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The laws aren't going to the dogs

February 20th, 2006, 08:48 PM
The laws aren't going to the dogs


Picture this: It's been another underappreciated day at the office, as days at the office often are.

At home it gets worse. Before your bleary eyes, the Senators lose another hockey game. Tomorrow is garbage day but you can't remember if it's yucky garbage or recyclable garbage that has to be sorted as though you were grading diamonds. Do it in the morning, you tell yourself, secretly hoping that someone less shiftless than yourself will take charge. You hop in bed with wild ideas only to learn that your feet are cold. Then comes the knock at the door.

It's the Pet Police. They are checking to see if you let the cat out. If you have, you will now face the full force of the law as an owner who has violated his pet's legal rights. As anyone knows, cats are forbidden from being let outdoors at night because of the risk to themselves and to other wildlife, to say nothing of those malodorous treasures they bury in other people's gardens.

Since you can't produce kitty, the Pet Police invite themselves in. What on earth, they ask, is that pile of rubble in your pet's bowl? You call that food, buster? It looks like a plain violation of your duty to provide the "appropriate" food for your pet type.

Off the top of your head, you aren't able to give the nutritional ingredients of the now pathetic looking kibble. The officers are not amused when you offer to eat some yourself to prove how good it is. All you wanted to do was fall asleep and get to your nightmares but the Pet Police have only just begun.

They demand to see your pet's vet bills. They want to know if you are living up to the Code of Conduct for pet owners when it comes to kitty's physical well-being. But proof of all that money you spent on relocating kitty's ovaries, inoculating her against feline leukemia, rabies and fleas does not satisfy the authorities. They also want to know if you have provided your pet with the appropriate level of mental stimulation to keep kitty from succumbing to the kind of boredom and frustration you have been experiencing for years.

Your sheepish production of year-old catnip seeping out of a tattered gingham mouse does not impress your interrogators. What they really wanted to see was a toy on the end of a fishing rod, the sort of contraption that would reinforce catching behaviour for your housebound pet. You do your best. But the only fishing rod you can produce has a malignant looking trout-fly dangling from it. Now they really begin to wonder about you.

Finally the Pet Police inquire if you have furnished kitty with a regulation hiding place to protect her when she is outside in day-light hours. It turns out your barbecue cover doesn't qualify. Your rap sheet is getting longer by the question.

Just when they are finally half out the door, kitty appears, snaking around their regulation Pet Police trouser legs. Good God, what do you feed this creature, chocolate eclairs? Kitty's gut is dragging on the welcome mat and now you are noted down as one of those who has produced an obese pet -- another violation of the Code of Conduct. The last thing you see is Kitty disappearing down the driveway in the arms of the Pet Police who are clearly determined to put her on a diet. Depending on the completeness of your failure as a pet owner, you could go to jail or pay a fine of up to $10,000.

This fanciful version of nanny-state hell is about to become law in the United Kingdom. The government of Tony Blair, with all-party support, is about to pass an Animal Welfare Act that will enshrine five statutory freedoms for domesticated animals into law as well as a code of conduct for pet owners. There will be a code of conduct for each species of pet, including detailed instructions on where they should relieve themselves and how to amuse them. The draft code of conduct for cats is 18 pages long and the legislation also gives the pet police the powers of search and seizure.

Now that we have had a good laugh at the absurdities of Tony's Animal World, consider the reverse scandal of how we protect animals in this country. No Canadian Parliament has been able to change this country's century-old criminal code provisions dealing with the protection of animals. The most recent attempt, legislation to bring Section 446 of the Criminal Code into this century, died on the order paper of the last Parliament. And during the recent election, there wasn't a peep, squeak, bark or chirp out of any politicians about what they plan to do about it.

How bad is it? It depends where you live. For example, what do you think would happen to a person who kept 23 dogs in a state so near to starvation that the stronger ones began cannibalizing the half dead? If that had happened in Ontario, the provincial SPCA act is tough; the maximum fine is $60,000 and the culprit could go to jail for two years. In Quebec, the people who actually did this got a $500 fine.

And while it is true that Quebec has passed legislation for animal welfare, it is toothless and the relevant inspection agency virtually penniless. The enforcement group, Anima Quebec, gets a mere $150,000 from the provincial Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and has but eight inspectors. In Ontario, where enforcement of the province's tough laws falls to the Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals, the SPCA gets $40 million and has 350 inspectors. Guess where the puppy mills locate?

Somebody up on the Hill must love Lassie, and it's time they showed it.

Author, broadcaster and investigative journalist Michael Harris can be heard weekdays 1-3 p.m. on 580 CFRA. His e-mail address is