Resident seeks changes to Wildlife Act after pet goes missing
PARRSBORO – One local family is mourning the loss of their family pet, and seeking changes to the provincial Wildlife Act.
Karen Yorke-Gilbert’s dog Harley, a three-year-old Valley bulldog, has been missing for almost two weeks, and she has lost hope of ever seeing him again. In fact, she believes he was shot and killed.
© Andrew Wagstaff - cumberlandnewsnow
Karen Yorke-Gilbert of Parrsboro is hoping to see changes to Nova Scotia's Wildlife Act, after her family dog Harley went missing recently. Harley was the father of Chumlee, seen here.
However, rather than focus on what happened to him, she is putting her energy towards preventing another family from going through what hers did.
“As grieving as we are, I want to do something positive,” she said. “I just know he was a good dog, and had no inkling in his little body to chase a deer.”
Harley joined the Gilbert family in 2010 after they lost their cocker spaniel to cancer. Still heartbroken over that loss, she said she wasn’t ready for another dog, but her husband Billy wanted his own dog, and was interested in the Valley bulldog breed because of their reputation for being smart, loyal, and good with both the farm and family.
They located a breeder in Bridgewater and found Harley, who quickly fit in as a member of the family. Billy and daughter Sarah picked him up.
“They brought him home and I fell in love with him,” said Yorke-Gilbert. “Everybody fell in love with him because he had the greatest personality.”
The first thing they did with Harley was train him to be around the farm. When in the barn and around their horses, he would sit quietly, and was very well behaved, she said. They also installed an electric barrier fence all the way around the property to keep him from getting loose.
On the day he went missing, they had just returned from picking up a load of lumber. Yorke-Gilbert went inside to start supper, while Harley stayed outside as Mr. Gilbert unloaded the truck. To allow Harley to travel in and out of the barn, they removed his collar that reacted with the electric fence.
While making supper, she heard a gunshot.
“I didn’t think anything of it, because it’s hunting season,” said Yorke-Gilbert. “It didn’t cross my mind for a second. When supper was ready, Billy came in and said, ‘Where’s Harley?’”
Harley would rarely stray out of eyesight of his owners, and always came when called. But not this time. They called and searched, combing the nearby woods until 10 p.m., to no avail. They resumed their search at 5 a.m. the next morning.
Around lunchtime that day, they received a visit from officers from the local department of natural resources (DNR) office, claiming there had been an anonymous report of dogs chasing deer on a neighbouring property.
“I just started crying,” she said. “My dog has never been out chasing deer. He’s been out in our pasture while deer were grazing and never bothered them. He’s been trained to stay away from horses, and doesn’t run after deer. It’s never been an issue.”
Yorke-Gilbert does not believe Harley, who was only out of sight for 5-10 minutes, was chasing a deer. She believes someone shot him to protect their hunting area, knowing the Wildlife Act (Section 41-3) permits them to do so. The law states that, “any person can lawfully destroy a dog that is attacking a moose, deer or bear.”
And that is what she wants to see changed.
“I want it changed so you must call either the owner of the dog or DNR to report the dog chasing wildlife, so it can be dealt with by proper people responsible for following the law,” said Yorke-Gilbert.
That is already the course of action preferred by the local DNR office, according to conservation officer Shirley Sutherland.
“What we encourage is people report to us, 1-800-565-2224, to let us know whereabouts they see the animal, the description of the animal, which way it was traveling,” she explained. “We gather our information, go into an investigation, and backtrack to find the owner. We go the extra distance to explain to them about the responsibility of taking control over the dog and keeping it safe.”
Complaints of dogs attacking deer are not as common these days as in past decades, according to Sutherland, who said pet owners are generally more careful and responsible with their pets now.
“I haven’t experienced any incidents where dogs have been put down,” she said. “It tends to be a rare occurrence, and owners are more apologetic if a dog happened to escape that day.”
Yorke-Gilbert is not the only one who believes the Wildlife Act is in need of an update. She has also received support from Cumberland South MLA and Opposition Leader Jamie Baillie, who said he plans to include the measures in a legislative package aimed to protect pets from cruel and inhumane treatment such as “extreme tethering” and being left in hot cars for extended periods of time. He described the current law as “archaic.”
“Clearly, the law that says any person can shoot a dog for chasing deer is outdated, and needs to be fixed, so I will be taking her case to the legislature to do my best to get that changed,” said Baillie. “Our views on protecting animals and avoiding cruelty have evolved, and the law should reflect that.”