Cruelty to Animals is the 8th Deadly Sin!

Cruelty to Animals is the 8th Deadly Sin!

I will never understand how anyone can inflict pain and suffering or commit deliberate violence on a defenceless animal. Lately there has been several high profile dog abuse cases reported in the news, which got me thinking about and then researching cases involving horses. I was dismayed to learn that horse abuse is on the rise. In fact, the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (the “BC SPCA”) has reported on its website that its Cruelty Investigations Department saw an unprecedented rise in the number of cases involving horse neglect and abuse in 2008 and 2009 and further reported that it cared for 48 horses at one time. Those cases included the failure to provide suitable and adequate food, water, shelter and care, which ultimately caused the horses to endure unnecessary and prolonged suffering. In one reported case, 11 horses, including 4 pregnant mares, were all extremely emaciated and infected with lice and ticks. The ticks were the size of grapes and the lice on some of the horses were so bad that their hair was not visible. Two horses did not survive despite the BC SPCA’s intervention and the remaining had a long and difficult road to recovery.

It is important to understand that in Canada, the provinces have the primary responsibility for protecting the welfare of animals. There is, however, some overlap between provincial laws and the animal cruelty sections of the Criminal Code of Canada. In general, provincial laws include standards of care that animal owners must adhere to and that make it an offence to cause or allow animals to be in distress from neglect or abuse. The Criminal Code refers to wilful acts of cruelty or neglect, either by the animal’s owner or someone else. Wilful means the act was intentional and reckless. Enforcement officers generally prefer to recommend or lay charges under provincial legislation because these are considered regulatory prosecutions and as such, the burden-of-proof required for obtaining convictions is not as onerous as the Criminal Code. Under the Criminal Code, elements of the offence are required to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

The BC SPCA derives its power from the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (the “PCA Act”) and is the only animal welfare organization in BC that may enforce laws related to animal cruelty. BC SPCA enforcement officers may recommend charges to Crown Counsel under the PCA Act, the Criminal Code or both. Although the PCA Act is specific to British Columbia, other provinces have animal welfare legislation that applies to them.

In April 2008, amendments to the PCA Act significantly increased protection for abused and neglected animals in BC. All other provinces have similarly improved protection for animals in their legislation. For example, the definition of distress in the PCA Act was expanded beyond “inadequate food, water and shelter” to include animals who are deprived of adequate ventilation, space, care or veterinary treatments. Distress also includes animals kept in conditions that are unsanitary; not protected from excessive heat or cold; injured, sick, in pain or suffering; or abused or neglected.

Another life-saving amendment in the PCA Act that will have an important impact on animals, particularly horses located in remote areas, allows BC SPCA enforcement officers to obtain a warrant by telephone so that they can act immediately to help animals in distress. In the past, officers in remote areas were sometimes forced to delay in helping an abused or neglected animal because a judge was not available in the area to issue a warrant.

If an animal abuser is convicted under the PCA Act, that abuser may face a fine of up to $75,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years, or both. The court may also prohibit that person from owning or having custody or control of an animal for a period of time.

Similar to the provinces, the Criminal Code has had amendments to increase convictions for those who wilfully inflict suffering on animals. The sections that directly relate to animal cruelty include:

445.1 (1) Every one commits an offence who

(a) wilfully causes or, being the owner, wilfully permits to be caused unnecessary pain, suffering or injury to an animal or a bird.

446. (1) Every one commits an offence who

(b) being the owner or the person having the custody or control of a domestic animal or a bird or an animal or a bird wild by nature that is in captivity, abandons it in distress or wilfully neglects or fails to provide suitable and adequate food, water, shelter and care for it.

If an animal abuser is convicted under the Criminal Code, that abuser may face a fine of up to $10,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years, or both. The conviction will depend on the seriousness of the offence

Preventing animal cruelty in the future will depend on the animal abusers receiving consistent and substantial sentences for their crime. I’m hopeful that amendments to our laws and the current attention on this issue will lead to tougher convictions.

If you suspect that a horse or other animal is in distress causing unnecessary pain and suffering, I recommend that you call the toll free Animal Cruelty Reporting Hotline at 1-855-6BC-SPCA (1-855-622-7722). For seized horses, the BC SPCA relies heavily on supporters to provide foster homes or boarding facilities since it only has capacity to care for 4 horses at one time and donations to cover expenses such as veterinary and farrier care.

I referred to information available on the BC SPCA’s website when writing this article.

(A version of this article is also in September 2013’s edition of Saddle Up Magazine.)