It may just have one official branch in the region and that’s in Prince Rupert but the BC SPCA’s responsibilities toward animal welfare are felt across the northwest.
Lorie Chortyk, who speaks for the agency in B.C., admits that it can be easy to confuse it with animal shelters run by local governments or animal welfare groups set up by individuals.
Local government shelters enforce bylaws passed by those local governments relating to stray animals, barking dogs or dangerous animals or other situations and do public education.
“We are the only animal welfare organization in B.C. that was created under the auspices of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act,” said Chortyk as the key distinction.
With that comes the authority to enforce provincial and federal laws relating to animal cruelty although, Chortyk notes, it is up to provincial prosecutors to lay charges or not based on information provided by the BC SPCA.
And when it does contract out to a local government, as is the case in Prince Rupert, it does that on behalf of the local government and is not part of the BC SPCA’s core mandate, she added.
While the BC SPCA may have just the one official location in Prince Rupert, it has a special constable based in the Hazeltons, its key investigator on reports of animal cruelty or neglect in the region and one of 41 such officers in the province.
Chortyk prefers not to name the person publicly, citing concerns about safety.
“The officer we have based out of Hazelton covers the area from Prince Rupert to Fraser Lake — he responded to 111 calls in 2020 and 159 calls in 2021,” she said.
“This is a lower number of calls than officers in more populated areas because of a lower population but the workload is just as demanding because of the distances he is required to travel to investigate.”
“The colder winter weather in the north also means they receive more calls related to animals being left outside when temperatures drop than in other parts of the province, and more calls related to livestock and other large animals,” Chortyk added.
With just one officer in the northwest covering a large expanse of territory, the officer regularly cooperates with the RCMP and provincial conservation officers and other enforcement agencies.
In December the officer was called to look into reports in Houston of dogs being kept outside during the extreme cold spell when temperatures dipped below -30 degrees.
The dogs were subsequently moved to another location and housed in an insulated and heated structure.
Also in December the officer — and the RCMP — responded to complaints from the Hazelton area residents that two herds of cattle belonging to one person were not being provided with sufficient water and feed. Some of the cattle had died.
The surviving cattle were eventually surrendered to be placed at a ranch east of Smithers.
In Prince Rupert, because the BC SPCA has a branch there, it has a significant footprint and connections with community welfare groups and others in the immediate area.
“Currently we are serving an area that reaches from the Nass Valley, to Lax Kw’alaams [Port Simpson on the North Coast] and as far south as Klemtu,” says Joe Griffith, the Prince Rupert branch manager.
In Klemtu it works with the local RCMP and the Spirit’s Mission Rescue Society to reduce the number of stray dogs, a task also undertaken in Terrace through local government animal shelters and the Terrace-based Northern Animal Rescue Alliance.
In Prince Rupert proper, the branch assists the Paws United Rescue Society in dealing with stray cats and kittens.
“We are considered to be responders for lost and stray animals,” Griffith notes.
It also runs an animal food bank in Prince Rupert and, weather permitting, ships a skid of pet food to the food bank in Haida Gwaii each month.
Across B.C. the BC SPCA operates 41 facilities, including 36 animal shelters, a wildlife rehabilitation centre, five veterinary hospitals and clinics, a provincial call centre and a provincial office.
Regardless of where people may live, Chortyk says worries about animal abuse, neglect or cruelty can be reported to the BC SPCA at 1-855-622-7722.