Cowichan Valley residents, concerned about cruelty to animals, rallied in their hundreds in Duncan Sunday, March 25.
It was standing room only in the main hall of the Duncan Lodge as Cowichan Cares: United for a Paws held a special meeting to address a problem that has gained significant publicity recently after a series of animal cruelty incidents.
A full slate of speakers was organized by the group and two major statements emerged from the afternoon.
The first was that Cowichan Tribes plans to allow the SPCA to come onto reserve land, and the second was that North Cowichan council will consider an animal protection bylaw in the near future.
Cowichan-Malahat-Langford MP Alistair MacGregor led off the rally, saying that once in a while an incident like the recent case of the abuse of a dog named Teddy, who died from severe neglect, galvanizes a whole community to stand up and demand action on a particular problem.
“The law is only one tool in our toolbox,” he said. “We need to reach out as community members.”
MacGregor said it is important to understand all the aspects of the situation, and not to point fingers at one group.
“Animal abuse happens everywhere. We need to let our justice system do its job,” he said.
Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA Doug Routley told the crowd that B.C. already has tough laws about cruelty to animals but enforcement in the field is lacking.
Action to beef up laws was taken following an incident with sled dogs, he said, adding how much enjoyment he gets out of his relationship with his own husky dog, who loves to run beside him while he bikes along the Trans Canada Trail.
But, more support is needed as well as more action, he said.
“We do not support the SPCA in terms of numbers. We’re all in this together. This will be solved as much by the bandage as the sword. We need to use all the tools available to us.”
Routley said animal care should be taught in schools, and looking at the large crowd, added, “This is how you get things done.”
Duncan Mayor Phil Kent pointed to the photo of his own dog on the Cowichan Cares poster, saying he has owned pets since he was a child and considers his Yorkshire terrier “his best friend”.
The City of Duncan is very small and when it comes to helping the cause, there is only so much they can do, but they have made an effort, Kent said. Duncan is the only local municipality with animal cruelty bylaws.
Jon Lefebure, representing both the Cowichan Valley Regional District and the Municipality of North Cowichan, said he thinks animal cruelty is a mental health issue that needs to be addressed.
He also said that North Cowichan has no animal protection bylaw at present but that this is “a great time” to bring that idea to North Cowichan council, and, as mayor, he will do so.
“The SPCA is great. They’ve been the referral agency. We’ve been relying on them. But we now have the ability to share some of that burden,” he said.
It’s helpful to have a community group like United for a Paws, and, Lefebure said to applause, that he plans to work with the group to bring bylaw suggestions forward to council.
“This is overdue and it’s something we can do,” he said, but reiterated that there is the mental health issue.
“People in those conditions may not be in a position where they can look after pets properly,” he said.
Cowichan Tribes Chief William Seymour was met by a storm of applause when he stood up to speak.
He told the crowd he held back at first from answering all the angry emails and Facebook requests he was receiving because he had no immediate answers to the questions they asked.
However, he issued an official reply last week.
“I was glad we were able to get together. The SPCA came to my office along with the RCMP to talk about how can we move forward, which brought us to taking our bylaws off the shelf to take a look at and see how outdated our bylaws were.”
The population on the reserve has mushroomed in recent years, and life has changed from when the bylaws were written.
Cowichan Tribes is now moving into the position “where we can now welcome the SPCA onto reserve land,” Seymour said to cheers and prolonged applause.
“I’m looking forward to the SPCA doing training with my bylaw [officers] so that they look for these signs and are able to deal with community members before anything like this ever happens again.”
Erika Paul, senior animal protection officer for the SPCA, was well known to the crowd from the days when she started the Cowichan SPCA branch in 1997.
Looking out at the packed hall, she said, “this is a dream come true.”
She talked about current federal and provincial laws and said the BCSPCA offers new model Animal Responsibility bylaws so that municipalities can use them to guide their own efforts towards providing safety and wellness for animals.
On the controversial subject of tethering animals, the cause of most of the outrage following the incident recently in the Cowichan Valley, she said that the City of Duncan is already taking the lead, with a bylaw that does not allow an animal to be tethered for more than two hours. However, the City of Esquimalt is the real superstar in that area, ruling that owners could get a visit from an enforcement officer if they keep an animal tied up for more than 30 minutes.