More than 5,800 people commented on new dairy industry guidelines
Last year, the VHS and other animal organizations across Canada spoke out for animals during a consultation period on the National Farm Animal Care Council’s (NFACC) Dairy Cattle Code of Practice, which provides guidelines for the care of dairy cows on farms across Canada, and shared tips on how to call for much-needed improvements during the public comment period. Thousands of animal advocates and concerned consumers responded, and the Code received a record-setting 5,800+ comments!
The NFACC has now released its updated Dairy Cattle Code of Practice. The strong public response during the public consultation prompted some positive changes, including stronger restrictions around abusive handling, changes to housing models, and a ban on branding. However, several areas of the Code still fall short of expectations.
Click or tap the headings below for more details on each section.
Calf housing – Pair/group housing to be required, but not until 2031
A primary area of concern noted in the public consultation was around calf housing. Approximately 63% of farms currently keep dairy calves in individual housing. This lack of social and physical contact with other calves can cause significant stress for calves. Despite this, the new code continues to allow calves to be kept in individual housing until 2031, at which point they are to be housed in pairs or groups by 4 weeks old. The stressful industry practice of separating mothers and newly born calves was unaddressed in the new code.
Cow housing – Continuous tethering to be phased out, but details needed around freedom of movement
Currently, cows can be kept tethered in individual stalls and there has been no requirement for access to pasture, outdoors or a sheltered, bedded pen. Under the new code, continuous tethering will be prohibited by 2027, at which point cows must be provided “sufficient regular opportunity for freedom of movement”. What this means in practice is yet to be determined.
No requirement for outdoor access
The NFACC acknowledges that cows are “naturally motivated to access pasture and graze” and that “regular access to open outdoor areas or bedded packs improves hoof health, reduces the frequency and severity of injuries, and can reduce the occurrence of lameness”. Despite this, the new code does not require that cows be provided access to sheltered, bedded packs, exercise yards, or the outdoors.
No emergency plans required, despite recent disasters
The public consultation period for the dairy code began just weeks after catastrophic flooding hit British Columbia in 2021. This emergency, along with the record-breaking heat waves from earlier that same year, claimed the lives of 1.3 million farmed animals and reiterated the need for emergency plans for farms. Shockingly, the new code fails to include any requirements around emergency planning.
Compromised and lactating cows still allowed to be transported
Transport is a particularly stressful process for farmed animals, especially for dairy cows who may be in poor condition after their milk production declines or who are ill or injured. Still, the new code allows compromised (e.g. mild lameness, not fully healed from a procedure) or still lactating cows to be transported, putting them at risk of further injury and suffering.
Stronger language introduced around abusive handling
The new code prohibits abusive handling, which it defines as including but not limited to “kicking, beating, striking, tail twisting, dragging, improper use of a prod, and forcefully pulling cattle by the tail, head, or neck.”
The new Dairy Code of Practice can be read in full here (opens as a PDF).
Monitoring, enforcement and penalties needed
To protect the well-being of dairy cows, the new Code of Practice must be paired with independent, proactive third-party oversight; enforcement; and effective penalties.
The 2021 undercover investigation of Cedar Valley Farms, a B.C.-based dairy farm, reiterates the importance of proactive monitoring to deter and catch cruelty violations. Footage from the farm revealed serious instances of illegal animal abuse. A former employee of Cedar Valley Farms, who worked there for four years, told media he’d repeatedly reported the abuse, but nothing changed.
Now is your chance to speak up for farmed animals! The B.C. government is currently conducting a review of the province’s farmed animal welfare framework. Use the quick action tool below to send a message to B.C.’s Minister of Agriculture.
A version of this article was originally published in The Province.
Amid an onslaught of controversies surrounding the Canadian dairy industry, including a scandalous viral video of an Ontario farmer dumping milk down the drain, new guidelines for the care of dairy cows have been quietly released.
Late last week, the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) released its updated Dairy Cattle Code of Practice, which provides guidelines for the care of dairy cows on farms across Canada. The Code reportedly received a record-setting number of comments from more than 5,800 individuals. Although a strong public response prompted some positive changes, several areas of the Code still fall short of expectations.
During the public comment period on the Code of Practice, one of the sections that received the strongest response was that on calf housing.
It’s easy to see why; like other social animals, calves thrive with interaction and physical touch. Most human parents are familiar with the importance of cuddling to a baby’s development. Like human children, calves who are deprived of physical contact experience stress, slower growth, weakened immune systems, and lower welfare. Conversely, research shows that “pair or group housed calves show improved cognitive development, perform more play behaviours, and are less reactive to novelty”.
A 2018 study found that 63% of farms in Canada reared dairy calves in individual housing. It is a promising step that the NFACC has acknowledged in the new Code of Practice the harms that this can cause, as well as the many benefits of social housing for calves.
Unfortunately, the new regulations pave a long road to change. The updated Code of Practice will continue to permit the isolated housing of calves until 2031. This prolonged regulation shift will put millions of calves at risk of being housed individually over the next eight years, denying young calves the ability to engage in their natural herding instincts during their formative months.
Perhaps most shocking is the continued absence of required emergency planning.
The public comment period for the Dairy Cattle Code of Practice launched November 29, 2021, while rural communities in B.C. were still reeling from the impacts of disastrous flooding. The floods claimed the lives of approximately 640,000 farmed animals in B.C., including about 420 dairy cattle. Farmers, veterinarians, volunteers, and community members scrambled to evacuate and house thousands of animals, as many were trapped for days standing in deep, murky water.
The Code recommends that farms develop a plan for evacuating cattle in the event of an emergency, but has no requirements around emergency planning.
Other concerns that remain unresolved by the updated guidelines include the continued use of electric prods, the stressful separation of cows from their newly born calves, the lack of required outdoor access, and the transportation of cows who are compromised or lactating.
There is some good news – the new Code explicitly prohibits abusive handling, which it defines as “kicking, beating, striking, tail twisting, dragging, improper use of a prod, and forcefully pulling cattle by the tail, head, or neck”.
Avoiding many of these techniques was previously only considered a recommended best practice, but recent controversies have prompted a public cry for accountability. In 2021, the industry was subject to public scrutiny when news coverage revealed disturbing footage of dairy cows being violently beaten, kicked, and dragged at Cedar Valley Farms in Abbotsford.
While the NFACC guidelines aim to address some of the systemic cruelty highlighted in undercover investigations like the one at Cedar Valley, the Code’s reach is not absolute. Meaningful monitoring, enforcement, and penalties for industry stakeholders found guilty of animal abuse are still needed to ensure animals are protected.
The NFACC’s codes of practice are typically only updated every ten years, meaning that for better or worse, dairy cows will likely be stuck under these insufficient guidelines for the next decade. Meanwhile, consumers can find a growing selection of plant-based alternatives that increasingly rival the taste, texture, and price of dairy – without the suffering.
Letter asks Province to remove Meadow Valley Meats license
Animal Justice provided the footage to B.C.’s Ministry of Agriculture and the Minister stated the situation was being looked into. More than a month later, no further updates have been provided.
The VHS has sent a letter to the Minister supporting Animal Justice’s recent request that the slaughterhouse’s license be suspended or cancelled:
“The video footage shared with the ministry reveals shocking cruelty and captures clear violations of B.C.’s Meat Inspection Regulation, which requires ‘An abattoir licence holder must ensure that an animal in the licensed abattoir is kept before slaughter and slaughtered in accordance with the requirements relating to the humane treatment of animals …'”
Minister @Pam_Alexis_ and the Ministry of Agriculture should cancel or suspend the license for Meadow Valley Meats for their egregious violations of regulations.
