UPPER NAPPAN – Carollynn was crying.
Her voice on the phone, speaking from Thunder Bay, Ontario, was broken. She was missing her dog, Chester. Chessy is a terrier-cross. His first birthday is February 19. His favourite treat is popcorn. Carollynn Hiltz is torn-up inside at his loss.
“I want him back…I need him,” said Hiltz.
Chester has a new home in Cumberland County. He was adopted from the LA Shelter by a new family. Chessy was picked up running loose and taken to the shelter where, after 72 hours, he became their property and responsibility (according to town and county bylaws).
“It is a difficult situation,” said Kirsteen Thompson, adoptions coordinator for the shelter. But she believes giving Chester to a new family was the right decision.
It’s also a somewhat complicated situation. The broad strokes of the background are this: Hiltz’s relationship with her girlfriend in River Hebert ended and she decided to move to Ontario, leaving a number of animals (“quite a zoo,” she said, including a second dog, a pot-bellied pig and at least one cat) in the care of her ex. Hiltz said her intention was to get Chester flown up to Ontario once she was settled. In the interim, however, Chester was picked up loose by K-9 control. Hiltz, in Ontario, wasn’t alerted to this until two days (48 hours) had passed, she said.
The former owner said she was in touch with the shelter about Chester with 12 hours to spare, but could not coordinate getting someone to pick him up, and pay the amount owing – board and pick-up fee, at least – in that time frame.
With the 72 hours gone, Hiltz was invited to apply to adopt Chester. Two other applications were also received, giving the shelter the choice of three placements for the dog.
Thompson argued animals are not property in the way inanimate objects are.
“We’re not there for the public, we’re there for the animals,” she said.
The shelter board member said they expect puppies they adopt out to be neutered by six months of age (Hiltz said she had every intention of getting him fixed, but not until he was a little older). And the fact he hadn’t been vaccinated was problematic.
“We do have guidelines,” she said, and those guidelines were followed in Chester’s case. Veterinary care was deemed a stumbling block in Hiltz’s application.
Hiltz said she got veterinary care for her animals when it was needed – “I would do anything it takes to save my animals.” – but she doesn’t believe in vaccinations. In an email to the shelter, she wrote: “How many people do you think live in Nova Scotia that haven’t had their animals vaccinated because they can’t afford it but love their animals unconditionally?”
Hiltz claimed none of the references she gave the shelter were contacted.
The shelter chose a different home for Chester.
“They just judged me,” said Hiltz, because she left the dog behind in Nova Scotia, because he wasn’t neutered, because – her description – they decided she was an irresponsible, horrible person.
Thompson said she’s not claiming Hiltz mistreated her animals. The adoptions coordinator said it isn’t the first time they’ve had a situation like this.
“Overall, we do a very good job with our animals,” said Thompson.
Hiltz said she knows the dog’s new family loves him, but she’s loved him longer.
“I would plead to those people to send him to me,” she said.
Thompson is aware the situation will draw fire from some, but she wouldn’t change the decision if she could (in complicated adoptions, a dog committee of board members is consulted).
“Carollynn doesn’t have any legal right (to Chester),” said Thompson.