Animals should be treated as family, not objects

How can you tell who loves you more – your dog or your husband?

Lock them both in a trunk for an hour and when you open it up, you’ll see which one is happy to see you.

To many dog lovers this joke resonates because it speaks of their four-legged friend’s loyalty and devotion, which over time has earned pets increased respect in the household.

Sure dogs like to shake right beside their owners after a swim in the river, roll feverishly in disgusting remains left outside and bark their heads off at the slightest noise outside the door, but nobody’s perfect.

I happen to be the owner of the greatest Labrador-rottweiler cross.

“Choco,” a lean black three-year-old who exaggerates his yawns and stretches, has developed a language of his own. He greets me in the morning with a wet kiss, followed by locked eye contact and a shove with his nose, which means “start petting or let’s go.”

Outside he’s like a deer – prancing confidently from one point to the next and freezing just for a moment with the sight of another animal before galloping toward his new friend.

Before I even unlock the door, he’s ready to greet me after a long day, and at night, he waits for his blankets to be dragged from the living room to the bedroom, where he sleeps at the foot of the bed.

Over time, animal lovers begin to view their pets more as an extension of their family – treating them with respect and kindness.

But unlike this trend in ownership, animal cruelty legislation has lagged far behind.

This needs to be changed.

Created in 1892, the legislation only received a slight update in 2008 when some penalties were increased, but animal lovers alike argue it’s about time Canada got with the times.

Last month, local pet-store owners Amanda Hamilton and Sarah Fulcher organized a walk in memory of the 100 sled dogs slaughtered in Whistler, a movement that took place across the nation as nearly 50,000 connected individuals signed up for the Facebook group “Boycotting Outdoor Adventures in Whistler.”

Locally, about 150 people and their 170 dogs took part in the walks held in Trail and Rossland to raise awareness, but at the same time the two business owners encouraged residents to sign a petition and support a letter writing campaign lobbying the government for legislative change around animal cruelty.

The pair collected about 500 signatures, which have now been passed on to MP Alex Atamanenko, who will present the signatures to Parliament on their behalf.

The hope is that if enough people cry out for the dire need for updated legislation, the government will listen.

While the SPCA does what it can to ensure animals are being taken care of – checking up on complaints and sending out an investigator when standards are not met – there are many loopholes or vague language in the current legislation that sets many animal abusers free.

A 2008 study conducted by the International Fund for Animal Welfare which compared Canada to 13 other countries including places like Austria, Croatia, Great Britain and Malaysia found that Canada’s legislation ranked far behind.

The report concluded that only one per cent of animal cruelty complaints in Canada result in successful convictions, meaning that about 99 per cent of cruel acts go unpunished.

Out of the assessed countries, Canada was the only one that defines animal cruelty provisions as violations of property and as a result, stray animals are virtually unprotected.

In 2004, a Wakefield, Que., man snatched a cub from its mother while he was riding his jet ski and as the bear tried to get away, the man held him under water and drove over it in an attempt to subdue the animal. Although this story received international condemnation, no animal cruelty charges were laid because wild animals are not protected from acts of cruelty.

Closer to home, after receiving a report of a Salmo resident who was trapping neighbourhood cats, the Times discovered that it is not illegal to trap cats on one’s own property so long as the felines are given adequate food, water and shelter while in the trapper’s care and later returmed to the owner or an organization like the SPCA.

But what does “adequate” mean?

There are a number of grey areas in the current system.

If the SPCA finds that an owner is not properly caring for his animal, the non-profit organization can issue an order. The owner is then off the hook if he complies with the request.

In the Whistler case, the owner of the company received 65 orders. He fulfilled them all but only when requested.

If you’re an animal lover like me, and didn’t get a chance to make it out to the local walks where petitions were available, I encourage you to round up at least 25 signatures for a petition that can be located at http://markholland.liberal.ca/files/2010/07/petition_AnimalCruelty_2011.pdf

It’s the least we can do for man’s best friend.

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Valerie Rossi is a reporter with the Times