Content warning: The footage released by Animal Justice depicts horrific animal suffering in a slaughterhouse.
The footage captured numerous instances of animal abuse, suffering and clear violations of provincial and federal slaughter regulations, including cows, sheep and goats beingforcefully hit, kicked, dragged and thrown to the ground; frightened animals crowded together in hallways and panicked attempts to escape; cruel use of an electric prod on the face of cows; improper slaughter techniques, with animals being improperly stunned to render them unconscious before slaughter; and still conscious animals having their necks cut.
In the award-winning documentary My Octopus Teacher, filmmaker and Sea Change Project co-founder Craig Foster says, “A lot of people say an octopus is like an alien. But the strange thing is, as you get closer to them, you realize that we’re very similar in a lot of ways.”
As one octopus develops a complex friendship with Foster, the film demonstrates how intelligent, curious, and sensitive these animals can be.
Industry stakeholders seem to be relying on the perceived otherness of octopuses to enable consumers to look the other way as they begin to establish the first inhumane octopus farms, even as our society is increasingly critical of cruel intensive animal agriculture practices. Thousands of animal advocates and allies across the world have spoken out to agree: it’s not working.
Earlier this week, reports of horrific plans for the world’s first octopus farm began making their way across the media cycle after confidential planning proposal documents were released to the BBC by the organization Eurogroup for Animals.
The farm, which is planned to open in Spain’s Canary Islands by multinational corporation Nueva Pescanova, will be a nightmare for octopuses.
In the wild, common octopuses—the species set to be farmed, and the species featured in My Octopus Teacher—are typically solitary animals who are highly territorial. They spend time interacting with their environment, in which they are capable of using complex problem-solving skills and tools. They hunt a varied diet of many marine species, usually at night. They are accustomed to the dark and prefer making their home in crevices where they can easily hide.
By contrast, Nueva Pescanova’s intensive farming plans would keep octopuses in crowded communal tanks, at times under constant light, where they would be unable to express their natural behaviours such as hiding and hunting. The animals would be defenceless as they would be raised and picked off for human consumption.
Content warning: This image depicts the bodies of deceased octopuses at a processing plant. (Click to expand)
Plans also note that octopuses will be killed by “ice slurry,” which has been identified as a painful and stressful death for the fish on whom it is currently used. The aquaculture industry has already begun shifting away from this slaughter method, including a requirement in the National Farm Animal Care Council’s (NFACC) Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Farmed Salmonids to transition to acceptable methods by 2025.
If we could have stopped industrial-scale animal farming before it began, the reality for animals would look very different now. Industrial animal agriculture has been called the biggest animal welfare crisis on the planet, with more than 70 billion land animals killed for food each year.
Content warning: This image depicts the bodies of deceased octopuses at a processing plant. (Click to expand)
The Sentience Institute estimates that 74% of farmed land animals and virtually all farmed fishes are currently on factory farms, which are characterized by large numbers of animals confined in cramped, barren and unnatural conditions. Many of these animals are never given the opportunity to see the sky, smell fresh air free of the scent of ammonia, or feel the grass.
In Canada alone, 825 million land animals were killed in 2021. The number of farmed aquatic animals who are killed in Canada is so enormous that they are counted by weight rather than lives: 191,249 tonnes of finned fish and shellfish in 2021.
The Canadian animal agriculture industry has been the face of numerous scandals over the past decade, as undercover footage revealed live chickens with their legs ripped off, dairy cows cornered and beaten with canes, and conscious sheep flailing about with their necks cut open.
While we can do our collective best to decrease the demand for animal products and address the terrible suffering that industrially farmed animals endure, we sadly cannot go back in time to save the millions of lives squandered in misery, awaiting a painful and terrifying end.
However, we can prevent this tragic fate for octopuses. A federal petition calling on the government to ban the breeding, keeping, and import of farmed octopuses and other cephalopod species in Canada has already amassed more than 10,000 signatures.
The decision is simple, and it must be made now: before another species is subjected to horrific suffering; before cephalopod farms are established; before the federal government must contend with industry interests and try to unring yet another bell of cruel treatment. For the sake of protecting these intelligent, complex animals, sign the petition today.
We all want our companion animals to live happy, healthy lives.
In this first episode of The Informed Animal Ally’s series on animal well-being, the Vancouver Humane Society’s Chantelle Archambault and Amy Morris discuss companion animal behaviour, emotional “tells”, and the many facets that make up a good life for domestic cats and dogs. The discussion explores a question that is dear to the hearts of many animal guardians: “Is my pet happy?”
Note: This written discussion has been edited for length.
Chantelle: We’ve just wrapped up our series on animal cruelty, where we talked about the laws and regulations meant to protect different species from cruelty as well as the gaps in those laws.
This month, we’re flipping the script and beginning a new series where we’ll talk about animal wellbeing – what good welfare looks like for animals. The first episode will go into what a good life looks like for companion animals and answer a question that I think a lot of animal guardians care really deeply about, and that’s: “Is my pet happy?”
Amy: We know there’s more than a billion cats and dogs on earth. Our society will likely always have companion animals. Certainly cats are producing prolifically in warmer places, so I just can’t imagine a world without them, and I think dogs will do just fine as well.
One of the things that I really like to think about is, you know, if a vegan future is possible, what does a future look like for these companion animals? What does it mean to give them a good life in that existence?
I often reflect on the ways that you can keep an animal, and are the ways that we keep animals right now the best ways?
There often are compromises between their personal freedom and their physical wellbeing. So we want to keep them out of traffic – that protects their personal physical wellbeing, but it might compromise their sense of freedom and autonomy.
What does wellbeing look like for companion animals? We’ll speak about physical health and safety, and mental wellbeing is also a huge part of that. Having relationships with their guardian, if that’s what they want, or other animals, if that’s what they want, and having the ability to play and express their natural behaviours.
Chantelle: I think there’s so much to delve into with this topic, and we could speak for hours and hours about it, but today we’ll look at:
The differences between different animals; animals are individuals just like humans are;
The differences between different species; we’ll mostly be focusing on dogs and cats today;
Animals who are young versus animals who are older;
The difference between animals living in urban and rural environments;
And how all of their needs differ depending on their situation and just their individual preferences.
Amy: And really these are opinions. “Is my pet happy?” That’s a qualitative question, measurable through different types of assessments, but I think ultimately it comes down to learning as much as you can.
So we’ll share lots here today, and my recommendation is, keep learning about anything that makes you think, “Hmm, I don’t know the reason behind that.”
Explore it. Find out more about it. Never assume that you know why your animal is doing what they’re doing, because often we’re wrong and it’s good to admit that.
Spay and neuter
Amy: Let’s start with spaying and neutering. This one is an interesting topic because in the humane movement, it has been a cornerstone for a really long time. And yet more recently, it’s become quite controversial.
I think what’s important to think about is why spay and neuter started.
Why do we spay and neuter pets?
Amy: Humane societies and SPCAs in the 1950s were so overloaded that they were doing massive, large scale euthanasia and the number of animals wasn’t really changing. There were still many animals and there were people whose jobs it was to essentially put animals to death unnecessarily. Spaying and neutering became a procedure that would be an alternative to that to stop the production of animals.
