Animal seizures decline in Sask.; investigations up

The agency seized 268 animals last year — 43 percent were classified as founded, 21 percent unfounded and 34 percent inconclusive

The number of cases investigated by Animal Protection Services of Saskatchewan increased during the last fiscal year, but the number of seizures was down.

According to the organization’s annual report for April 2019 to March 2020, there were 34 more cases, for a total of 731 and the largest number of files since the agency was formed.

However, seizures occurred in only 30 cases, which is less than 43 in the previous year.

A total of 268 animals were seized during the period, including 144 cats, 72 cattle, 47 dogs, and one horse, chicken, rabbit, snake and bearded dragon.

Dogs continue to make up the highest number of cases at 408, followed by 138 involving horses, 125 regarding cattle, 115 complaints about cats, 16 for sheep and goats, 14 involving hogs, nine fowl, four camelids, 19 other and two bison.

Executive director Don Ferguson said investigated cases are classed as founded, unfounded or inconclusive. Forty-three percent were founded, 21 percent unfounded and 34 percent inconclusive.

Investigating complaints that turn out to be unfounded or inconclusive, especially those involving livestock, take a lot of time and resources. Ferguson said with just six, soon to be seven, officers to cover the entire province, staff can’t get to every complaint as soon as they’d like and are putting in far more hours than they should.

“The public expectation is the minute they call us it’s like 911,” he said.

Ferguson said the goal if there are reports of dead and down animals is to get to the site within 24 hours but cases can take three to five business days.

“Ideally, I would like to see a couple more officers,” he said.

The 10 community safety officers in eight municipalities have all been trained to enforce the act within their jurisdictions.

The APSS is funded by the provincial ministry of agriculture and does no private fundraising.

Its board of directors, Ferguson said, is not involved in day-to-day activities.

Board members have been asked about APSS powers, particularly after publicity surrounding some large livestock seizures and claims from family members that the animals were not in distress.

Some complainants to The Western Producer say seizures have been carried out poorly, with more distress being caused to the animals in the process than the conditions they were originally in. Some say RCMP officers who had to euthanize animals weren’t good shots, that cows and calves were separated and they were charged for services that they didn’t receive.

Ferguson wouldn’t comment on allegations because in some cases charges may still be laid or have been laid.

But he said the board refers those who ask to the legislation. The Animal Protection Act and regulations are broad, he said, noting they include the requirement for livestock producers to follow the industry-developed codes of practice for the species. Animals may not be in distress, but there could be code violations.

He said animal protection officers are now regularly distributing the codes, especially for beef and equine, because producers claim they didn’t know they existed or had to be followed.

Producers say they don’t have a herd health veterinarian because it’s too expensive, Ferguson said, and seem surprised when told they have to have one.

Simply put, production practices have changed and not all producers have changed with them.

Ferguson also said APSS is working toward making its APOs peace officers, which would give them more protection.

“It gives us the same protection as other peace officers under the Criminal Code if someone assaults,” Ferguson explained.

Right now, if an APO is assaulted during an investigation or seizure the charge is lesser than it would be against a peace officer.

Officers obtained 18 separate search warrants in 2019-20, with five requiring multiple warrants. Charges were laid in 18 cases compared to 13 the previous year.

Among founded files, 42 corrective action orders compelling owners to improve conditions were issued and in 66 cases formal written warnings were issued about potential charges in future.

The annual report notes that animals voluntarily surrendered included 58 cats, 77 dogs, 17 chickens, five guinea pigs, two hermit crabs and a chameleon.

Animals are placed with other agencies, veterinarians, private facilities, sold at auctions or euthanized.

Details of all seizures and surrenders are contained within the report. The largest seizure at one site included 51 cats and two dogs in Moose Jaw. The largest livestock seizure was 38 cattle and one horse in Lanigan.

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