The Animal Protection and Control Act passed in the legislature last week, but the territory’s Dog Mushing Association is still saying its industry wasn’t consulted – and it’s concerned businesses will be hurt by the new legislation.
The act replaces three former pieces of legislation in the territory: the Animal Protection Act, Pounds Act and Dogs Act.
It was created largely in response to public safety concerns over dog attacks in recent years, but also addresses cats and their impacts on wildlife, as well as to ensure proper treatment of livestock and working animals.
When Environment Minister Nils Clarke tabled the act last month, he told the legislature it was the result of 18 months of staff work and public consultation. But six industry groups wrote letters to the minister, saying they hadn’t been engaged since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down public spaces in March 2020.
The Yukon Dog Mushers Association (YDMA) was one of those groups. Aside from the lack of consultation, the group is concerned with legislation that could allow for warrantless searches of kennels, stricter leash laws and potential permit requirements for dog mushers.
YDMA vice-president Mandy Johnson says her association wrote to the minister, asking for more time to review the legislation in its draft-form, so dog mushers could voice any concerns.
She said the letter she received back from the Department of Environment didn’t give them that chance.
“The letter we received back basically told us nicely that nothing was going to change and everything was moving forward,” Johnson told the Star Friday.
Johnson wrote another letter to Clarke on Nov. 16, voicing her disappointment that he hadn’t met with the YDMA after the group had written to him the first time.
“We are losing faith in your credibility of actually wanting to meet with us and discuss a new act that will directly affect all of our members in a big way,” the letter read.
“We thought this was a democratic society in which if new laws were going to be passed, the government would meet with stakeholders and consult with them prior to the new laws coming into effect,” the letter read.
The letter urged the Department of Environment to meet with the YDMA going forward, as well as other representatives of industries that work with animals, so that they can consult more thoroughly on regulations that still need to be created within the legislative framework.
Yukon Party MLAs had asked Clarke in question period last month why a vote on the legislation couldn’t be delayed until the spring session, since regulations still needed to be drafted before the act could come into force.
Clarke told the legislature in October that consultation had been thorough, with over 900 people responding to an online survey for the act, and he wanted the act to pass for public safety reasons.
Johnson told the Star there was a meeting for some industry stakeholders before the pandemic for some preliminary discussions on the act, but nothing since.
She said the online survey was multiple choice-heavy. The possible answers didn’t allow for a nuanced response, she said, and in some cases they could be leading and “biased.
“They’d say you have three choices. Well, if you picked one choice, it would say basically that you were a horrible dog owner.”
Johnson said one of her group’s concerns is that the act will allow warrantless property searches to ensure animal care is up to par.
Minister Clarke told media in October that warrantless searches by police will be allowed only in extreme circumstances, where it’s clear an animal is in distress or a person is in danger and immediate action is necessary. He said it’s not meant to allow random drop-in searches.
Johnson is also worried that dog mushers may have to apply and pay for a permit to own sledding dogs. Or that the number of dogs owned might be limited.
The act seems to suggest only pet stores, animal rescue operations and boarding facilities will be permitted only. Dog mushing businesses wouldn’t apply.
However, Johnson wants that confirmed, and if permits are required, she wants the YDMA to be part of creating that framework.
Perhaps the biggest concern is how dogs must be controlled.
A dog attack in Ross River that left a man dead in 2016 was an impetus for the creation of the new act.
And Clarke has said his department has received regular calls about public concerns regarding off-leash dogs.
Johnson said her own business has about 40 dogs, and they need to be off-leash at times, even when they’re off company property, to stretch their legs and take breaks.
It’s also a part of race training. She says Yukon racers could be hurt in competitions if they’re unable to run their dogs loose on public lands.
Under section 41 of the new act, owners are responsible for keeping their dogs “confined to the property or the vehicle owned or occupied by the owner of the animal.”
There are conditions to that part of the act, but it’s unclear to Johnson whether sled dogs would have to be leashed at all times when off company property under the new legislation.
She says those worries could have been eased had dog mushers been a larger part of the consultation process. But she’s unsure now.
Johnson says she wants to ensure animals are treated well and people are protected, but she’s worried the act could limit dog mushers without increasing safety to the public or animals.
“We are the oldest dog mushing club in the Yukon and we have pretty high standards of care,” she said, adding that sled dogs are well-trained and shouldn’t be subject to the same regulations as feral dogs.
“I hope (minister Clarke) does consult with us. We’re still waiting for that.”
The Department of Environment issued this comment after deadline from spokesperson Jacob Wilson. It was received by the star Nov. 23:
The Animal Protection and Control Act modernizes the Yukon’s legal framework for animal protection and control in the territory and will better regulate animal businesses and organizations. The Government of Yukon has been working towards modernizing this legislation for several years. In 2018, we engaged Yukoners through a public survey, receiving over 900 responses. Additionally, we held stakeholder and community meetings, which included opportunities for dog mushers to attend. The details of this legislation will come forward in regulations that are yet to be drafted. The new Act will not come into force until the regulations are complete and approved.
We recognize there is a need to ensure the perspectives of dog mushers are included as regulations are drafted. We are planning for regulations to reflect standards of care for sled dogs in the territory and that they will be developed through ongoing engagement with stakeholders, including the Yukon Dog Mushers Association and the Dog Powered Sports Association Yukon. The Government of Yukon will continue to engage with affected stakeholders to ensure that this new Act better protects the health and safely of both Yukoners and animals across the territory. We reached out directly to the Yukon Dog Mushers Association on Monday, November 21 to discuss the legislation and our next steps. An initial meeting is scheduled in January, respecting the sprint racing commitments of members in the next couple months.