It took a really long time. That was in the 1950s when that was really prevalent. Now, 70 years later, we’re still working at this and we’re still trying to make sure that animals become spayed and neutered; because the second a community has a gap, especially when there’s a warm climate, we see numbers just bloom.
That also happens in microcosms where animals are being fed; cats in particular. All around the globe, places where animals have access to food, they’re going to have more success with breeding offspring. And then you end up with more animals living in the community than there are resources to provide for their healthcare and their wellbeing.
Benefits of spay and neuter
There’s a lot of research out about spay and neutering in general. There’s a higher quality of life associated with cats and dogs who are spayed and neutered versus those who are intact.
There’s behaviour outcomes, such as reducing mating behaviours, which can be quite conflict oriented. If you haven’t been around animals that are mating, there tends to be a lot of fights that break out, physical injuries that will happen to the males who are interested in pursuing the female that’s in heat.
And there’s also marking.
Animals will roam a lot farther. They might cross roads that they wouldn’t normally.
It also reduces the risk of some diseases like mammory cancer; vascular disease, which affects blood vessels; and degenerative diseases; any kind of cancers that would be the organs that end up being removed, they just remove the likelihood of that cancer happening.
There are some studies that show spayed and neutered dogs are at a higher risk of some other diseases, but it’s been found that the benefits far outweigh the risks.
There are some bone considerations, and so when thinking about what age to spay or neuter a large breed dog, it’s important to be in consultation with a veterinarian about that.
Spayed and neutered dogs live an average of 1.5 years longer; who knows if that’s because they’re making better decisions for themselves because they’re not motivated by their hormones or if it has to do with the diseases. But I think that stat by itself really shows us the benefit.
Chantelle: That’s really compelling. We all want the animals we share our lives with to live a long, happy, and healthy life.
Barriers to spay and neuter
Chantelle: I also want to note here that oftentimes, when an animal isn’t spayed and neutered, it’s not because their guardian doesn’t want to have the procedure done, but because there were barriers preventing them from accessing that care.
Amy: Now we’ll move on to another topic that tends to be widely debated, which is outdoor access. If you’ve ever been in communities that have free roaming animals, certainly it is a different experience than that city environment where animals are kept.
I’ve been in some places as well with free roaming animals who get to make so many decisions. They’re constantly deciding who they want to interact with and who they don’t, where they want to get water from, where they want to get food from.
It’s a certain level of freedom that, you know, we ourselves are afforded.
If we think about dogs that are kept indoors, or cats that are kept indoors, what they eat, what they drink, what they drink from, who their friends are, that’s all controlled.
We might think we’re doing a very good job of all of that, and they’re pretty spoiled. And that might be the case. But certainly there’s sort of some trade-offs that happen there.
Dogs in isolation (such as dog chaining/tethering)
Amy: We know that dogs who are kept in isolation, on a leash or in a kennel, they’re kind of in the worst case because they don’t have access or ability to meet their own needs, and they don’t have the social benefits of living closely with a family.
They end up having stereotypic behaviours. Their activity levels are limited to maybe going in circles, and they’re not able to do all the natural behaviours that they want to. For instance, they love sniffing.
Dogs in the home
Amy: Dogs who live in a home get the joy and access of family life.
They hopefully get to go out, go on walks, use their nose lots, just experience the world in a meaningful way
They may or may not be going to dog parks. Something to keep in mind is a lot of people bring dogs to dog parks who don’t actually enjoy dog parks – who find them stressful, who see it as sort of like they’re facing threats rather than companionship. It’s important to read each individual dog to see how they want to experience the world.
A dog on leash might be a bit more stressed out, walking around a neighborhood with reactive dogs than a dog off-leash, but a dog off-leash that’s not well trained may end up getting themselves into fights and need veterinary care.
So it’s always balancing these different kind of wants and needs.
Considerations for leashes
Amy: Some things that I tend to think about when it’s about happiness is thinking about if you do need to contain an animal in some way – whether it be a leash or a harness and or collar to basically keep an animal safe – it’s important to think about in what ways they are confined if the dog is exhibiting a natural behaviour.
Let’s say they want to run up a mountain, in what ways are a leash and a harness or a leash and a collar confining them? Consider:
Is it pushing on their throat, on their vocal chords?
Are they choking or breathing strangely?
Is it something that’s pulling on different areas, so it’s more balanced?
Is it rubbing under their armpits?
Are they getting friction that’s uncomfortable?
So really thinking through what the setting is and making sure that what they’re wearing is as comfortable as possible for them, knowing that they’re going to pull at the end of their leash sometimes.
Should I use an extendable leash?
Amy: Extending leashes can be confusing for dogs because they’re not sure where the end is.
They think they have more distance than they do, and then when they’re stopped short, it’s sort of shocking for them. They’re surprised or they’re focused on something else because they’ve gotten so far away.
Things like consistency can matter when you are keeping a dog on leash
Off-leash settings for dogs
Amy: When it comes to off-leash settings for dogs, we want them to have as much freedom as possible and we want to keep the safety and freedom of other dogs and animals. We also want to prevent them from eating things that are toxic to them.
It’s important to be mindful about where you choose to walk a dog off leash, how well trained they are, and also mindful of which other dogs might be around or wild animals. Thinking all of those things through to make sure that your dog gets the happiest experience they can.
Outdoor access for cats
Chantelle: When it comes to indoor-only or indoor-outdoor access for cats, there are safety considerations and other welfare considerations.
Risk of illness and injury for outdoor cats
Chantelle: Cats who free roam outdoors are at greater risk of injury and illness.
One study found that cat guardians in urban settings are more likely to keep cats indoors only, whereas guardians in suburban or rural settings were more likely to have indoor outdoor cats. Many guardians in urban settings cited car accidents as one of the reasons that they keep their cats indoor only. But another study actually found that outdoor cats were just as likely to be victims of road accidents in rural and urban areas, and it doesn’t really make that much of a difference.
They could be hit by a car.
There could be attacks from predators.
There could be bites from other cats who might have transmissible diseases, and then that could lead to a longer term health issue.
They could be poisoned from eating toxic plants or poisoned rodents or other substances.
They could contract parasites like fleas, ticks, and worms.
Enrichment for indoor cats
Chantelle: Indoor-only cats can get bored, so they might need additional enrichment to make sure that they’re getting enough physical activity and they can express their natural behaviours like chasing and pouncing.
Individual cat preferences
Chantelle: Individual cats will also have different wants and needs depending on how old they are and what they’re used to.
So for instance, like a newly-adopted kitten in an apartment building might be perfectly content having playtime with their guardian; but an adult cat who’s used to being like an outdoor barn cat in the country would be more likely to want to do what they’ve always done.
Safer outdoor options for cats
Chantelle: There are also safer options for cats who like to be outside.
If you want to make sure that they’re safe while doing so: there’s enclosed patios, you can take them on a walk with a harness close to home if that’s something they’ll tolerate.
I share my home with a cat, Callie. She’s an indoor cat and she’s really skittish around loud noises, but she still likes to have some outdoor time supervised in a fenced yard, and she likes the option to go back inside anytime she wants.
Cats and wildlife
Chantelle: With cats, it’s also important to consider the wellbeing of wildlife.
Cats are predators, so they have natural hunting instincts and that makes them a risk to birds and other small animals. They’re not a native part of Canada’s ecosystem, so they’re considered an invasive species, and that can be a concern as well.
Bedding for pets
Amy: Something we can talk about pretty quickly is bedding for animals.
