A look at animal cruelty, dumping and abandonment in Niagara

The sad reality is that animals are frequently abandoned and dumped in Niagara. They are left scared and alone to fend for themselves. There are alternatives in Niagara for unwanted pets and there are kind souls who step in to help them.  

Skittles is a dumped bunny found at the Naturalization Site behind Brock a few years ago. Josee Cargill and some other women from the Bikefit Sunflowers, a biking group in Niagara, found her before one of their scheduled rides. As a domesticated rabbit with long ears, dumped into an open area it was plain for Cargill to see Skittles was not meant to be there. The bunny was friendly enough that they could pick her up. The next day Cargill went back to see if she was still there and was able to rescue her.  

Cargill contacted animal rescues and shelters but they were all full so she decided to foster the bunny. When Skittles was examined she was covered in over 30 ticks. If not for Cargill, Skittles may not have made it. 

“She would have been attacked by something. There was enough to eat out there and she was under a bush but a rainstorm or snow she wouldn’t have survived. I don’t know why people think [they can survive]. And it is sad. I knew I couldn’t leave her there. The plan at the time wasn’t to keep her but she could not stay out there,” said Cargill.

Skittles is now a part of the Cargill family and has a bold personality.

“She is pretty outgoing and not afraid of anything. I can vacuum around her. She is not afraid of the dog. She will eat anything. If I am sitting on the couch with a bowl of ice cream, before I can eat anything, she is up in my lap with her paws in the bowl. She wants anything that you have. She is very food driven. We have a treat ball for her and you can put the treat in it and make the hole bigger or smaller and she’ll push it around,” said Cargill.

Sadly, many bunnies purchased around Easter have the same fate as Skittles. Every year, a few months after Easter, the rate of dumped bunnies rises dramatically. Many people purchase cute bunnies for Easter pictures or as gifts. Unfortunately, when they realize bunnies require specialized veterinarians, neutering or spaying, upkeep and are fragile animals, they dump them outside. Bunnies are not starter pets.

The reality is that there are a lot of people who think because they are animals that they will survive outside. Domesticated animals have been bred to be docile and lack the same abilities wild animals have to survive.

Someone dumped Skittles at the Naturalization Site and this is not the only occurrence. There are many cases of animal dumping across Niagara. There has to be education around the dumping and cruelty to animals.  

Skittles gained a home because of Cargill but some animals do not get that happy ending. 

Speaking with Kevin Strooband, executive director for the Lincoln County Humane Society (LCHS), a recent case saw a dog dumped behind Giant Tiger in St. Catharines strangle itself. The people who dumped him tied his leash onto a railing by a loading ramp and left him, but when the dog jumped down he was strangled.

Luckily there was enough information from area cameras that the people are facing charges.  

“The [Niagara Regional Police] charged two individuals in St. Catharines for abandoning a dog behind Giant Tiger. They tied it to a railing at the edge of a loading ramp and the dog jumped down and hung itself to death. So they were both arrested and charged with cruelty,” said Strooband. 

Strooband in December spoke about the legal consequences of dumping animals. A new bill has recently come into effect to help prosecute people who dump animals.

“It is called the PAWS Act. Bill 136 had royal assent on December 5 [2019] and came into effect on January 1 [2020].  [The bill] deals with permitting and causing distress. So if you dump an animal at the side of the road, I could charge you with causing unnecessary suffering or causing distress under the criminal code,” said Strooband. 

According to Strooband, the animals that are dumped will suffer. The new bill will allow for the consideration of the physical distress of the animal and the psychological distress this causes as well.

“Of course there are all the other factors that concern the health and safety of animals like being exposed to wild animals that could give it a disease or that could kill them. And these animals, that are dumped, do not have the resources to care for themselves or the experience or the ability so why wouldn’t you take it to humane society?” said Strooband.

Bill 136 is not perfect, though, as it relies on evidence. Luckily, in the case of the dog behind Giant Tiger there was camera evidence, but many rural areas do not have cameras. Rural areas tend to be the worst for dumped animals, but Strooband can not stress enough that if you see an animal dumped from a car get the license plate number.

“People [dump animals] covertly and the only thing I would like people to do if someone has done something is to get a license plate number. I can’t stress that enough and people do not think of that,” said Strooband. “I would say out of 10 calls I would say one or two get a license plate number. So maybe 20 per cent max probably closer to 10 per cent. So if you can get a license plate number it is easy. [We can] trace their license plate number. We can be at their house before they are. That is a big education piece. People say I saw this big guy with brown hair dump a cat. It is good to describe him as well but the license is better.”

What is perplexing is why people buy an animal then dump it?

“If you have enough compassion to take it in in the first place, why wouldn’t you do the right thing and deliver it to your local Humane Society,” said Strooband.

The Humane Society is a good place to take animals if they are not wanted. They at least have a chance to find a loving home that will protect them and enjoy having them. Niagara has the LCHS and also the Welland SPCA and Humane Society, which has a broad area it is responsible for. They cover nine municipalities: Pelham, Wainfleet, West Lincoln, Town of Lincoln, Haldimand County, Port Colborne, Welland, Niagara Falls and Niagara on the Lake.

