Animal abuse more common than is reported

Tyler Clarke
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Local media tends to report on the most shocking cases of animal abuse, but the Prince Albert SPCA deals with abused pets on a daily basis.

Local media tends to report on the most shocking cases of animal abuse, but the Prince Albert SPCA deals with abused pets on a daily basis.

Last week, local media reported on Tito, an injured cat who was allegedly shoved into a storm drain by young children and then poked at with sticks.

That same week, the Daily Herald reported on two dogs who suffered abuse in the past, who were being flown out to Vancouver Island to start a new life.

Although these cases were reported, not all stories that week were made public.

“I think it happens more than we know,” Prince Albert SPCA manager Debbie Lehner said of people abusing animals.

“We have pictures of cats that have been fished out of the river in black garbage bags, we’ve got cats that have been brought in with their eyes poked out …”

“Little Joey, with his tail cut off,” assistant manager Leanne Roberts added.

“Cats that have been lit on fire -- it happens more than what we’re aware of,” Lehner said.

Although abuse is noted on a daily basis, it’s usually not to these extremes, Lehner noted, adding that the most common source of abuse is neglect.


Neglect is abuse

Local pet foster parent Paula Jacobs has been taking in Prince Albert SPCA pets with her husband, Mike, since moving to Prince Albert about two years ago.

Of the animals they’ve taken in, the most memorable story was that of Max -- a Labrador shepherd mix who was found nearly starved to death, tied up in his Prince Albert yard last winter.

Although his healthy weight would have been about 75 pounds, he was found at a scrawny 32 pounds. He was tied up just out of reach of two bags of dog food.

“He was really too weak to have had much of a reaction to anything,” Jacobs said.

“When we first got him he couldn’t even (climb) stairs. He couldn’t get himself up in the morning -- you had to lift him and carry him up and down stairs.”

After about three months of fostering, Max was up to his ideal weight and had regained all of his energy.

“He just wanted to be loved, basically,” Jacobs said. “He was very lovey. He loved attention.”

Animal neglect comes in many forms, Moose Jaw Humane Society fundraising and promotions co-ordinator Karla Pratt said.

“Some people do see pets, especially strong breed dogs, as a status symbol -- as something that’s meant to be a guard dog and never brought into the home or cared for in that manner,” she explained, adding that this “old school” mentality is commonplace on farms.

“There’s sometimes that mentality where a dog or cat is on the farm to work, and it is not a pet, and that’s not a bad thing as long as those pets are cared for in a humane manner and are not treated inhumanely.”

When animals aren’t treated humanely, animal rights activists are left scratching their heads.


Reasons for animal abuse

“I’ve never been able to come up with a real solid answer,” Saskatchewan SPCA manager of animal protective services Kaley Pugh said of people’s inhumane treatment of animals.

“Sometimes we’re dealing with people with mental health problems, and sometimes we’re dealing with people with financial difficulties and they’re at a generally bad spot in their life and things get out of control.”

When it comes to animal physical abuse, young children are usually the abusers, Lehner said, citing one instance where a group of kids aged six to 10 hanged a kitten from a tree.

“It’s empathy, and that comes from the parents,” Roberts said of the problem. “Kids need to be taught empathy and compassion and all those things, and if they’re not getting that at the home it doesn’t translate into anything they do in life.”

Perhaps the scariest thing about this abuse is its implications for the child as they enter adulthood, Lehner said, noting that there are “huge correlations between animal abuse and violent crimes later on in life.”

There are noted links between people who have abused animals and domestic violence, Western College of Veterinary Medicine associate professor Karen Machin said.

“The animal abuse is not necessarily limited to just the animal,” she noted, adding that when family members leave the house, the abuser’s anger might transfer onto a pet.


Pets can bounce back

As the Jacobs family learned through their fostering of Max and other abused pets, their nature is to bounce back.

“They’re very forgiving,” Paula said, adding that she intends to continue fostering pets out of the SPCA.

Kids need to be taught empathy and compassion and all those things, and if they’re not getting that at the home it doesn’t translate into anything they do in life. Prince Albert SPCA assistant manager Leanne Roberts

“Just seeing them get well and get healthy and to know that you took them out of that situation and realize that people are OK -- that’s what we want out of it,” she said.

Unlike humans, dogs and cats have little perception of the future, Machin said, instead basing their understanding of the world on their past and present experiences.

Quite often, abused animals have a fight or flight response to humans.

“There’s a huge range of the response, and it depends on the individual animal -- what has influenced them in their environment,” she said.

“The threat may not be something we perceive as threatening. It may be, they’re walking down the street and they see someone with a baseball cap, and a man with a baseball cap may have hurt (them) before.”

Others might hide or cower away from humans they perceive as a threat -- whatever method has proven successful in the past.

It might take some time and effort, but pets can generally rebound after an abusive past, if provided proper pet ownership, Machin said.

“When an animal has been abused, the more positive interactions that they have, the better, and so they can certainly learn to trust and they can learn that people aren’t bad.”


Education is key

A key contributor to animal abuse is a lack of education, Lehner said.

The Prince Albert SPCA accepts invitations by local elementary schools and high schools to teach students the ins and outs of pet ownership.

“The education is age-specific, based on how old they are,” Lehner explained, noting that younger students learn about what to do if they meet an animal on the street and what types of vaccinations and food pets require.

High school students receive a more graphic presentation featuring photos taken of abused animals found in the city.

“It’s about ‘what is animal abuse?’ and ‘how do you go about reporting that?’ and things like that,” Lehner summarized.

As soon as they move into their new facility on North Industrial Drive early next year, Prince Albert SPCA staff hopes to expand their public education efforts.

“I hope financially-wise we can take on an education person,” Lehner said, adding that most larger centres have an education position.

The education of youth is an important effort, since “Studies have show that children who are kind to animals grow up to be kind to adults,” Karla Pratt from the Moose Jaw Humane Society said.

“Treating them how you want to be treated -- that’s probably the easiest way to explain it to children. If you don’t want somebody hurting you, don’t do it to an animal.”


How to report abuse

The city’s bylaw enforcement officers and Prince Albert SPCA staff work together at enforcing the Animal Protection Act, city bylaw manager Suzanne Stubbs said.

“If we charge them -- there’s no voluntary fine, they have to attend court, and the judge has to decide what happens.”

The most common call bylaw officers receive has to do with animals who are kept tied up outside without food, water or shelter.

Once either bylaw or the SPCA receive a call of concern, the situation is remedied within the day.

A common call at this time of year has to do with people leaving pets unattended in vehicles -- basically cooking them to death.

“In the last week, we’ve actually received quite a few calls on that,” Stubbs said. “People think rolling down the window a bit and leaving water is sufficient -- it’s not.”

Charging people under the Animal Protection Act is only done in the most extreme cases of animal abuse, Stubbs said -- a sentiment also shared by Pugh, who recently saw a court case centred on someone’s hording of 82 dogs come to a close.

The suspect was fined $5,000 and limited to owning two dogs at any given time.

This case fell under old penalties, Pugh said, noting that things changed in 2010. Now, the maximum penalty is a $25,000 fine and 18 months’ incarceration.

Anyone who sees or suspects animal abuse of any kind in Prince Albert can call either the city’s bylaw enforcement office at 953-4222 or the Prince Albert SPCA at 763-6110. 

Organizations: Western College of Veterinary Medicine, Prince Albert, Daily Herald Moose Jaw Humane Society

Geographic location: Vancouver Island

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