I think this is pretty much common sense. Most people know that animals will sleep wherever they want to sleep
That’s going to really differ based on the age of the animals. Older animals tend to pick softer surfaces.
Bedding for dogs
Having a variety of surfaces available is really important. Options include:
Commercial dog beds;
Blankets and towels – dogs like to nest;
High pile rugs;
Cold surfaces like tile;
In a cold environment, anything that’s insulating, such as a hut with appropriate siding and straw and things like that.
The most important thing of all bedding is always making sure it’s dry; checking it on a daily basis. Just like us as humans, they can get cold and they can be impacted by wet bedding.
Bedding for cats
Chantelle: I think that covers it really well. Going on my theme of just adding on with cats, the best cat bed is really suited to each individual cat and the way they like to sleep. You can observe that when they’re lying down.
If they like to stretch out, a larger, flat bed might be good. If they like to curl up in small spaces, a bed or a basket that’s enclosed on the sides might be better for them. It’s great to have a variety so that they can choose where to be.
Some cats also like blankets or towels folded up on a surface.
Some cats like commercial cat beds or baskets, but pretty notoriously, a lot of cats will prefer the box that the bed came in over the actual bed.
Some studies show that cats in unfamiliar situations, like being in a shelter, feel less stressed when they have access to a cardboard box. Many cats will translate that to places that they’re comfortable in, like their home.
Amy: I think we do this as well when we’re in an unfamiliar environment, we look to all of our resources to go, “What’s available to me? Where can I be safe? Where can I be alone?” If you’re at a dinner party and you suddenly need a break, you’re gonna go into the kitchen or maybe into another room where it’s quiet.
All of these things seem like common sense, but it’s a reminder to relate animals to ourselves because we have the same psychological motivations.
Water access for pets
Amy: The same principle applies when it comes to water. We like access to fresh, clean water. If water sits around for 24 hours, I might dump it out for myself and get myself a fresh glass. The same goes for animals.
They often don’t like the saliva of another animal, so if you have multiple animals living in a house, keeping multiple water dishes and changing all of them on a regular basis is important.
Cleaning the bowl is really important because they can build up saliva and then bacteria over time.
When you have animals living outdoors, it’s really important for the water to not be frozen and to make sure it’s kept fresh and clean as well.
Chantelle: For cats specifically, most cats prefer to have at least one water bowl that’s not next to their food dish. Cats have an instinctual fear of contamination from their food going into their water source.
Amy: The best thing is to just have as many water sources as possible around the home.
What does pet food look like in a vegan future?
Amy: Food is a really complicated one, especially as Vancouver Humane Society is a vegan organization. We advocate for an end to all animal suffering, including for farmed animals.
That can be really complicated when it comes to feeding companion animals like cats and dogs who typically eat some meat in their diet; but it doesn’t have to be.
The ideal we’re working towards is a future where animals are not used and killed for food, and where human-animal relationships are respected, and all animals have an opportunity to thrive. There are developments that are making this possible
Chantelle: Absolutely. And looking into the future, I think the simplest solution is to use lab-grown or cultured meat for companion animal food. There’s one company that I know of that’s already doing this with cultured meat pet treats; that’s a really interesting development.
And then we need to look at, if that’s the ideal, how do we get there? So we can advocate for innovation to develop those cultured meat alternatives and make it more accessible in terms of availability and cost. We can also continue to conduct and follow the research around what nutrients animals need.
Each animal guardian will need to observe their companion animal’s health and behaviour, and then make the best choices that enable your companion animal to thrive.
That could mean introducing plant-based foods. There’s new research being done into the healthfulness of plant-based diets for pets. A lunchtime live from Animal Justice Academy goes into depth on this topic.
Learn more about the research on plant-based diets for companion animals:
There are a lot of options and there’s a lot of development into a better, brighter future for all animals.
Social relationships for pets
Chantelle: The next thing we could touch on is relatationships. Companion animals are social. Much of the time, they thrive when they have a strong relationship with their guardian.
As we mentioned, more than half of Canadians share their home with animals and most consider those animals to be part of the family. I know I certainly do.
That relationship can look different for different individuals. Some dogs always want to be right beside their person. Some enjoy more alone time. In some cases, animals who were previously feral prefer lots of space, and they can take years to warm up to their caregivers.
In general, it’s a good idea to build trust, to let your companion have their own agency on when to engage, and to listen to their communication.
Bonds between animals
Chantelle: There’s also some animals who have strong relationships with other companion animals in the house, if there are any.
Again, that depends on the individual. Some prefer to be a one-animal household and some are bonded with each other.
You’ll see this in feral dogs and cats too. Feral dogs typically have their own routines, but they’ll buddy up with each other and spend time together. Some feral cats live on their own; some like to form colonies. It’s an individual preference.
Should I adopt a second pet?
Chantelle: When you’re making a decision about whether to open your home to one or more companion animals, you can look at their current and previous relationships to give you an idea of how they respond to relationships with other
Amy: This one is really interesting and complicated because certainly we get in our heads sometimes, thinking, “There’s a lot of dogs out there that need to be rescued, and I have one, but maybe I have space for another.” And so we go, “Okay, I should get another dog because I have the space and capacity to do so.”
And meanwhile, the dog that you have isn’t really keen to share their space. And the same can go for cats.
It’s important to get a read on, is your dog or your cat or your rabbit happy in and of themselves? Do they seem like they’re longing for more social connection?
I had one dog who would just cry whenever I left the house, and I had some foster puppies and I videoed to see what would happen when I was away. I had basically a kennel with an ex pen around it, and he jumped up onto the table to jump onto the kennel, to go into the ex pen to lay down with the puppies. And he was so much calmer when he was doing that. And I realized, okay, he needs to live with other animals. He’s just too sad to live alone, or to be left alone.
My companion dog now does not want another dog in the household. She’s very protective and she wants all the treats and toys and water to be hers and hers alone.
Looking at, at the individual is important.
The science of animal emotions
Amy: Let’s go into a little bit of biology on animal behaviour.
We know so much now about animal behaviour grounded in science, which is incredible. If the language gets too technical, we’ll get to a point that maybe we’ll feel a bit more relatable.
Mammals – like humans, dogs, cats, rabbits – have an autonomic nervous system. This system manages involuntary physiological processes, including heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, digestion, and sexual arousal.
It contains three distinct divisions. There’s the sympathetic autonomic nervous system, the parasympathetic autonomic nervous system, and the enteric autonomic nervous system.
Sympathetic nervous system (fight, flight, freeze, or fawn)
So you may have heard of the fight or flight response; that’s really well known. It’s actually a really simplified explanation of one function of our sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The SNS engages with nearly every living tissue in our body.
When we and our pets experience stress, it’s our SNS that responds. It may respond with one of four reactions, the well-known fight and flight, as well as the lesser known freeze and fawn.
With animals, you may notice fight presenting as biting, growling, barking, or bearing teeth, with dogs; or swatting, hissing, or an excited but tight tail wag for cats.
You might notice flight when they run away or cower behind you.
Freeze can be much more subtle. Sometimes in dogs you’ll see the whites of their eyes, a stiff position, a stiff tail or them kind of laying down and staying put. This response is really common in rabbits and chickens as well. Often people think that they’re calm when actually they’re just as stressed as an animal who is fighting or fleeing, they’re just frozen.
Fawn also presents itself, for example, in dogs when they show their bellies, wag their tails, trying to make them seem as unthreatening as possible.
Parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest)
The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is responsible for calming. It’s known as the rest and digest system, specifically involving the vagus nerve. This nerve also has a role in providing an early warning system for us and animals for things like colds and flus. It also monitors the body’s recovery.
To get an idea of whether a pet is happy, it’s good to understand the signs of their sympathetic nervous system being activated, as well as their parasympathetic nervous system responding.
How to tell if your pet is stressed
Amy: When it comes to things like calming, we know that dogs can calm themselves by shaking. There’s an entire body of therapy for humans dedicated to that called somatic movement; they might call it displacement behaviours as well.
For animals, you can see them trying to manage stress by panting, yawning, licking their lips, whining.
Whining can also be considered a fawning response because the dog might be seeking connection and reassurance.
I mentioned “rest and digest”, so animals might also also go to the bathroom after a stressful situation. Peeing can be a fear response.
I often see this in spay neuter clinics when animals wake up from a surgery; it’s the most stressful thing that they experience probably in their lifetime. They will pee and poo as the first thing they do when they wake up.
Cats are notorious for their freeze response, and in lots of cartoons, you see that puffing up and then not moving. They’re also excellent at hiding if they have enough time to assess the situation and know that they have a safe getaway.
Cats might also develop maladaptive eating and toileting behaviours if they’re chronically stressed.
And of course, going back to the that fight mode, I think we’ve all seen cats that know how to engage in the fight mode and conflict as well.
Sometimes signs of stress are subtle. In cats, they can exist over a long period of time. So in a household with more than one pet, it’s really important to have different water sources and litter boxes to prevent one animal from being able to guard all of the resources.
Amy: So now that we know what stress looks like, what other states are there that animals experience?
How to tell if your pet is excited
They can be excited, which can look like stress, but typically they’ll have irregular ear and tail movements that show like anticipation; so they’re frozen or in an aggressive state.
How to tell if your pet is content
Amy: Happiness can mean excited; or it can mean calm, it can mean content. That is going to differ outside of the excited state. You’ll see an animal’s body be very loose, eyes being soft, they might blink more slowly.
Chantelle: A lot of cat guardians are familiar with cat slow blinking as a sign of affection.
Amy: Cats might even knead with their paws or rhythmically swish their tails or rub against you. Dogs might lay on their backs or sprawled out and wag their tails.
How to tell if your pet is playful
Amy: They show signs of playfulness, including seeking out toys. Dogs even have a certain kind of laughter that typically comes out when they’re playing with other dogs, but if they have a good bond with you, it might be possible to hear it from them when you play with them too.
And they’ll be comfortable grooming themselves and eating and cats they might purr or chirp.
The difference between cat and dog behaviour
Chantelle: I find that a lot of the time, when someone is really familiar with only dogs, they can find cats’ behaviour sort of confusing and vice versa. And I think that’s probably because a lot of behaviours that you mentioned have opposite meanings depending on the species.
So for instance, when a dog yawns, they could be feeling fear or stressed, but cats tend to yawn when they’re relaxed.
Both of them wag their tails for a lot of reasons, but more commonly it’s associated with dogs being happy or excited, and cats being kind of annoyed. I just find it really interesting to look at the differences between their behaviours.
Amy: I’d like to chat a little bit more about play. I mentioned it briefly. I absolutely love watching animals play.
As you’ve noticed, we have mostly been talking about dogs and cats. For any species outside of dogs and cats, I really recommend researching their natural behaviours around fear, stress, and play. Sometimes people think an animal is doing well when they’re actually stressed or afraid.
One really important aspect of play is considering the play from the perspective of the animal.
How dogs play
One example would be playing tug of war with the dog. I know there’s a misconception out there that this game can be used to establish a hierarchy where there’s one winner – always the guardian – and they’re the one in charge. This isn’t play.
Power can be a factor in play, but dogs prefer to set the rules and, and if they’re not setting the rules, they don’t really see it as play. They’re just doing what they have to, to get the response from you that they need.
Typically, if they’re playing, they’re the ones in charge. If you give a dog space to do so and you give them resources and you give them your time and engagement, they’ll start to create games and teach you how to play with them the way that they want; whether it’s hide and go seek, fetch, tug of war, scent games, learning tricks, or agility.
It’s really important that a dog is positively reinforced and always given options so that they can communicate whether they want to opt into the activity.
If you choose to engage in physical play with a dog, really take it slow and observe what they respond well to.
With my dog Clover, I can tell when I get a play behaviour right because when I move backwards, she’ll actually come towards me. So she’ll say, “Hey, this is fun. I want to keep doing this.” That’s an example of giving choice.
Something that comes up frequently with play and dogs is mouthing.
It’s really important to recognize that bite inhibition is best taught to puppies because they’ll learn it easily that way. If a dog wasn’t taught bite inhibition as a puppy, it’s really important to follow a very specific training protocol using positive reinforcement to prevent accidental injury during play and to make sure everyone is happy about the outcome.
How cats play
Chantelle: I love talking about animal play as well.
Most cats like to play both by themselves and with another cat or person; in other words, solitary and social play. Generally, the way they play reflects their natural hunting behaviour, like stalking, chasing, pouncing.
Solitary play usually involves a cat interacting with their environment or toys, like batting around a toy mouse or jumping in paper to bags. Animals are just as unique as humans are, so different cats will have different toy preferences.
You can also play with your cat with their toys as a form of social play, like moving around a wand toy for them to chase, or throwing a small toy.
Every cat has a different style of play when they’re playing socially. Some cats love to chase toys that are thrown and some will even bring them back. Some like jumping up at a wand toy when you dangle it above their head, like they would if they were doing their natural behaviours chasing a bird; some like to kind of pounce on it on the ground like they would with a mouse. Even how you move the toy can make a big difference in whether they’re interested or not.
One way that cats play with each other is by fighting or chasing, and some cats also like to do this with people. It’s important to really read your individual animal companion’s behaviours.
It’s also important to teach your cat not to bite you. It’s easiest to do this when they’re young by putting a large object like a stuffed animal between you and the cat when they start to bite.
That being said, some cats can have a lot of fun with games like hide and seek and tag. Cats will also let you know which toys and games are their favourite, because they’ll play with those more and they’ll either initiate the play themselves or they’ll be receptive when you start playing.
Going back to behaviour, a playful cat will typically have dilated eyes and will focus on the thing that they’re playing with. Their tail might also be up, which is typically a sign of friendliness or their tail could be twitching to show they’re excited. If they’re growling or hissing or flattening their ears, that’s a sign that they’re really no longer feeling playful and have actually become frustrated.
Also to note, cat toys don’t have to be expensive. Most cats actually love playing with found items that are around the home. As long as it’s a safe item, not a choking hazard, it can be something that they consider a toy.
(A choking hazard includes items that have parts or materials that can break off, and either a part of the object or the whole object can fit entirely into the cat’s mouth and be swallowed.)
Some favourites in our house are the rope strings that come out of hoodies, hair scrunchies, boxes with a hole cut out, rugs, rolled up socks, paper bags. The world is open for cat toys.
Why do cats get zoomies?
Chantelle: Sometimes, cats also get zoomies where they run around, maybe pounce on things or run in and out of hiding places. Sometimes they meow really loudly. This can be alarming, but is typically a normal cat behaviour.
Cat zoomies are called frenetic random activity periods (FRAPs).
FRAPs are usually a normal way for cats to burn excess energy or express excitement. If you get woken up at 3:00 am, you might be familiar with this.