In speaking with Tammy Gaboury, animal care manager of the Welland SPCA, one of the benefits of Bill 136 is that they hope to see since it is so new, the investigations taken over by the provincial investigator, which frees up time for them to care for the animals directly.  

“I think [Bill 136] might be more beneficial. Investigation is a hard facit to what we do. I am animal care so our main goal is to provide the best care for the animals that come into our shelter. What can we do to reduce their stress, what can we do to find them homes and get them out of our system and into homes faster and that is where our focus is. Investigation is a different arm … investigations are hard and the court system can be difficult and it is a long drawn-out process so to have that governing body take over will be beneficial to everyone all around,” said Gaboury.

Where the Humane Society sees more animals that are surrendered to them, Pam Huson, a board member for Beamsville 4 Paw Rescue, sees more dumped and abandoned animals. The rescue, since 1999, has dealt with colonies of dumped cats such as the Merritt Colony where there were over 100 cats found in abandoned buildings and four dogs tied to the back of a vehicle. They also found over 150 dead cats.

Huson has been caring for a cat named Holly who is a victim of dumping. She is undergoing treatments for neurological conditions and will require chiropractic care for the rest of her life after being dumped out of a moving car. She has been diagnosed with Cerebellar Hypoplasia, which is also called “Wobbly Cat Syndrome”. Huson has recently updated her status as adopted.

“We are looking for a blue Mustang with three teenagers. It was in Beamsville, ironically one of the people who adopted from me saw the kids throw something. They stopped and the kitten, which is Holly, bounced on the road and kept bouncing. They picked it up and they thought of me, but they did run it to the vet. It was awful.  And unfortunately, the siblings, which were just down the road because [the kids] just kept tossing them, didn’t make it,” said Huson.

Huson deals with many cats as she lives in a rural area and they get dumped at her door frequently, but she also sees many dogs and bunnies dumped as well. Although she sees many older cats get dumped as well. They get sick and people get rid of them. Huson hears of many reasons people dump pets.

“It is the cost for spay and neuter and the cost for surrender. They are heartless. I don’t know how else to say it. With cats, they think cats can survive on their own. I hear it all the time, ‘my mother has to go to an old age home, I’ll just throw it outside.’ They think cats can survive which they can’t,” said Huson.

Animals, because of their domesticity, have different life expectancy when dumped outside. It also depends on the age of the animals dumped. 

According to Huson, cats can survive five days. If the cat is older it probably has less than five days. Dogs however, have less time than cats.

“Dogs are so humanized they don’t survive. They don’t know how to hunt. If you don’t [rescue] them in about a week, forget it. If a dog is missing, we will go out with dog traps because all they do is run, run, run but they don’t know what they are running from. They just run and they won’t eat. A dumped dog has less chance to survive than anything,” said Huson.

Rabbits as well according to Huson can survive two,survivehave two maybe three days that they will survive because they have faster heartbeats and they will often have a heart attack.

Huson has been involved in cleaning up and trying to shut down puppy mills, dogfighting rings and animal hoarding situations that started as dumped animals in rural areas. People also think cats will survive if they dump them at a barn but they don’t. Cats have colonies and when a new cat is introduced into the colony they will be killed.

What can be done instead of dumping animals?

For starters do not get an animal unless it will be a lifelong commitment. Know beforehand that it will require vet appointments, food and care.  

Contact a rescue like Beamsville 4 Paw Rescue or Pets Alive Niagara. 

Or as Strooband advises take the animal to the Humane Society. 

“Put themselves in the animal’s shoes, as it were, to actually think about what this animal was to go through. How would I feel? An animal’s mental capacity is like a child so what would I think if I was dumped at the end of a wooded dark road. Cold, no food and not my safe surroundings. That is a pretty bad thing to do. And you know, in my opinion, you probably should go to jail for that. If you don’t want an animal do the right thing and give us a call,” said Strooband.

Another thing that needs to be done is educate early.

“What I want to do in the new year, if I have time, is to go into elementary schools and high schools educate from the beginning, younger,” said Huson.

“What they can always do is reach out to us. We understand that people have difficult times in their lives and that is what we are here for to be that service when they can no longer do the right thing to provide and care for that animal how they know they should. We will work with an owner if they have to give up their pets and it is not something we judge anyone on.  There are times when people go through things and we just want people to know that is what we are here for,” said Gaboury.

And finally, have the pet spayed or neutered. This keeps them healthy, calms them down, decreases wandering and eliminates spraying, as well as cancers and decreases the population.

Having a pet is a commitment. Cargill, Strooband, Huson and Gaboury all know animals take time, money, patience and love. Educate yourself before getting a pet and if you can no longer care for it take it somewhere that people will be able to take care of it properly.

For more information about Beamsville 4 Paw Rescue or the Human Societies in the Niagara Region visit beamsville4pawrescue.com/, lchs.ca/  and wellandspca.com/.

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