More than 200 sled dogs seized by Animal Welfare Services to remain in Ontario’s care, tribunal rules

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An Ontario court ordered the province to return 11 confiscated sled dog pups, but ruled it could keep more than 200 dogs as the animals would return to an “emergency situation.”

Four of the dogs died in government custody when the case went through the Animal Care Review Board, a quasi-judicial agency, which noted the deaths in its decision.

Windrift Adventures, a dog sledding company north of Barrie, Ontario, appealed the seizure of 239 dogs by the provincial animal welfare agency on September 23, 2021, and decided to keep them.

The committee that deals with disputes and appeals in animal welfare cases heard the appeal in autumn.

“I feel that ordering the complainants to return the remaining dogs at this point would put them back in dire straits,” wrote Examination Board member Lindsay Lake, who ruled the case in her Dec. 31 decision. 2021.

Provincial animal welfare inspectors raided two of Windrift’s properties in September, one in Moonstone, Ontario and another in Severn, Ontario.

On the spot, Lake wrote, inspectors checked the length of the dogs’ leashes – the dogs live outside – and the insulation in the kennels, and said Windrift was illegal.

Then they took the dogs.

“I am extremely frustrated and let down,” said Adrienne Spottiswood, one of the Windrift owners.

“Animal welfare is supposed to protect the animals and they don’t. Four of our dogs are dead.”

A view from a dog sled at Windrift Adventures in February 2017. (Muriel Draaisma / CBC)

The tribunal had previously heard that at least two of the dogs had died from bacterial infection. Spottiswood said animal welfare officials told her two others had died of cancer.

“They were all healthy when they took them,” said Spottiswood.

The government said the dogs got the bacterial infection from Windrift’s horses.

Spottiswood disagreed.

Province returns 11 puppies to dog sled company

Brent Ross, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Department of Animal Welfare, confirmed the deaths of the four dogs in his care and said he had returned 11 pups to Windrift.

“Since the matter remains within the appeal deadline, it would be inappropriate to make further comments,” Ross said.

Spottiswood announced that it will appeal the decision.

In the past two years there have been 15 inspections at Windrift, according to the board of directors.

The inspectors had long been concerned with the living conditions of the dogs – they live outside in dog houses all year round.

In February, the animal welfare service ordered Windrift to repair the dog houses and give them longer leashes – the dogs are hung on chains that are connected to poles buried in the ground.

In June the board found that all dogs were in need at Windrift. It turned out that the outdoor dog houses were not properly insulated and the dogs’ leashes were too short. An appeal by Windrift was dismissed. The board of directors ordered Windrift to obey the orders. On September 23, the inspectors found that Windrift had not made the changes and then confiscated the dogs.

Animal Welfare Services and Windrift agreed the dogs were in good health at the time, but the board said the animals were in distress because the insulation and tethers were not up to standards.

Decision to remove dogs as “very questionable”

The inspectors’ decision to remove the dogs was “highly questionable,” Lake said, but in the end it was not their responsibility to determine whether the provincial inspectors broke the law when they confiscated the dogs.

She said she just had to decide if the dogs would return to a situation where they would be in need.

Inspectors cannot take animals out for non-compliance alone, Lake said, but some of the evidence “strongly suggests” that it did.

The dogs will have to be returned if Windrift provides longer leashes and fastenings in the insulation in its kennels, Lake said.

The board found provincial inspectors were overwhelmed when it confiscated four puppies that were not in distress, born after the board’s decision in June.

“I think they shouldn’t have been removed,” Lake wrote.

Windrift is out of business

Seven puppies in distress on the Moonstone estate lived in a stable with a wooden structure and a plastic barrel.

Lake said standards of care were not being met because the structures were “in poor shape”.

She said body camera footage from one of the inspectors “showed her scraping green mud off the inside of the wooden structure in the puppy hutch.”

Those pups were ordered back because Windrift had meanwhile cleaned the stable, Lake wrote.

“I have no evidence that returning these seven pups to the applicants will result in them being in distress or at an unreasonable risk of distress,” Lake wrote.

Windrift is out of business and cannot offer dog sledding.

“Our business is inoperative,” said Spottiswood. “It is not good.”