Anatomy of an Investigation
There really is no such thing as a typical investigation for our Peace Officers, given the wide range of factors involved that have to be considered. The weather, the condition of the animal(s), the location of the animal(s) and the owner’s willingness to make improvements all have an impact on how the investigation will be handled. In fact, even the time frame for investigations varies greatly with full resolution taking a few days, a few months or even a few years. The only constant in any investigation is that the number one priority of our Peace Officers is to ensure animals are free from distress and are being cared for appropriately.
When investigations result in charges being laid or animals being removed from distressful situations, these incidents may be perceived as actions routinely taken by the Alberta SPCA. However, such cases generally occur only after attempts to correct the situation have failed. Provided below is a typical course of events when we investigate a report of an animal in distress.
Getting the Call
The first step in an investigation is receiving a complaint from a concerned member of the public, typically through our Animal Protection Services line 1-800-455-9003. It is critical those witnessing potential animal neglect or abuse contact a member of our Animal Protection Services as this may be the only way our agency can become involved.
People may suspect an animal is being mistreated or neglected but aren’t sure. In such cases, we encourage the person to call us so we can determine what course of action, if any, is appropriate. If the circumstances involve something outside our mandate, such as an animal control or wildlife issue, we will refer the caller to the appropriate agency.
Once it is established that the complaint is within our mandate, it t is forwarded to the Peace Officer covering the area mentioned in the complaint. Depending on the nature of the complaint, the Peace Officer may contact the complainant (individual requesting our agency investigate their concern) to confirm the location and, where possible, contact additional resources for more information. The officer then attends at the location in question and attempts to speak with the owner or person in charge of the animal(s). The officer explains the reason for the visit and asks the owner questions in order to better assess the situation.
The officer then requests that the owner accompany him or her to view the animal(s). This first observation of the animal(s) is critical because the officer must use his/her knowledge and experience to determine if the complaint is founded and, most importantly, what is needed to respond to the condition of the animal(s).
If the complaint is unfounded, the officer informs the owner that there’s no problem and leaves the property. Occasionally the owner asks who made the complaint, but that information remains confidential.
Providing Education and Guidance
The Animal Protection Act prohibits anyone from allowing an animal to be in distress. If the officer determines that the situation does warrant concern, he/she has a number of options to choose from depending on the severity of the problem. In most cases, the officer informs the owner of the nature of the problem and advises the corrective action that must be taken. For example, the amount or quality of feed may need to be adjusted or appropriate shelter may need to be provided.
Generally, the busiest times for complaints are October through to April. The change in weather conditions often prompts calls, especially in the fall, when the weather starts turning cold and forage supplies are low and again in the spring, before the grass starts to grow.
The Alberta SPCA receives numerous complaints about inadequate shelter or care regarding companion animals. When this happens, the officer provides educational advice and guidance to the owner and may also provide a handout with specific information.
Working Toward a Solution
When a situation is more serious and needs to be rectified immediately, the officer will give a written or verbal warning to the owner. Included in the warning is a stipulation of what needs to be done and when, usually within a 24 hour time period. The officer will check back within this time frame to ensure the owner has complied. An officer may follow-up with the owner a number of times. The officer will only conclude the investigation when conditions have improved and he/she is confident the animals are being cared for appropriately.
All the conditions may not be met right away, but as long as the officer is seeing real improvement in the welfare of the animals he or she will work with the owner to improve conditions.
Dealing with Problems
In some cases, the officer may determine that the animal(s) must be seen by a veterinarian immediately. Usually the officer advises s the owner to call a veterinarian of his or her choice; however, if the owner cannot be located or refuses to comply, our officer will call a veterinarian directly.
If attempts fail to improve the treatment of the animals and/or the condition of the animals is in jeopardy, the Alberta SPCA will take the animals into protective custody. This is known legally as seizing an animal(s) and is done to remove the animals from distress and provide them with the proper food, water, shelter and veterinary care.
Seizing animals can be as simple as taking a dog or cat to the nearest animal shelter or, in the case of large animals or large numbers of animals, may involve detailed planning and coordination with other agencies, veterinarians and caretakers. In one case, we had to erect portable paneling so we could load and transport cattle. In another instance, we needed to arrange for snow ploughs to clear a roadway so we could access the herd that we were removing. In yet another example, we had to coordinate a number of trucks and kennels with a local humane society in order to transport a large number of dogs from a property to the humane society’s facility for holding.
Transportation needs to be carefully arranged. Our officers have full size 4x4 pickup trucks and have access to stock trailers and utility trailers. However, when the situation involves the removal of large numbers of animals, larger trucks or trailers may need to be obtained.
Through our partnerships with numerous other agencies and organizations, the Alberta SPCA can also call on added support as required. For example, on occasion we’ve requested the assistance of Livestock Identification Services (LIS) to bring horses to round up cattle that were being removed. As well, the officer may request the assistance of the RCMP for security reasons.
Regardless of the complexity, the seizure needs to be done expeditiously. The officers usually plan on having the animals removed from the property within 48 hours after determining the need for seizure. Whenever necessary, interim care is provided prior to the animals being removed from the property. Whatever the requirements are, our first priority is the animals.