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No charges in city under revised Dog Act
NWT SPCA hopes to analyze merits of beefed up legislation

Katherine Hudson
Northern News Services
Published Saturday, December 3, 2011

Nine months after MLAs revised the territories' Dog Act, all seems to be quiet on the lines of prosecution in the city.

NNSL photo/graphic

Sarah Hunt, a director for the NWT SPCA, hangs out with Amilia, a dog from Dettah, at the Great Slave Animal Hospital. The SPCA is looking forward to seeing if the revised Dog Act is making a difference in the treatment of dogs. - NNSL file photo

According to RCMP Const. Kathy Law, there have been no charges laid since the act was officially revised March 4.

"There were also no charges laid for the same period last year," said Law.

RCMP dealt with 25 calls concerning dogs from March to November this year; for issues such as barking, loose dogs and dog bites but nothing concerning the treatment of the animals.

Nicole Spencer, president of the NWT SPCA, said charges or not, the revised act is a step in the right direction.

The amended act includes larger fines and extended jail times for neglecting or abusing a dog. Under the old Dog Act, those found guilty of a first offence received no punishment greater than a $25 fine or 30 days in jail. Now, the penalties for a first offence are $2,500, a three-month jail term or both. Those found guilty of subsequent violations of the new Dog Act will be given a maximum fine of $10,000, a six-month jail term, or both.

Although there have not been any charges, Spencer said the SPCA is still receiving dogs and sending them down south to rescue facilities.

"People are calling us which is good to see if we can take their dogs and send them which is also a positive," she said.

"We're hoping that over the next several months or a year that we'll see more information out there, more data, more incidences where we can see if it is making a difference," said Spencer.

She said the SPCA hopes to garner more authority in the future as well -- to be able to be first on the scene where an animal has been harmed, along with RCMP or community bylaw officers.

"Nothing will change very quickly. The biggest thing I always say is education. You have to educate people about proper animal care," she said.

The old Dog Act was developed in the 1950s and according to David Kravitz, acting director of community relations for the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, its main purpose was not for the protection of dogs, but for the protection of people against dogs.

"We had a number of instances where it became clear that dogs were being abused and the dog act was not doing anything to help solve that problem," he said.

"Back in the 1960s and 70s, we didn't have a lot of municipalities ... This was a way for the territorial government to deal with the issue of protecting people from animals where there were no municipalities with the authority to do that."

He said the revisions that were put in place basically focus on giving some tools to authorities in the event that dogs are being mistreated. Among the tools is a more realistic fine structure.

"Twenty-five dollar, which maybe in 1974 wasn't such a bad fine, but certainly in 2011, $25 is insignificant," he said.

He said the revised act also gives greater powers for enforcement officers.

"It allows for the actual entry into a residence to see if there is an abuse happening," said Kravitz.

"It does kick it up a notch."

Previously, there was the old Dog Act and the criminal code. Criminal intention had to be proven through the criminal code, whereby through today's Dog Act, the effect is all that must be shown.

"You can charge someone under the Dog Act and they can say, 'Well, I didn't mean to be cruel to the dog.' That's not the point under the Dog Act. Were you or weren't you?"

Kravitz said the effects of the revision are "to be seen."

Under the revised Dog Act, people can be convicted due to general neglect of the animal and certain forms of physical abuse.

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