SPCA interested in added responsibility
SPCA can’t respond to complaints alone, but does assist RCMP on some calls
The Baccalieu Trail SPCA can help police handle calls related to animal welfare, but does not have any law enforcement powers and cannot handle calls on its own. Its leader would not mind seeing that change, and hopes there’ll be more discussion in the future on ways to help protect animals.
When Laura-Lee Hiscock of the Baccalieu Trail SPCA receives a phone call from the Trinity Conception RCMP, she tries her hardest to make herself available.
Being one of only a couple people in the region trained to identify and educate people on animal welfare issues, she has developed a good working relationship with police. So when she gets that call, she knows it’s important.
She has been helping police ever since the new Animal Health and Protection Act became law in 2012. Prior to that, she was able to intervene in situations where an animal’s welfare may have been in jeopardy.
After an incident in Conception Bay South (CBS) earlier this month where a man was charged for animal welfare related offences, the provincial SPCA division sent out a news release explaining how provincial legislation effects its involvement in complaints.
“(The provincial SPCA chapters) have been instructed by the Department of Natural Resources to stop responding to complaints of animal neglect and abuse. SPCA NL is not considered an enforcement agency under the Animal Health and Protection Act,” it said. “Under previous legislation SPCA branches had authority to enforce legislation, and to support law enforcement agencies, in the prevention of animal cruelty.”
Hiscock is usually on hand for many of the animal cruelty cases in the Trinity Conception region since she has specialized training. But she is now considered an educator rather than enforcement.
“I would like to see the SPCA have their role back in enforcement again,” Hiscock told The Compass.
Carbonear’s municipal enforcement officer Gord Parsons is the only other person allowed to respond to animal complaints, but only within the town boundaries.
Trinity Conception RCMP Sgt. Greg Hicks admits officers are not always trained to handle all animal situations. Having Hiscock help when needed has been beneficial in providing education and determining if an animal is in an unhealthy environment, he said.
“For domestic animals, it is not uncommon for us to call Laura-Lee,” he explained. “We partner heavily with the SPCA.”
Many times, when Hiscock goes to a home with the RCMP, she’ll stay in the background until she gets the approval to speak with the owner.
“A lot of the time they don’t know they’re doing something wrong,” Hiscock explained. “A lot of it is education. I feel I can talk to them, tell them I’m there to help.”
She’ll explain the situation to them, and many times it’s rectified.
Even though Hiscock doesn’t formally respond to complaints anymore, she does encourage people to report anything they believe is a violation of animal rights.
“Don’t be afraid to give a complaint,” she said. “You can still call even if you’ve called the RCMP. It’s good for us to know it has been reported.”
Approximately 200 people were on hand for a rally in CBS last month to support a newly formed organization called Voices for the Voiceless. Krystine Gibbons, a member of the planning committee for the event, told The Compass the rally was not just about the recent incident in that town.
“Our intention is to keep animal welfare issues on the radar so that the necessary changes can be made to legislation and enforcement to adequately protect all animals,” she said. “From a dog chained to a wooden box in a backyard, to cats struggling to survive outside in the winter, farm animals and exotic animals included; they all deserve proper treatment.”
Gibbons said Voice for the Voiceless is advocating for the government to step in with tougher regulations, and had started an online petition. The petition can be found at Change.org under the name “Amend the Animal Health and Protection Act.”
Hiscock is an animal advocate and supports what Voice for the Voiceless hopes to accomplish. She agrees that regulations, enforcement and education are an important part of protecting an animal from abuse or neglect. She also believes the RCMP can’t do it all on their own.
Hiscock notes the RCMP are busy with many different issues and having the SPCA to help investigate issues would lighten the workload.
One of the issues Hiscock says she hears about is people abandoning their animals, or not being able to care for them anymore.
“If you have a dog or cat and you don’t want it, call us. I can definintely do something about that, no questions asked,” she said.
The SPCA houses animals that police take from homes, with government providing approximately $4,000 to cover operational expenses related to that service.
A sign held up during the Voices for the Voiceless rally in CBS Jan. 20.