If a cat is doing this a lot, it could mean that they need more enrichment throughout the day to get the exercise they need and engage their mind.
“Imagine if we could go back in time to when we first started farming pigs and put an end to that practice then and there. Because pig farming would evolve exponentially into an industry that would kill (often brutally) 1.5 billion animals each year…Chances are, most of us would jump on that opportunity to rewind the clock. Now, we’re at this historic crossroads with octopus farming. While certain countries and companies race to open the first octopus farms, scientists, advocates and policy-makers are pursuing action to ban this practice and protect these sentient creatures from the cruel world of factory farming.” – We Animals Media
Important: After you sign the petition, be sure to check your email and click the confirmation link to ensure your signature is counted.
Photos of Kanaloa Octopus Farm: Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, USA, 2022; Laura Lee Cascada / The Every Animal Project / We Animals Media.
Photos of processing plant: Keratsini, Greece, 2020; Selene Magnolia / We Animals Media.
Anyone who has seen the award-winning documentary “My Octopus Teacher” can appreciate how smart, curious and sensitive octopuses are. They can recognise individuals outside of their own species, including humans. Field studies have recorded them engaging in tool-using behaviour in the wild and they have also exhibited problem-solving skills, including navigating mazes and solving puzzles.
Octopuses are typically solitary, wild animals, making them particularly ill-suited to being raised in large numbers on industrial farms. Research also demonstrates that octopuses and other cephalopods have complex nervous systems and the ability to experience pain and distress – key hallmarks of sentience.
Industrial octopus farming will also increase unsustainable pressure on wild fish populations, as the industry will require large amounts of fishmeal and fish oil products to feed farmed octopuses.
All of this makes confining these animals in crowded, barren industrial farms especially concerning. Sign the petition calling on the Canadian government to take a stand against the farming of octopuses and other cephalopods.
Advocates introduce federal e-petition
The petition was introduced by the Montreal SPCA and Green Party leader Elizabeth May, and supported by the Vancouver Humane Society, Animal Justice, BC SPCA, Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals, Humane Canada, Last Chance for Animals and Winnipeg Humane Society. Once the petition closes, it will be presented in the House of Commons and the federal government will respond within 45 days of it being presented.
Funded by a 3-year grant from the Vancouver Foundation, the VHS is offering free online courses and workshops to help animal service organizations keep more animals in loving homes through trauma-informed, outreach-focused, and prevention-based practices.
The VHS was grateful to collaborate with new partners on this project last year. In 2022, the training program officially partnered with the Paws for Hope Animal Foundation and the Human Animal Support Services Project (HASS), two organizations working to keep more pets with the people who love them.
The BC Vet Technologists Association has also approved the VHS’s online training for continuing education, meaning vet techs who complete the courses will receive 2 credits per session toward their continuing education.
The VHS is excited for these collaborations, and the opportunity to help more organizations across Canada and the United States implement these practices.
We’ve discussed the laws and regulations in place to protect animals, and the gaps in those regulations that cause animals to suffer. This month we learn: what processes are in place to ensure the regulations are being met?
In the final episode of The Informed Animal Ally’s series on animal cruelty, the VHS’s Chantelle Archambault and Amy Morris discuss the processes in place to enfore laws and regulations intended to protect animals from suffering.
Since the time of recording, Animal Justice has released disturbing footage of regulations being violated at a B.C. slaughterhouse called Meadow Valley Meats, which is responsible for brands marketed as “local”, “humane”, and coming from “family farms”. Please take urgent action to call for changes to protect animals from terrible suffering in slaughterhouses in BC and across Canada.
Chantelle: As part of our series on animal cruelty, we’ve been going over the laws and regulations that are in place to protect animals from suffering, as well as the gaps in those laws and accepted practices in various areas that humans interact with or exploit non-human animals.
We’ve not yet touched on how those laws and regulations are enforced, and that’s what we’ll be covering today.
So to start out with, I’d like to clarify some of the types of cases we’ll be referring to today. When we talk about animal cruelty enforcement, there are:
Cases where the suffering is institutional, such as abuse cases for farmed animals;
Cases where there’s been purposeful, sadistic abuse of animals by an individual;
Cases classified as animal neglect where the person responsible for the animals often had a lack of knowledge or a lack of resources.
I’ll go through a couple examples for some context, but please mind that the details of these cases are disturbing, and we recommend having a plan in place for self-care.
Institutional animal cruelty
One case of institutional cruelty came up in 2017 when Mercy for Animals obtained undercover footage of spent laying hens being cruelly handled and thrown into crates at a farm in Abbotsford. The two companies responsible, Elite Farms in B.C. and an Ontario poultry processor called Sofina Foods Inc., pled guilty to two charges of animal cruelty.
They were only sentenced to a fine of $300,000 and three years probation. Elite Farms was given 10 years to pay the fine because they hadn’t been caught violating regulations before; Sofina foods was given six months because they were a repeat offender. That fine is a drop in the bucket for these massive corporations. There were no limits on them keeping animals, even though the abuse was horrific and on such a massive scale. They simply needed to update their training policies.
Amy: And something to note, since we’re going to be talking about enforcement, there’s both the observation and the gathering of evidence; and then that’s the point where it gets to the court system.
The reason that all of this even got to the court system is that it was observed through undercover footage recorded by an employee who had to bear witness to a significant amount of animal suffering to capture these clips. Having watched them, I’ll say, it disturbed me for a really long time.
This only happened because someone worked to get employed in a low paying job undercover. I can’t imagine how many farms this is happening on where we just don’t have any recorded footage of it.
Chantelle: Yeah, absolutely.
Unfortunately, what we end up seeing is that the most widespread suffering is in fact caused by institution level abuse, and yet when those cases do come out, they tend to get very light sentences and the corporations involved can continue to keep animals. Typically, there’s a few employees who are blamed and fired to make the issue seem like it was an individual issue rather than part of a larger institutional problem, even when the company was aware of the abuse.
In this case, there were various news sources reporting either five or six employees fired, including one supervisor, and both the whistleblower and the supervisor who was fired say that they reported the treatment of the chickens and nothing was done until the video footage was leaked publicly.
Individual animal abuse
Chantelle: For an example of individual animal abuse, another really upsetting case that was in the media about a decade ago was the case of Captain the dog in Vancouver.
The person who was supposed to be caring for Captain was Brian Whitlock, and he brutally harmed and killed him. Captain’s body was found in a dumpster. He was emaciated and had signs of severe physical abuse. That’s an example of truly sadistic behavior toward an animal.
Brian was sentenced to a lifetime ban on owning animals, but only a 60-day jail term and three years’ probation. I think that’s a testament to how little animals’ lives are valued.
And then when he got out, he eventually went on to murder his mother just a year later.
That’s a really extreme and tragic case, but it does show the violence link – people who harm animals are often the same people who harm humans.
Amy: Certainly these cases of intentional abuse just don’t see the degree of sentencing that connects to that level of violence or the likelihood of violence that’s happening to others in that person’s life.
Individual animal neglect
Amy: Individual animal abuse cases are fairly infrequent. Most of the cases that end up getting reported to enforcement agencies tend to have to do with different types of neglect. Those vary from hoarding to animals in extreme heat and cold, but can also include animals that aren’t being treated for veterinary conditions.
These cases are certainly more nuanced and complex because the people don’t necessarily have intent and they may be facing financial barriers as well as systemic marginalization that’s leading to them not being able to care for the animals in their care. They require a more nuanced kind of approach to enforcement.
