We have some good news to share. Even though it is not all that we might hope for, this news is a step forward for dogs made to live primarily outdoors.
There are now more tools animal protection agents can use to help ‘outdoor dogs’.
In November of 2020, the Solicitor General of Ontario, the Honourable Sylvia Jones, invited various stake-holders to participate on a “technical table” to improve animal welfare across the province. Animal Alliance of Canada was invited to be part of the committee and we accepted the invitation. We believe it’s important to advocate for animals whenever there is an opportunity.
Throughout 2021 the committee dealt with several issues chosen by the government. Most recently improvements to protect outdoor dogs was discussed. A broad range of representatives participated, including humane societies, advocacy groups such as Animal Alliance, veterinarians and commercial dog interests. The government wanted to hear from those impacted by the regulations as well as those assisting in their enforcement.
The Ministry of the Solicitor General has now released new regulations under the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act 2019 (PAWS Act). These new regulations come into effect on July 1, 2022.
The new regulations provide animal protection agents with legislative tools to help ‘outdoor dogs’ – tools that did not previously exist. They also make it more difficult for businesses and individuals to maintain the poor conditions that many dogs endure. For example, guardians of dogs must now provide:
“Water at all times that is not frozen, does not contain dirt, feces, urine or toxic substances and is replaced at least once every 24 hours.”
During cold weather, a heated water dish will be necessary to keep water from freezing, so some form of electrical infrastructure will be required. This requirement alone means that commercial dog operations including puppy mill operations and those in the sledding business must invest in improved infrastructure to ensure dogs always have access to liquid water. For businesses that keep large numbers of dogs this will likely present a challenge if they intend to continue to tether the dogs.
It will be easy for an animal protection agent to determine if dogs who are outside have unfrozen, clean water available, regardless of the weather. There can be no room for interpretation on this: either the dogs have unfrozen, clean water “at all times” or they do not. In cases where dogs are not properly accommodated, it will now be possible to lay charges with significant fines attached. This requirement may convince owners unwilling to invest in improved housing and water provisioning systems to get out of these exploitative businesses.
Another new regulation could provide some relief for continually tethered/chained dogs if agents find a way to enforce it. It is now required that any chained dog must be removed completely from their chain for one hour out of every 24-hour period for exercise and enrichment:
“Dogs tethered outdoors for 23 hours in a 24-hour period, whether the 23 hours are consecutive or not, must be taken off the tether for at least 60 continuous minutes to allow for exercise and enrichment (with exceptions).”
What those ‘exceptions’ might be is not explained. And, of course, 23 hours out of 24 is still far too long to be tethered. (This is only one of a number of requirements based on the Five Domains Model for Animal Welfare that must be met for dogs kept primarily outdoors.)
Improved shelter requirements are also included in the new regulations and add to the expense and difficulty of keeping dogs outdoors, which will help to weed out neglectful ‘owners’:
“Size of the Shelter must allow all dogs using it to turn around, lie down with their legs extended and stand with their head at normal height.”
(These dimensions are larger than many of the dog houses that ‘outdoor dogs’ are routinely provided.)
“Housing Pen and Tether Area: Must provide enough space for natural behaviours and distinct areas for feeding and drinking and defecating and urinating.”
“Dogs must not be forced to stand, sit or lie in feces, urine, mud or water; area must be cleaned as needed to prevent the accumulation of waste; keep sanitary and minimize parasites.”
These requirements allow an agent to write enforceable orders for housing improvements. There is a reasonable chance of motivating some businesses or individuals to surrender the dog(s) if they don’t want to invest in improved housing and heated water dishes with electrical infrastructure during winter months.
The fines for violations of the new standards are significant, and give enforcement officers a meaningful tool to gain compliance:
“In the case of individuals, a fine of up to $75,000 and/or up to six months imprisonment for a first offence and a fine of up to $100,000 and/or up to one year imprisonment for a subsequent offence. In the case of corporations, a fine of up to $100,000 for a first offence and a fine of up to $250,000 for a subsequent offence.”
The July 1, 2022 date for the new regulations to come into effect will place pressure on those who make dogs live primarily outdoors.
Anything that requires guardians of animals to take meaningful steps towards improved welfare is a step forward. It’s now up to members of the public to report suspected abuse, and it is up to the agents who enforce the PAWS Act to use the new regulations to help dogs.
Every one of us now has a better chance of helping ‘outdoor dogs’ by reporting violations of the new standards by calling the Ontario Animal Protection Call Centre at 1-833-926-4625 (1-833-9ANIMAL)
We urge you to report suspected violations of the new standards. We must never be frivolous in our reporting, but we now have clear standards that we can observe and report when we believe the standards are not being met. We need to inform PAWS agents whenever there are dogs in need of help.
It’s clear that we still have work to do. Nevertheless, those of us who care about dogs made to live outdoors, especially those in the dog sledding industry, now have a better chance to help them.
Let’s all keep watch to ensure ‘Outdoor Dogs’ benefit from these new regulations.
Click here for a Fact Sheet from Ontario’s Ministry of the Solicitor General explaining all the new regulations.