(Go To "Overboard" cartoons about stealing chained dogs)

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Sandy...removed from her chain by compassionate women

We said goodbye to our smiling, golden little Sandy today.

I held her in my arms and watched the light go out in her beloved eyes, and thought back to a Christmas Eve years ago when she came to join our family.

She had been chained outside for all of her life, nine years, maybe more, a too small dog house and a wet blanket her only comfort.

I thought of how she trembled and howled and tried to squeeze herself under my bed at night during storms, panting and drooling in her distress, and wondered how many lonely terrifying nights she had endured shivering at the end of her chain, trying to squeeze deeper into her dog house. How slowly time must have passed for this gentle little soul, how endless the days and nights, months and years. Until finally two brave woman took pity on her.   Just "ordinary" women, perhaps someone's mother or sister or wife. They took my Sandy's chain off her, and she came home to me, that Christmas Eve four years ago.

She never spent another day or night alone.  And she went to her final sleep on her own little pillow surrounded by the people who loved her.

Thousands more just like her die at the end of their chains.

Please, please keep fighting for them.

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Buddy...removed from his chain by a compassionate woman

Dear Animal Advocates of BC,

I am very pleased that there is an alternative to the SPCA.  I have found so much frustration with their lack of   'doing something' whenever I called to try to ease the suffering of some poor animal.  We rescued (stole) a backyard chained dog many years ago.  His owners neglected even the comforts of food and water til he was so close to death that we felt compelled to act ourselves.

Buddy filled our lives with his loving and gentle soul until we finally had to put him to sleep last year.  He suffered from deafness, arthritis and other infirmities of old age (he lived to 17 years!), but not once did the thankfulness and love we found in his beautiful brown eyes ever betray his pain.  He was the love of our lives and we were his joy. Please take this donation in his memory and bless you all for your hard work and compassion. 

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Shorty the Dalmatian's ears froze off

I am so glad to read about this at last because I know it is all true. I've had Shorty now for many years and though his cropped ears look pretty funny he doesn't mind because he is warm and happy after being sooooo cold ....and sooooo unhappy.

Just a baby really when he was put on a short wire on a concrete patio outside his cruel owner's sliding glass doors where he could see them and cry to them to bring him in and play and cuddle with him which his dear doggy puppy heart wanted and needed so badly. I walked my dog past his house every day for months and told the people that he was crying because he was so lonely, but they just pretended not to understand and yelled at him for crying. I believe to this day that they hit and kicked him too because I saw him cower when they came out. The cruelness of doing this to any living creature, but especially to dogs who are born wanting and needing to be our friends and to love us and to be near us always ...and to a puppy!

This is just incredible to me even now that the whole family could ignore his cries for help, even be angry at him for crying. Like I say, I am glad to be able to tell Shorty's story at last because even all this time later I still want to go back and heave bricks through the sliding glass doors!

Anyway winter came and they left him there. It was a really cold snowy winter that year, the temp went down to -12. There was a porch over the patio so he didn't get snowed on but the concrete must have been brutal. They got him one of those useless plastic igloos which he hated being forced to stay in to stay alive so he only crawled into it at night, but all day he sat on the frozen concrete staring for all he was worth into the house he was never allowed into. They never even looked at him!

I called the SPCA of course, but you know the story better than I do...food? water? shelter? Can't do anything! To hell with the fact that this pup was going to freeze to death to say nothing about the cruelty of life on a chain even if it WAS going to be a short life! What was anyone supposed to do who is not as cruel as these people and the SPCA, someone with even a tiny bit a decency? (I'm not boasting, it doesn't need much to be better than these people and the SPCA.)

So... a friend and I went one night to get him as it was clear that he was going to die there, that one day I would see him frozen to the concrete, a little Dalmatian statue in a yard which is all that these people should ever be allowed to own. It wasn't easy as the snips we brought were dull and the wire was tough, and Shorty was leaping and barking with joy the whole time and we were inches from the huge window, but once started we couldn't very well stop so we carried on making a hell of a racket. Old granny came to the glass doors and shrieked but my friend just gave her the finger and cut harder. The wire went all around his neck and was padlocked (it was already choking him and would have grown into his neck soon...thanks SPCA!)

Long story short... We got him and he had to have the bottoms of his ears surgically removed because they were dead from being frozen. My friend kept him while I found a new home miles away. Shorty may look a bit funny, but boy is he one happy dog... no thanks to the SPCA!


