Concerning the Welfare of Animals during Transport says that journeys should not exceed 12 hours for horses and 29 hours for cattle. In Canada, current transport times are respectively 36 hours and 52 hours for these animals. In the EU, transport times for most live animals are limited to 8 hours and can only be further extended if food, water and rest are provided.
We need a fundamental shift when it comes to the transportation of farm animals – to think of animals not as freight or a financial investment, but as living, breathing creatures who have the capacity to feel pain and fear. Transportation is the most alien and stressful experience that a farm animal will have in its lifetime. The longer and harder this experience is, the more risk there is of stress-induced illness, injury and death.
These animals deserve more. Just because they are headed to slaughter does not mean we should allow them to suffer while they are still alive. This is why we must protect the integrity of a process that places reasonable limits on industry – ensuring that the regulations that govern the transportation of animals are well-informed, science-driven and not a product of bowing to industry pressure.