Family fights for return of more than 200 sled dogs as some die in government care

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An Ontario family is fighting the provincial confiscation of more than 200 of their sled dogs, some of which have now died in government care.

The family, owned by Windrift Adventures, a dog sledding company north of Barrie, Ontario, claim the dogs were illegally abducted two months ago and are not being properly cared for by the province.

Ontario’s Animal Care Review Board – a quasi-judicial agency – will hear an appeal from the family on Monday expecting them to vote for the dogs’ release, while government attorneys are calling for the dogs to remain in provincial custody.

“This is our business and our life,” said Adrienne Spottiswood, a co-owner of Windrift, in an interview. “Our family spends seven days a week with the dogs, from morning to night, my kids are so involved, but we are just lost.”

In a June decision, the Animal Care Review Board, which deals with disputes and appeals in animal welfare cases, found that all dogs are in need at Windrift. It found that outdoor dog houses, where the canines live all year round, were not properly insulated and the dogs’ tether straps were too short. An appeal by Windrift was dismissed.

The board of directors ordered Windrift to comply with the orders to improve the dogs’ living conditions by September. On September 23, the provincial animal welfare team rushed to inspect two Windrift properties and found that the necessary changes had not been made.

Flanked by Ontario police officers, the team confiscated 239 dogs, including puppies, and claimed they were all in distress.

According to documents and testimony before the Animal Care Review Board, two dogs have since died of a bacterial infection. The family who run Windrift said the animal welfare service recently told them that a third dog had died, but not from the same infection. Spottiswood said the dog was euthanized after a number of health problems, including liver cancer, emerged.

Spottiswood also said she was told that two other dogs were seriously ill with the bacterial infection and an unspecified number of other dogs had symptoms of the disease.

In an email shown at a board hearing in late October, a supervisor for the Spottiswood Animal Welfare Service shared some details about the two dogs, Mystique and Domino, who died from the infection.

“At the time of their death, these dogs had Streptococcus zooepidemicus, a bacterial infection that attacks the respiratory system in canine species and is common in equine species,” wrote Sara Munoz.

“We consulted veterinarians, including an infectious disease specialist, and they believe these bacteria may have been present in your dog population prior to removal on September 23, 2021.”

The Windrift family also owns horses, which are the source of infection, government inspectors claimed.

The family disagreed.

Her attorney, Eric Gillespie, filed an urgent motion for the dogs to be released after the Windrift deaths.

“The pathogen involved is known to be highly contagious, it is known to be very difficult to treat, it is known to spread through many dogs in kennel situations and there are now three affidavits from three experts that prove that there are good reasons to believe that this puts all Windrift dogs at risk, ”Gillespie said at a hearing.

Windrift also alleged that the government did not provide water to the dogs while they were in boxes in trucks for seven hours, and that an inspector beat one of the dogs.

Deanna Exner, attorney with the attorney general, denied the allegations.

“Every story has two sides,” she told the board at a recent hearing. “Animal Welfare Services does everything to offer these dogs the best possible care.”

Both sides agree that the dogs were generally in good health at the time of the confiscation.

The upcoming appeal is about whether the government’s seizure and continued holding of the dogs is lawful.

Windrift argues that the current situation is causing dogs more suffering than bringing them back home. The province argues that it has legally confiscated the dogs and cannot return them to a situation where it was previously determined to put the animals in distress.

In an October 26 ruling instructing the government to disclose the dogs’ health and care to Windrift prior to Monday’s appeal, board judge Jennifer Friedland said an inspector was not empowered to approve animals simply for non-compliance remove.

She said the responsibility rests with government lawyers to show that the dogs are being seized and kept. The government declined to comment.

“This also includes showing that the removal of each animal was ‘for the purpose of providing it with what it needs to alleviate its distress,’” she wrote.

The board heard that there had been 15 inspections at Windrift in the past two years.

Spottiswood said the removal of the dogs put a mental strain on her entire family. “Most of our income comes from dog sledding,” she says.

She said the dogs will need to be brought back soon so they can live outside, which will help their winter coat regrow and start training for the winter sledding season.

“You weren’t in need,” said Spottiswood. “You were happy and healthy.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on November 14, 2021.