New people and their dog moved into our neighbourhood last winter. The people moved in the brand new $700,000 house and the dog was put in the yard. She was an little old black and white mutt that they called (what else?) Happy.

She wasn't Happy. We saw her covered in excrement and mud, the icicles hanging from her matted coat. We worried many times that she was dead because she lay for hours at a time in the mud on her short tether all day and all night without moving. She was given food (mostly rice and noodles), and water, and the overhang of the house was "shelter" so the SPCA said they could not do anything.

We saw her "family" come home and then we knew that she was alive because her tail thumped the ground at their approach, but they did not even stoop to pat her or acknowledge her in any way.

Now she really is Happy . She has a cat friend and a warm bed and good food and walkies everyday, and she will be loved for the rest of her days, and she will live in dignity and die with dignity too, not on the end of a rope in a cold, dark, lonely yard.

I stole a dog because the SPCA would not help her

Posted By: Jennifer
Date: Saturday, 13 September 2003, at 10:46 a.m.

In Response To: Women who steal dogs: Two stories *LINK* (AAS)

I stole a dog that belonged to my friend's neighbour.

These people got her as a pup, and immediately put her outside and left her there. She was about 12 weeks old, and small enough to squeeze through the fence to visit my friend. Unfortunately, my friend always gave her back. These people were drug dealers, and my friend was afraid to cross them, so the poor little pup always went back to her lonely yard.

As the pup grew, she began to climb over the fence at the front and wander the neighbourhood. After being picked up by the SPCA, she was chained to a tree in her yard. I guess her owners weren't impressed at having to pay to get her out of the SPCA. So at about 5 months old, there she rotted, on a chain. She would cry pitifully all the time, and my friend began to phone the SPCA, but their answer was always the same: "As long as she's being fed and has water we can't do anything. No law is being broken." And the tree she was chained to was her shelter.

Even when the pup was able to claw garbage bags toward her and tear them open and strew garbage all about her, because she had nothing else to do and was lonely and bored, the SPCA would not come and look. She sat in that pile of strewn garbage for days before her owner finally cleaned it up.

And she lived in her own feces daily.

My friend kept asking me to help this dog, but I was afraid of what the people might do if I got caught trying to take her. Drug dealers don't go to the police when someone crosses them.

But winter was coming, she was getting bigger, and was starting to become fearful and aggressive toward anyone who walked by her fence. And she would be going into heat soon, and the thought of her having puppies, outside, in the cold, was more than I could bear.

So I started to try to make friends with this dog, who was no longer a happy little pup, but a desocialized rottweiler, barking and growling at strangers, but whining and wagging at my friend, who she knew as the familiar person who had talked to her over the fence since she was a pup. After a few weeks of visiting with my friend by the fence, and throwing pieces of cheese and weiners over when no one was looking, I too was perceived as a familiar person, and not a threat.

And so she made not a sound, not a bark, not a growl, when I climbed her fence in the middle of the night. And though she was nervous, she made no effort to resist when I lifted her as best I could up to the fence. She put her paws on the top, I boosted, and over she went to freedom. She raced around and jumped on me in sheer delight in the middle of the night. And she, who had spent her long boring days barking at anything that went by, never made so much as a peep. I think she knew exactly what was going on that night.

She went to a home that all dogs deserve- one with lots of love, and walks, and good food, and a warm cosy bed to sleep in inside the house with her family.

Would I do it all over again? Absolutely. And I may have to do it again for another dog, as long as the SPCA continues to ignore the thousands of yard dogs, rotting away in loneliness and misery, thousands of dying souls begging for more than food, water, and shelter. Their suffering is profound. When will the SPCA realize this and do something to stop people from abusing dogs in this way?

More stories of Women who steal dogs...

I had no choice. I had to move. We sold our house and moved on.
Nancy Pagť -- Thursday, 11 September 2003, at 7:36 p.m.
I found a terrified, matted, and filthy Lhasa Apso at the SPCA
Jenny -- Friday, 12 September 2003, at 3:00 p.m.
Good samaritans everywhere steal dogs the SPCA won't help *LINK*
Okanagan Animal Welfare Foundation -- Saturday, 13 September 2003, at 12:07 p.m.
I too am "guilty" of improving the lives of chained dogs and will continue to help them until my dying days
Vera -- Monday, 15 September 2003, at 9:37 p.m.
I got up closer I saw that a pup was chained to a box and surrounded by mud and poop *PIC*
Helen -- Monday, 15 September 2003, at 9:08 a.m.
I would like to think I'm an honest law abiding citizen
D.M. -- Friday, 19 September 2003, at 7:45 a.m.


