You know, I've been doing this work for some time now. Working in Canada can be a real blessing in many respects, not the least of which is a fundamental understanding of what the humane treatment of animals entails among the vast majority of the Canadians.
At the core of humane treatment is the recognition that we are responsible to meet a fundamental hierarchy of needs as regards the living beings in our care.
The most basic hierarchy of needs recognized as necessary for life consist of the unrestricted provision of the following: air, water, food, shelter, and sleep. While these needs are most often taught and proscribed to human beings, it is understood by most Canadians that these needs are shared by all things that meet the definition of being alive.
In a nutshell, if you choose to care for a living being, human or animal, you are legally and ethically responsible to provide for their basic needs. Willfully depriving an animal of any of these for any reason is a violation of the Canadian Criminal Code.
In addition to the federal laws contained in the act protecting animals from states of deprivation causing distress, which carries with it a maximum penalty of two years of incarceration (not long enough, if you ask me), the provinces have their own regulations to ensure animals not find themselves in states of deprivation-related distress. Provincial regulations also have the power of law, but do not carry with them the consequence of a criminal record. Many municipalities also have active by-laws surrounding animal control and the treatment of companion animals.
Despite all of these regulatory and legal protections around cruelty to animals in Canada, I still find myself face-to-face with cases of acute deprivation resulting in distress each year. And while there is no "getting used" to this kind of experience (the consequences of vicarious trauma for those working in compassionate care are brutal and long-lasting) I am getting better at protecting myself, advocating for the animals I am contracted to work alongside, and accessing the appropriate legal avenues to ensure that the inhumane treatment of companion animals not be permitted to continue - no matter the "rationale" behind it.
Whether it's the deprivation of a 3-month old puppy of water for 12 hours a day to avoid pee "accidents" in an oversized crate, or the beating an adolescent dog with a broomstick to get him to stop barking at the mailman, cruelty towards animals in any context is simply unacceptable behavior and the consequences for it are both swift and severe.
My experiences with cases of animal cruelty post-pandemic have, undoubtedly, been more serious in both quality and scope to anything I experienced prior. Maybe that's a little bit of bad luck on my part, I'm really not sure. Frankly, it doesn't matter. The laws governing what constitutes animal cruelty are robust and getting stronger with each passing year. There is simply no excuse for not providing for the needs of an animal in your care. As the owner of a companion animal, if you should find yourself unexpectedly able to care for your animal through no fault of your own, there are resources you can utilize to get the help you need.
Finances are making it hard to care for your pet? The Humane Society can help: www.humanesociety.org/resources/are-you-having-trouble-affording-your-pet
Unable to provide shelter? Chances are, your municipality can help you get your pet the shelter it needs: www.toronto.ca/community-people/animals-pets/animal-shelters/giving-up-your-pet/
For pet owners who opt for deprivation, physical violence, or psychological terror in the face of the rearing, training, or general maintenance of your pet's daily needs, the onus is on you to recognize your inability to provide for your pet's basic needs and to get them somewhere safe. Chances are that if you don't, your neighbor will - with help from the city, the province, or through legal action at the federal level. Do the right thing under the law and surrender your pet to a shelter that can provide your pet with the basic necessities of life in the short-term, until they find an adoptive family who can provide for those needs long-term.
If you are struggling to care for your animal, contact the Ontario SPCA animal center closest to you.
For any one reading this blog working in animal care today, I encourage you to take a look at the last few points in my Terms of Service and to update yours accordingly. Protect yourself contractually from the compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma inherent to the work we are called to do. Never feel like you have to tolerate clients who neglect or abuse their animals. The law has your back, and so do I.
I've included two resources you can utilize immediately to report cruelty and abuse to animals here in Ontario. Every province has some version of these programs. Do NOT hesitate to report animal cruelty and abuse, to be a voice for the voiceless among us.
Whether you're a concerned neighbor or an animal-care professional (trainers, groomers, veterinary technicians, pet sitters, boarders, in-home pet sitters, etc.), report abuse when you see it. You just might save that animal's life.
Camille Salter is the founder of All Dogs Toronto and a certified, knowledge-assessed dog trainer (CPDT-KA). She is the author of two books on dog behavior: Pandemic Puppy, Decoding the Dog Park, and the Big Book of Dog Training.