Chantelle: Yes, that’s certainly the case. When we see the term animal cruelty in the media related to individuals, the public response tends to advocate for the harshest sentence possible across the board, but different cases need different treatment.
For instance, jail time would be more appropriate for a case of someone who’s deliberately abusing animals, whereas maybe a restorative justice approach would be a better option for someone who had a lack of knowledge or a lack of resources to meet their animals’ needs.
Amy: Two factors that can play a really significant role in those neglect cases are:
Normalization: seeing something get gradually worse every day so it seems normal;
Minimization: feeling like something isn’t so bad because other factors may be worse in someone’s life.
The way to address that way of thinking is really about providing a person an opportunity to learn and see things differently, rather than punishing them, which just ends up inducing shame and really doesn’t change their behavior when they inevitably have animals in their lives later on.
We can get into seeing a cycle of this situation repeating because it hasn’t been adequately addressed.
Puppy mills, kitten mills, and breeding
Amy: When it comes to enforcement, both the law enforcement piece and the court system, and proactive monitoring, they really differ significantly by species and by province.
I’ll use an example puppy and kitten mills.
In New Brunswick, there’s been legislation in place that regulates dog and cat breeding since 2010. These regular inspections are funded by fees that the businesses themselves have to pay. There’s a regulatory system in place for ensuring that the people who are breeding animals are taking good care of those animals.
Prince Edward Island has something similar regulating pet establishments.
Provinces like Manitoba and British Columbia at one point in time enacted clauses that allow for regulation to happen of this industry, but it was never activated, which means there’s no actual protections for animals beyond the laws that already apply to all animals. Those laws are only enforced based on complaints. The laws are quite broad and that allows for vastly different interpretations
Industry specific regulations that are proactively enforced are meaningful because they have prescriptive requirements for the minimum ways animals should be cared for.
Without those minimum requirements, it’s left up to the interpretation of the individuals who are interpreting the law. That could be the breeder themselves; that could be the law enforcement person looking at a complaint. They interpret the law based on their personal upbringing, their values, maybe the amount of effort required to make an assessment, maybe the amount of resources that the organization has that’s doing the enforcement.
There’s endless examples, but one that I like to use is a standard that requires water be available at all times. A standard like that is easy to identify if it’s being met. You can say, yes, it’s being met, or no, there’s a violation. And then if there’s a violation, you can say, you need to do this specific thing.
But if there’s no standard in place and there’s no water on display for an animal, a person could argue that they provide water once a day and that’s sufficient to meet the animal’s needs. And then if there was a case, it would be left up to the court to decide if it’s okay or not for animals to have water just once a day. This includes really costly endeavors getting to the point of the court system. It involves gathering evidence and producing experts to testify to the minimum accepted amount of water an animal needs, as well as to prove that the animal was in fact dehydrated.
If you think about your average RCMP officer or enforcement officer from an animal welfare organization, they’re not trained medical practitioners. They’re not equipped to gather evidence in the field that would say whether animal is dehydrated or not; aside from giving the animal a bowl of water and seeing what happens.
By the time they leave and come back with a warrant to seize an animal that they believe is dehydrated to bring to a vet to assess for dehydration, the operator would have provided the animal water; because they would have essentially predicted that this was all going to happen.
And then suddenly, the person comes back with a warrant and they go, oh no, I’ve provided water. So this kind of pattern can happen over and over for years where an enforcement officer shows up, no water’s being provided, and then suddenly a week later, the enforcement officer comes back, water’s there.
And that can happen for all species of animals that are kept for profit, where there’s no standards for good animal welfare being proactively audited for. I use this one example of water, but you can think it applies to the housing, it applies to pretty much any way animals are cared for and kept.
Chantelle: Definitely. And ultimately this means that people can breed and sell cats and dogs with no requirements or monitoring. That leads to animals being sold with heritable diseases – diseases that they can pass on to their offspring if they have any – and treatable illnesses. When these types of cases are reported, there’s little that can be done because the person selling the animal often doesn’t provide the purchasers with an address or they provide a false address.
In some states in the United States, there are “lemon laws” that help protect the buyer and ensure that the person selling the animal is looking out for their well-being. But unfortunately, nothing like that has been instituted in Canada.
Amy: It’s pretty frustrating, particularly with the number of calls that come into SPCAs and humane societies about these kinds of cases where someone bought an animal from a rescue or a breeder and then they ended up very sick or they ended up having a disease.
Amy: In general, when it comes to industries that raise animals for product or sale, including farmed animals and puppy and kitten breeders, if we speak about the province of B.C., the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act does allow for access during ordinary business hours to enter any premises other than a dwelling where animals are kept for sale or exhibition for the purpose of determining whether any animal is in distress on the premises.
The RCMP can enforce the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, but they end up referring people back to the BC SPCA who will only be going to these kinds of facilities if someone calls in and says there’s something wrong there.
Chantelle: That brings us to talk about animals who are farmed for food and clothing.
On-Farm monitoring varies by province. As we alluded to earlier, different provinces have different types of enforcement agencies.
In Ontario, animal cruelty investigations are a governmental responsibility, and the inspectors are appointed through the provincial government.
In Manitoba, investigations are conducted by one of the province’s animal protection officers, and they include employed and contracted staff.
In British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and New Brunswick, protection of farmed animals is enforced by the SPCA.
Amy: In B.C., cruelty investigations are performed by the BC SPCA when a cruelty complaint is made.
There’s no active monitoring programs on farms led by any kind of third party.
Third party monitoring is the idea that an independent entity is responsible for making assessments as to the well-being of animals. It’s tricky to accomplish the idea of an “independent entity” because they have to not have any kind of bias.
So let’s say the government is either conducting inspections or they’re contracting an entity to conduct inspections. The government could give directions to them of how strict or loose to be with the assessments based on the government’s own interest in maintaining public trust of their abilities to enforce the laws.
If farm industry groups themselves try to contract an “independent” entity, that entity is beholden to the desires of those groups.
One way it could work is for an entity like the SPCA, who has no specific interest in public trust and does have a specific interest in animal welfare, to manage an agency that does the monitoring. But the information for the audits wouldn’t be publicly available because they’re a private entity.
The best case scenario is an agreement between industry, government, nonprofit or SPCA, and an independent contractor that would allow audits to occur and the results to be made publicly available. The reason this isn’t happening now is that this kind of system doesn’t work in favor of the farmed animal industry or government.
Chantelle: Absolutely. Just a little background on what’s going on now. Last year, the BC SPCA announced that they would be conducting 12 spot checks of farms per year with a veterinarian and also an SPCA officer and a Ministry of Agriculture staffer as a pilot project. After they announced this, they were met with industry backlash and from the BC Cattleman’s Association in particular.
I think that’s really interesting to note, given that more people are increasingly wanting transparency about what happens to animals on farms, and that includes people who purchase and consume animal products. I believe that should leave those consumers wary about what the industry has to hide.
Amy: And certainly there’s so much opportunity to find a middle ground. And what we’re seeing is an unwillingness to find a middle ground and a solid commitment to having no eyes on farms.
Chantelle: Yeah, definitely.
“Ag gag” laws
Chantelle: Several provinces have what’s known among animal advocates as ag gag laws, which specifically prevent non-approved individuals from going onto farm properties and seeing or documenting what happens; for instance, journalists investigating cruelty claims on a farm.
In other provinces, public awareness of what happens on farms is limited by general trespassing laws, which effectively make it illegal for advocates or journalists to capture footage of cruelty.