By Charles Montgomery

("Ruth" in this story was actually Lillian Couture and you can read about Lillian at http://www.animaladvocates.com/in-memory/lillian.htm )

SEVENTY-THREE-YEAR-OLD "Ruth" HAS DIME-SIZED bruises on her arm where a friend's German shepherd pawed her minutes before we met. She is alarmingly thin. When she walks, she seems to sway. Fragile. Not the kind of woman you would expect to leap a neighbour's fence in the dead of night and run off with his border collie. But Leap she did.

Ruth rubs her bruises, takes a swig from a bottle of black-cherry root beer, and remembers the day she first heard Barbie's imploring whine from behind the planks. "I peeked through to see her fur matted and excrement all around," says Ruth, who prefers not to use her real name. "I found a gap in the fence and put my arms around her. She wagged from end to end."

Every night for two years Ruth reached in to hug the dog and be licked in return. She never saw Barbie off her six-foot chain. Ruth says the owner, "a rough, rough man" who never paid attention to Barbie except to yell at her, admitted he never walked the dog. As the months went by, Ruth noticed Barbie's spirits fading. One January night she arrived to find Barbie's water frozen solid. "It broke my heart. She put her head on my shoulder and I started to cry. I thought, 'Dear God, what am I going to do?'"

Dognapping has been on a lot of people's minds this year, especially since a pair of shepherd-lab crosses disappeared from their pen in the Coquitlam yard of Karen and James Mansell last February. Media coverage gave the impression that the disappearance was the doing of radical network of urban terrorists.

VTV reporter Lisa Rossington got the ball rolling, showing up at the Mansell home with a video tape featuring Judy Stone, the outspoken founder of the Animal Advocates Society of B.C. James Mansell recognized Stone as the woman who had been taking pictures of his dogs a week before they disappeared.

Soon after, Mansell was outside Stone's West Vancouver home, hollering for his hounds. They weren't there. But days later, Animal Advocates member Barry Faires returned the dogs to Mansell at Cates Park, and RCMP officers swooped in to arrest him. Faires eventually admitted to possession of stolen property, but not to theft of the dogs. Nobody has confessed to that.

Coverage on VTV and in the Province spun the issue as a case of animal liberationists terrorizing pet owners by night. Mansell told reporters that losing his dogs was like losing family members to terrorists. "It's horrendous," Mansell told the Province. "They are leaving devastated families in their wake. My kids are having nightmares."

The media frothed. National Post columnist Norman Doige took the occasion to decry the mainstreaming of "wacky animal activism."  They made little of the fact that Mansell's neighbours had repeatedly complained to the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals about his treatment of the dogs, saying they were poorly fed and often left chained amid their own feces.

Now the dogs are back in their pen, Faires is facing a sentence of community work, and the media have moved on-having entirely overlooked that the incident signalled a major change in local attitudes towards pets.

This summer I went searching for the mastermind behind Vancouver's dognapping scene. I didnít find one. Dogs are stolen from yards all across the Lower Mainland, and the culprits are rarely organized activists. Nor are they drug addicts, flipping pooches for a quick cash.

It's tempting to dismiss the thieves as "a bunch of West Coast wackos,"  a phrase one confessor used to describe how her ilk have been characterized. But I discovered that the people who take dogs are mostly regular folk, driven to late-night acts of desperation by the sight of abused animals in their neighbourhoods and a perceived lack of action by the SPCA.

Though they get encouragement from pet-industry professionals such as vets and animal behaviourists, and have the sympathy-if not the endorsement - of some SPCA officials, dognappers are fully aware that they are breaking the law, and it terrifies them. They encounter each other on park lawns and forest trails. They shuffle through back alleys with pockets full of treats for chained pets, and trade stories on the Internet or while walking their own dogs. They spirit "rescued" dogs off to distant foster homes. They are people like Ruth. They are your neighbours.

