More than 200 sled dogs will remain in Ontario custody, court says

An Ontario court ordered the province to return 11 sled dog puppies it had seized, but ruled it could keep more than 200 dogs because the animals would return to a “distressed situation.”

Four of the dogs died in government custody as the case went through the Animal Care Review Board, a quasi-judicial body, which noted the deaths in its decision.

Windrift Adventures, a dog sledding business north of Barrie, Ontario, had appealed the seizure of 239 dogs by the province’s animal protection services on September 23, 2021, as well as the decision to keep them.

The council, which deals with disputes and appeals in animal welfare cases, heard the appeal in the fall.

“I find that ordering the return of the remainder of the dogs to the appellants at this time would put them back in distress,” wrote review board member Lindsay Lake, who adjudicated the case, in its decision. of December 31. 2021.

Inspectors from the province’s Animal Welfare Services visited two of Windrift’s properties, one in Moonstone, Ont., and another in Severn, Ont., in September.

On site, Lake wrote, inspectors reviewed the length of the dog tethers — the dogs live outdoors — and the insulation of the kennels, and said Windrift was not in compliance with the law.

Then they took the dogs.

“I’m extremely frustrated and I feel disappointed,” said Adrienne Spottiswood, one of Windrift’s owners.

“Animal welfare is supposed to protect animals and they don’t. Four of our dogs are dead.”

The court had previously heard that at least two of the dogs had died of a bacterial infection. Spottiswood said Animal Humane Services told him two other people had died of cancer.

“They were all healthy when they took them,” Spottiswood said.

The government said the dogs contracted the bacterial infection from Windrift’s horses.

Spottiswood disagreed.

Brent Ross, a spokesman for the Ministry of the Solicitor General, which is responsible for animal welfare services, confirmed the deaths of the four dogs in his care and said he had returned 11 puppies to Windrift.

“As the matter remains within the appeal period, it would be inappropriate to provide further comment,” Ross said.

Spottiswood said they would appeal the decision.

In the past two years, there have been 15 inspections at Windrift, the council heard.

Inspectors have long focused on the living conditions of dogs – they live outside all year round in kennels.

In February, Animal Protection Services ordered Windrift to fix the kennels and give them longer tethers — the dogs hang on chains attached to posts buried in the ground.

In June, the council found that all the dogs in Windrift were in distress. He found that the outdoor kennels were not properly insulated and the dog tethers were too short. An appeal by Windrift was denied.

The board ordered Windrift to comply with orders. On September 23, inspectors discovered that Windrift had not made the changes, then seized the dogs.

Animal protection services and Windrift agreed the dogs were in good health at the time, but the council said the animals were considered distressed because the insulation and tethering were not up to standard.

The inspectors’ decision to remove the dogs was “highly debatable,” Lake said, but ultimately she didn’t have to decide whether provincial inspectors broke the law when they seized the dogs.

She said she only had to decide if the dogs would return to a situation where they were in distress.

Inspectors can’t take animals solely on the basis of not following orders, Lake said, but some of the evidence “strongly suggests” that’s what happened.

Dogs should be returned if Windrift provides longer ties and patches in its kennel insulation, Lake said.

The council found provincial inspectors had gone too far when they seized four puppies, born after the council’s decision in June, who she said were not in distress.

“I find they shouldn’t have been removed,” Lake wrote.

Seven pups found to be in distress at the Moonstone property lived in a pen with a wooden structure and a plastic barrel.

Lake said standards of care were not being met because the structures “were not in good condition.”

She said body camera footage of one of the inspectors “showed her scraping off the buildup of green slime inside the wooden structure in the puppy pen.”

Those puppies were returned because Windrift had since cleared the pen, Lake wrote.

“There is no evidence before me that returning these seven puppies to callers will cause them distress or expose them to undue risk of distress,” Lake wrote.

As for Windrift, they remain bankrupt, unable to offer dog sledding.

“Our business is not operational,” Spottiswood said. “It’s not good.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on January 11, 2022.

Bette C. Alvarado