Any footage that’s obtained illegally, which is basically all footage, is non-admissible in court, even if there’s blatant evidence of cruelty and animal suffering.
Amy: I find this so wild, that government and industry essentially collude in great length to hide from the public what’s happening on farms.
For example, in B.C., a group of advocates sat in on Excelsior hog farm in Abbotsford and took photos of sick injured and dead pigs, and four of those advocates were put on trial for exposing suffering on that farm.
But because further evidence couldn’t be obtained legally, no action has been taken against the farm at this time. That’s pretty shocking because the footage that was recorded undercover is accessible, and it’s horrific to watch. It’s honestly some of the most disturbing footage that I’ve come across of pigs.
That footage was provided to an enforcement entity and yet when they go on site, they don’t find any violations of the law because their presence is expected and things have been cleaned up. So then they can’t gather evidence to pursue charges, even though it’s obvious from the footage that the animals were suffering in really egregious ways.
Chantelle: Absolutely. That’s why so many animal advocates, including the VHS, have been calling for mandatory video monitoring on farms, which would deter the industry from being able to hide animal suffering.
Amy: It’s such a hard topic to talk about, but we can’t talk about farmed animals on farms without thinking about farmed animals in other contexts.
Maybe life on a farm is okay, maybe it’s not. But there’s other aspects like transport, going to auction facilities and slaughter that have really big impacts on farmed animals’ lives.
When it comes to the enforcement of transport and slaughter, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is responsible for responding to complaints.
They typically respond with fines, even for egregious suffering, and they don’t refer cases for legal proceedings that would involve any kind of jail penalties. So they just continually use what they call “Administrative Monetary Penalties“.
They do have veterinarians that are attending at slaughter facilities, typically where animals are unloaded or slaughtered; but despite animals, dying and being found dead during the transport process or having limbs torn off, really awful things, no animal cruelty charges are being recommended by these veterinarians.
I’ll also speak a little bit about auctions. Anecdotally, if you talk to anyone who’s been to an auction, they’ll tell you it’s a place where you can observe significant animal distress. And sometimes what’s considered critical distress, where an animal is essentially close to death and really in an acute state. They don’t have any kind of monitoring in place.
We hear these accounts of animals arriving or being sold in really poor states, to the degree that they should never have been transported; but there’s no one who’s attending these events, tracking the sellers, going back to their facilities, checking them out, recommending charges of animal cruelty.
Essentially, no one wants to go to them because they know how bad it is. So it’s this huge gap in the enforcement of animal cruelty, legislation.
Changing attitudes & behaviours
Amy: I want to pause here and say that thinking and talking about animal protection and law enforcement can be pretty depressing. The systems are not set up to protect animals. While legislation does play a role, the most important thing is the volume of the public who are demanding better care for animals.
And so the unfortunate reality we’re seeing is that the average Canadian consumer doesn’t regard for animal welfare when it comes to the products they’re buying.
To change laws and policies, to get this proactive monitoring that we’re talking about with cameras in slaughter facilities, as well as funding for enforcement, big changes are needed in the attitudes of the public to actually push the government to prioritize these issues.
Without public support, politicians tend to see these issues essentially as niche.
And so when we meet with provincial government politicians and bureaucrats about issues that require better laws and proactive monitoring, whether that is sled dogs or animals in captivity or farmed animals, the most common response we get back is that it’s just not a priority. They’re not hearing from enough people and they’re not being swayed. So these issues seem to drop to the bottom of the pile
In their eyes, there’s an opportunity cost; if they keep things the way they are, nothing happens. And so they’re not facing some of those kind of incentives to make a different decision.
Chantelle: And that’s the most challenging part of advocating for animal well-being. The biggest and the most important thing we can do to improve enforcement is really to be active citizens, both with our peers and with politicians at the local, provincial, and federal level. Coming from a place of compassion and understanding, if every person is able to connect with and motivate five others to care about the value of animals and their capacity to suffer, we can really start to see real change.
This concludes our series on animal cruelty. Join us next week as we begin a new series on animal well-being with the topic “Is my pet happy?”
B.C. slaughterhouse with connections to previous cruelty case under investigation
Last night, Animal Justice released horrific footage of animal cruelty at Meadow Valley Meats, a slaughterhouse in Pitt Meadows that promotes itself as “local” and its meat products as “ethical”. This footage shows suffering of the worst kind and demonstrates a clear violation of provincial and federal slaughter regulations.
Not the first time Meadow Valley Meats has been in trouble
Meadow Valley Meats is a B.C.-based slaughterhouse company. According to their website, they are the largest B.C. processor of beef, veal, lambs and goats. This footage does not show an isolated incident, but further evidence of systemic problems in the animal agriculture industry from a major local company.
Media reports that the company, formerly called Pitt Meadows Meats, pled guilty in 2015 to selling E. Coli-tainted meat and after the plant manager knowingly decided not to recall the tainted meat. Meadow Valley Meats also lists Jeff and Ken Kooyman as directors. The two men have connections to the infamous 2014 Chilliwack Cattle Sales dairy cruelty case. That investigation revealed staff repeatedly kicking and punching cows, hitting them with canes and ripping out their tail hair. Video footage also showed a cow being lifted by a chain around her neck using a tractor. The company was fined the maximum amount and had to pay $258,700.
These horrific cases reflect what animal advocates have long argued – that there are serious, systemic animal welfare issues across the animal agriculture industry. It also highlights that court-mandated fines are not enough to change the behaviour of the industry and protect animals.
Meadow Valley Meats is responsible for the following brands, many of which are marketed as local, humane, or family farms.
Regulations around animal slaughter
Meadow Valley Meats is regulated by the Provincial Meat Inspection Regulation, which requires that animals are kept & slaughtered “in accordance with the requirements relating to the humane treatment of animals” set forth by the federal government.
The animal agriculture industry and regulating bodies tout requirements of “humane slaughter” to build public trust; but sadly, this claim doesn’t translate to good welfare for animals.
VANCOUVER, February 21, 2023 – On Thursday, the Government of British Columbia announced new funding for fairs, festivals, and events; but the Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) is calling out the concerning inclusion of inhumane rodeo events.
“Eligible events include sporting events, arts and culture events, community celebrations, agricultural fairs and rodeos,” according to a press release from the Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport, which is headed by Minister Lana Popham.
“It’s incredibly disappointing to see the Province supporting inhumane and outdated rodeo practices that have been proven to cause animal suffering,” says Emily Pickett, Campaign Director for the VHS.
The announcement comes less than a month after a new study was published on the stress caused by calf roping, a controversial event which takes place annually at rodeos in B.C. It also arrives on the heels of disturbing video footage released by the VHS, which reveals recurring welfare issues at B.C.’s most recent rodeo events including animals being roughly handled and deliberately agitated.
Pickett points to recent polling which shows only 26% of British Columbians are in favour of using animals in rodeo. “The majority of British Columbians are opposed to this cruel and outdated practice, yet the Province has made the baffling decision to use our tax dollars to support institutionalized animal exploitation. There are positive and family-friendly events to provide funding for that bring communities together while aligning with our society’s collective values of treating animals with care and respect.”
The VHS is calling on the Province to side with compassion and evidence by removing any funding for, and supporting a shift away from, cruel rodeo events. This would follow the lead of municipal governments in B.C. – including the City of Vancouver and the District of North Vancouver – and of a growing number of nations and regions worldwide.