Dogs are indeed disappearing, says Brian Nelson, director of field operations for the Greater Vancouver SPCA. "Every day I get dozens, if not hundreds, of calls from people whose dogs have gone missing." Thereís no way to judge how many of those have been stolen, but the threat is real enough that the SPCA officers use it to scare owners into taking better care of their animals. Officers investigating abuse complaints warn pet owners to change their ways or pets may be stolen,"  Nelson says. "And sometimes those pets do disappear."

The thieves are eager to talk, especially if it means a chance to take shots at Nelson and the SPCA. That's because there is a common theme to most dognappers' stories: they have called the SPCA to report pet abuse or neglect and have been told that the organization can't do anything if owners are providing adequate food, water and shelter.

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act gives the SPCA the power to relieve animals in distress-that is, animals that are deprived of adequate food, water or shelter; injured, sick, in pain or suffering; or abused or neglected. Those who jump fences to take dogs feel that the SPCA simply doesn't interpret the Act broadly enough, and that they themselves are therefore a dog's last hope.

Take Laura Shelley Tailleur, a fast-talking Langley hairdresser who keeps a box full of "rescue" supplies-rubber gloves, blankets, choke-chains, dog bisquits-in the trunk of her car, in case she sees an animal in distress. (In allowing her real name to be used, Tailleur is braver than most 'nappers, who say they remain anonymous not for their own protection but out of fear that the dogs they've rescued could be tracked down and returned.) "If your dog is skinny with no food or water and the SPCA isn't going to do anything about it, then your dog is gonna to go missing, okay? Because I can't stand to see it."

Tailleur has taken at least six unhappy dogs in the past few years. Once, after she rescued a Samoyed with bleeding choke-chain wounds, she squared off against the investigating SPCA officer. "I told him, 'Erase your records. I'm keeping this dog.'  He left and I never heard from him again."

"Anne," a 52-year old Surrey house-wife, tells me she has taken two dogs in the past year. Both had been left chained in their respective owners' backyards without water. "Joanne," a soft-spoken 45-year-old clerk from Burnaby, says she and other neighbours begged the SPCA to rescue a pup she says was left alone for nearly three years on a 10-foot run line. She finally crept away with the dog at 2 a.m.

Then thereís "Audrey," a June Cleaver-like retiree from Langley who says she has been rescuing dogs on her own for 50 years. Audrey hit her peak a few years ago in Prince George, after she noticed one neighbour's dog had vanished. "Their kid came over and I said, 'What happened to Cookie?' and she said, 'Oh , we left her in the car and she cooked.'  Now isn't that nice? After that we stole as many of their dogs as we could."

Almost all 'nappers are women. Many, though perhaps not the majority, are involved in the pet industry in some way: some are SPCA volunteers, and others are veterinarians, dog-groomers, or pet store workers. When they call to share their stories, their voices break with emotion. Some stop the conversation to inquire cautiously, "You are a dog lover, aren't you?"

There's no middle ground here. And the SPCA, according to hardline activists, falls on the wrong side of the fence. Animal Advocates' Judy Stone charges that the Vancouver SPCA ignores abused and neglected animals in favour of focussing on its 18 Lower Mainland pound contracts.

"Hundreds of women a year take the law into their own hands, risking life and limb, taking an incredible risk, all because they can't get the agency responsible to give a damn," says Stone, who describes these activities as rescuing rather than stealing. "The SPCA doesnít interpret the [PCA] Act the way the public wants because that would be too expensive. They say they can't enforce the law-well, they haven't tried."

Recently, Stone has been documenting those cases of alleged abuse, prowling around back alleys with a battered Canon camera or a Sony video recorder. Her basement is a maelstrom of rescued mongrels (I counted six) and files overflowing with photos and descriptions of miserable-looking mutts.

The SPCA's Brian Nelson, a frequent target of Stone's wrath, insists that the society does try to but is stymied by the legal interpretation of abuse and neglect. As much as SPCA officers agree with the humane concerns of the dognappers, they are representing the law when they investigate. "It is against the law not to provide adequate food, shelter and water. It's not against the law not to love your dog."

Besides, Nelson says, if the society took every negligent pet owner to court, the justice system would be swamped. He says that last year in the Lower Mainland, the SPCA responded to 3,296 complaints of neglect, seized 58 animals and took seven owners to court for abuse. (In many cases the accused choose to do community-service hours in lieu of being prosecuted.)

