[Calgary Herald - opinion]
If any good comes from the carnage of dead horses on a northern Alberta ranch, it's that it sparks debate over animal rights versus those of property owners. Twenty-seven horses died of starvation near the town of Andrew, another was euthanized and 100 more are under a vet's care, expected to recover despite suffering varying degrees of extreme neglect. Even though neighbours suspected such suffering was occurring, and the operation was on the radar of the SPCA for more than three years over similar allegations, property and privacy rights trumped the welfare of these neglected horses.
The tragedy, reported this week, is compounded by the sad fact the owner was allegedly investigated in 2004 and convicted for not feeding his horses adequately, confirmed Morris Airey, SPCA director of animal protection services. Airey wouldn't release the name, but neighbours and media reports say it's Axel Hinz-Schleuter, of Hinz-Schleuter Arabians.
That attitude must change. Judges should recognize when the situation is so severe and there's reasonable and probable grounds to believe livestock or pets are in distress that the suffering of animals should supersede the sensitivities of owners. Without the proper tools, the SPCA is limited in its ability to fulfill its mandate -- to enforce the provincial Animal Protection Act. It has unfairly taken the heat for failing to act sooner.
The system meant to protect animals failed miserably, leading to 28 dead horses that could have been saved had the judge taken a tougher position in 2005. The only way to prevent a similar tragedy from occurring again is by allowing animal protection officers the right to follow up with those who have proven -- even just once -- that they have troubles properly providing for animals in their care.