By David Roberts

This blog is about the Animal Protection Act, the law protecting animals from cruelty and neglect in Nova Scotia. The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal has just issued two decisions that clarify the protections provided by the Act and strongly affirm the authority of Inspectors with the Department of Agriculture to seize animals that appear to be in distress. Both decisions were written by Justice Jamie Saunders.

In one case, Rocky Top Farm, the Inspectors visited a farm after receiving complaints that cattle weren’t being cared for properly. They found starving animals wintering in an open field, with rotten hay and no apparent source of water. They placed an emergency call to a veterinarian. He euthanized one of the cattle and recommended the remainder of the herd be removed. This was done with the assistance of the RCMP.

The owner of the animals challenged the decision to seize the cattle and the refusal of the Department to return the herd. The Nova Scotia Supreme Court, upheld the challenge on the grounds, among others, that the Inspectors hadn’t done enough to secure the cooperation of the owners or weighed the interests the owners when they decided to remove the herd.

That approach to the law was completely rejected by Justice Saunders at the Court of Appeal. He found that the only purpose of the Act was to protect animals. The law did not protect the rights of animal owners. The cattle at Rocky Top Farms were in distress, saving them was the immediate concern of the Inspectors and they did not have to consider the interests of the owners. Justice Saunders found the lower Court had made a “fundamental error” in its assessment of the purpose and operation of the Act.

The other case, Annette Brennan, concerned the seizure of five Newfoundland Ponies. The evidence showed the farm where they were stabled had been inspected 15 times in the previous three years. A veterinarian made another complaint about the condition of the animals and the Inspectors returned. They found the ponies in obviously poor condition with little or no food.

The owner of the ponies argued that she had not been given a chance to alleviate the animals’ distress before they were seized and as a result, the seizure was “illegal”. Justice Saunders found this argument misconstrued the purpose of the Act and he rejected any suggestion that Inspectors have to secure the cooperation of owners before they remove animals in distress.

The sections of the Act at issue in the two cases have never been tested before. The decisions give important support to those whose job it is to safeguard the welfare of animals in our communities.

Full disclosure – my wife and I share a farm with two cats, 22 horses and one dog (SPCA Class of 2015). The well being of these animals is never far from our thoughts.