Fur flies in dispute over death-row dog
SPCA sues B.C. animal advocates' group for alleged
defamation in Web postings
By ROBERT MATAS
Monday, September 13, 2004
VANCOUVER -- It's been a rough few months for Cheech.
First the Labrador-rottweiler cross was taken away from his
owner after scaring the kids in the neighbourhood. The SPCA
put him through a battery of psychological tests that led to a
plan to help him deal with his anxiety.
After he was caught growling and acting aggressively, he
was assessed as dangerous and sent to death row.
But just before he was to be taken away, he was "liberated"
by animal-rights activists, who launched him into cyberspace
as the poster pooch for a campaign against the British
Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Next stop: the courtroom.
The SPCA, tired of responding to cyber-sniping from the
Animal Advocates Society of British Columbia, slapped the
group with a defamation suit.
The SPCA has asked the court to shut down the group's
website, which includes a link to Cheech's on-line musings.
("I'm writing to let you all know that I'm alive and very well
and having the time of my life," Cheech writes in an on-line
letter that says the dog is living with a new family.) The
Animal Advocates Society says Cheech is cheerful, trusting and
affectionate. It says he has never bitten anyone, although he
sometimes behaved roughly.
The SPCA paints a much darker picture of the mutt that is
named after the stoner half of the comedy team Cheech and
Chong. It still considers Cheech dangerous.
"We have a legal and moral obligation not to put a dog out
in the community if the dog's actions lead us to believe that
someone could be seriously hurt," said Lorie Chortyk, director
of community relations for the SPCA.
"We have no idea where the dog is . . . and yes, we have a
real concern about having that dog out in the community."
Cheech is not the only reason for the lawsuit, Ms. Chortyk
The lawsuit is part of a continuing effort to protect the
reputation of the society and people involved with the
organization, she said. However, she declined to comment on
the legal action.
"Our lawyers advised us not to speak outside the courtroom.
We do not want to do the whole thing through the media," she
In a document filed in B.C. Supreme Court, the SPCA is
seeking a permanent court injunction to close down the Animal
Advocates Society website, which, the society alleges, accuses
its officers, employees and volunteers of cruel treatment of
animals and "morally depraved" practices.
The SPCA says in court documents that it has been accused
of deceiving donors and the government, and of lacking the
skills to protect animals. The Animal Advocates Society
incites people to trespass and steal on SPCA property, the
SPCA says. Animal Advocates also encourage "unlawful vigilante
action," according to the SPCA document filed in court.
The animal-rights group has not yet responded to the
allegations, which have not been proven in court. Judy Stone,
a spokeswoman for the Animal Advocates Society, said the group
plans a vigorous defence.
The SPCA has tried previously to shut down the group's
website. Web servers in Vancouver and California discontinued
service after receiving letters from SPCA lawyers. After the
website resurfaced on a server in India, the SPCA tried once
again to close it down without going to court.
In a letter to the web server in India dated Aug. 30,
Vancouver lawyer Thomas Woods says the Animal Advocates
Society "appears to be 'on the run,' moving from provider to
provider, seeking to find an [Internet service provider]
somewhere that will allow the AAS to use its facilities to
publish defamatory material concerning the B.C. SPCA in the
Internet to readers worldwide without regard to the laws in
Serving notice of the defamation action, Mr. Woods said he
"trusts" that the service provider would discontinue services
when made aware that a client is making unlawful use of its
But Animal Advocates Society is unfazed by the pending
Since 1992, the animal activists have been relentless
critics of the SPCA as they push for a no-kill policy for
animal shelters. They have stood up to pressure from the SPCA
to tone down their on-line attacks, managing to keep the
They welcome a court case to draw widespread attention to
their crusade for no-kill policies in animal shelters. And
they feel that without Cheech, it would not have happened.
The SPCA is in a panic about the bad publicity it has
received, Ms. Stone said.
Cheech's story has pushed municipal councils to reconsider
their contracts with the SPCA to handle stray cats and dogs,
she said. Delta municipal council decided not to renew its
contract with the SPCA when it expires later this year.
Ms. Stone said councillors from other municipalities have
also raised concerns about the SPCA.
"They're terrified of another Cheech," she said.