The Hay River SPCA is no longer responsible for the town’s animal shelter amid allegations that the town’s government ignored reports of neglected and abused animals.

In a press release issued Wednesday, the SPCA says it will no longer be responsible for the animal shelter as of August 31 after the town didn’t act on several complaints that were filed about neglected and abused animals.

“The most egregious example was of a dog that had a huge tumour on its neck and was being denied medical care,” the SPCA said in a press release. “We can only imagine the agony that it went through.”

The SPCA says the dog’s tumour grew to the size of a volleyball in June before the dog was removed from an outdoor location and placed inside during 30 degree weather.

Officials with the SPCA say they contacted the owner and were told they hoped a logging chain around its neck would burst the tumour.

They also allege that someone tried to puncture the growth to the point where entrails were visible.

Hay River Mayor Brad Mapes, however, says the town did in fact visit the owners of the sick dog to ensure they were receiving veterinarian care.

“We did make attempts to find out about vets,” said Mapes. “There was contact with the homeowner to get it looked after.”

Mapes says the town contacted the dog owners to inquire about veterinarian care but didn’t attempt to physically retrieve the sick dog since the owners had sought care, according to the Ross Potter, the town’s fire chief.

Potter says the town requested evidence to show the dog had been cared for, which involved providing veterinarian receipts – an argument that is questioned by Heather Foubert, the SPCA’s president.

“I think he’s trying to cover his ass to tell you the truth,” said Foubert. “The town … in its unwillingness to step in and do things on these cases … they’re basically perpetuating neglect.”

The dog eventually ran away, with no information about its whereabouts.

Issues began to arise between the town and the SPCA after the current SPCA executive committee took over early this year and “started asking some hard questions about the way the shelter was run.”

BY-LAWS PREVENT SPCA FROM INTERVENING

Various complaints about animal cruelty and neglect have been filed from as far away as Yellowknife, but town by-laws stipulate that the SPCA doesn’t have the authority to seize animals from abusive or neglectful situations.

The town must be notified in such cases.

Section 90 of by-law 1957/ADMIN/11 states that an “animal control officer may enter upon any land for the purpose of securing or seizing any animal to prevent the continuation of an offence or determine ownership.”

An offence is described as “willfully causes or, being the owner, permits another to cause unnecessary pain, suffering or injury to a wild or domestic animal, or… abandons a domestic animal in distress or willfully neglects or fails to provide suitable and adequate food, water, shelter and care for any domestic animal.”

The by-law also lists penalties that can be imposed on people who commit offences under any of the by-laws, with the fines ranging from $50 to $1000.

The SPCA says the town should be acting on cases of neglected and abused animals through such by-laws.

“These by-laws are there to give them the power to rescue neglected and abused animals and they turned a blind eye to the urgency of the situation,” the statement read.

“When somebody calls and says there’s an animal being abused, we’d like to be able to go over and speak to the person.”

Mapes acknowledges the town can do a better job of enforcing its by-laws.

“Do we need to do a better job with by-laws? Yes, there are issues we have, but there was a lot that was addressed.”

The SPCA cites another alleged example of animal neglect, where a senior female dog has been forcibly bred five times in the past two years by the owner for additional income.

A town by-law forbids such breeding and limits the number of animals per premise at three, but nothing was done.

“This is a case that can be easily proven as the owner regularly posts the puppies for sale for up to $500 each on the Hay River Classifieds Facebook page,” said Foubert.

As a result of the town’s by-laws, the SPCA says they approached officials with a request for more authority and flexibility.

“All calls for stray pickups had to go through the town office,” said Foubert. “If it was after hours or on weekends, they would have to wait until the next working day of the by-law officer.

“We voiced our concerns about strays being left on the streets for days especially during the winter months, but they were unfazed.”

Mapes disagrees, saying the town has not only acknowledged animal control needs to improve in the city, it’s also provided money and resources to the SPCA.

“I was the one that asked the group that felt that the town could find a better way of dealing with its animal control issues,” said Mapes. “We even looked at paying them more money and providing them a vehicle.”

MEETINGS COULD NOT BE ARRANGED

The SPCA says the committee was asked to attend a meeting at town hall after communicating their concerns of animal neglect and abuse, but once they arrived the focus was on the “tone” of the SPCA’s emails to the town, not about their concerns.

The group didn’t include greeting lines in follow-up emails to the town, something the mayor called “unprofessional.”

“They said they did not appreciate the tone of our correspondence and that on-going emails did not start with the proper greetings that would show respect to the addressee,” said Foubert.

The mayor, however, says it was the SPCA’s decision not to attend a further meeting because they requested the entire board be present, not just the SPCA’s president.

Foubert says she wanted the whole board to be there so it wasn’t an “ambush” between two city officials and her.

“We stated that we worked as a committee and that it was highly improper to bar the rest of the committee especially after the last meeting.”

SHELTER TO BE MANAGED BY TOWN

While the SPCA is an independent local group, Mapes says the town has committed $48,000 a year to run the shelter, which goes toward at least one paid position, supplies, medical visits, spaying and neutering and equipment.

The town also supplies the building, electrical and heating costs, vehicle fuel and equipment rentals.

The SPCA will continue to maintain the animal services until August 30, at which point the town will take over responsibility as it owns the building.

The group is open to operating the shelter in the future, providing a new agreement is reached outlining the responsibilities of the SPCA and the town.

“We don’t want to be associated with them if they’re going to be neglectful because that’s not our mission statement, but on the other hand we’ve got no other place to go.”

The mayor hopes a solution can be reached that involves the SPCA.

“The SPCA group over the years has been a huge part of our community and there are many people who have put a lot into it,” said Mapes. “All these years the town and SPCA group worked together.”