Legal action isn't easy: just to obtain a search warrant, Nelson needs solid evidence that an animal is in distress, and before that he must give pet owners a chance to relieve their animals' suffering. A provincial court judge dismissed a case against the owner of a herd of emaciated horses in Langley this summer, ruling that the SPCAís search warrant was illegal. Nelson hadnít given the owner the chance to fatten up her horses before he rescued them.

"I'm the one who ends up going to trial on these cases," says Nelson. "And when we lay a charge, we typically wonít see the accused at trial for the better part of a year." So the SPCA picks its battles carefully. It is likely to rescue a dog they can prove is beaten or starved. But the dogs that live in the grey zone of abuse, dogs that are chained, caged, infrequently fed and watered, dogs that aren't shown love, are not covered. They are the animals most often stolen.

Their rescuers, meanwhile, inhabit the ethical gulf between neighbourly concern and late-night vigilantism. British Columbia SPCA director of community relations Stephan Huddart, for one, feels that their fervour isnít appropriate in a multicultural society with disparate opinions on pet care. "Judy Stone's idea of a league of upper-middle-class ladies out there stealing dogs in the middle of the night is quite hilarious," he says. "There's a kind of mean-spirited quality to this work. People are doing it in the dark, there is a call to judgment."

He agrees that, in principle, animals shouldn't be condemned to live at the end of a four-foot chain. "But should that immoral act be constrained by the law? It's possible that we get a little carried away with concern with dogs and cats when there are so many other issues that have to be dealt with. But this does point to a deeper issue. Community standards around animal care seem to be changing. People are responding [to neglect] with upset and concern that we didn't see five or 10 years ago."

It's not just a Lotus Land phenomenon. The town council of the northern Italian village of Recanati this year enacted a social contract between humans and their pets which, among other things, guarantees pets the right to enjoy social rapport with members of their own species. According to the fine print, that includes the fulfilment of pets' "legitimate sexual needs."

None of the local pet advocates is demanding healthy sex lives for our dogs (yet), but Vancouver canine behaviourist Gary Gibson says society is starting to realize that dogs have psychological needs. "When you start messing with a dog's mind and not giving it the things it needs on a day-to-day basis, you are abusing that dog. And those needs are much greater than food, water and shelter." In particular, Gibson says, dogs need to feel part of a pack, even if that pack is human. Gibson admits to stealing a couple of abused dogs himself. "But itís usually the neighbours who do it."

Some activists say the province's PCA Act must be strengthened. For its part, Huddart says, the SPCA is reviewing legal advice on how it might interpret the act more broadly-particularly in extending the interpretation of animal distress to include psychological symptoms. The society is also working on Criminal Code changes with the federal government, which is considering amendments to strengthen penalties for animal abuse and give judge more flexibility in sentencing abusers.

Eleven Lower Mainland municipalities, including Surrey, North Vancouver and Richmond - but not Vancouver - have passed by-laws strengthening pets' rights. They require that owners clean up excrement from dog pens, provide shelter of a certain size and give dogs regular exercise. The village of Lions Bay goes so far as to prohibit unattended tethering. (comment: AAS's campaign had these bylaws adopted.)

But there will always be a gap between laws, enforcement and the varying sentiments of the public. People who arenít in tune with the current value system will continue to wake up to empty doghouses. Those who steal dogs are dead certain that they are doing the right thing.

That, Ruth tells me between sips of her root beer, is exactly why she decided to save Barbie that winter. Ruth began scratching a little dirt away from beneath her neighbour's fence on each visit. After a couple of weeks, she had a hole big enough to crawl through. Then she called a friend.

"We sat in my house drinking tea until the lights went out. I tucked my hair into a turban. I put dirt on my friend's face and we crept over there, but that hole was filled in. I thought 'Damn it,' and took a run down the alley at the fence, leaped up and grabbed the top of the fence-it must have been 10 feet tall, but I used to climb trees as a kid."

The two managed to climb into the yard. They unhooked Barbie from her chain, checking to see if the owner's bedroom light was still out.

"I was terrified. I thought, 'Please God, don't let him catch me. He'll kill me.' But you canít live with a broken heart, so I said, 'run Barbie, run!'  We went out the front gate and ran for three blocks to my car. Then we got the hell out of there." Barbie now lives somewhere in Fraser Valley, with a family that treats dogs the way Ruth would.