From kennel to courtroom

A legal bid to save 21 former fighting dogs from being euthanized is part of a growing movement to grant animals some of the same rights as humans

Originally published January 2017

Twenty-one lives hinge on the outcome of a case being heard in a small courtroom near Chatham, Ont., packed with spectators on a sunny day early last November. Some of the spectators wear bright yellow T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “#savethe21.” They had risen early and boarded a bus to make the 300-kilometre trip from north of Toronto to the Chatham-Kent Provincial Offences Court.

The “21” won’t be joining them in court. Even if they were, they couldn’t speak for themselves. The 21 are allegedly former fighting dogs, among a total of 31 seized when police and the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) raided a rural property in the Chatham area, arresting three people and laying hundreds of charges. Two others would eventually be charged as well. Police said they found items relating to dog-fighting and training. The “pit bull-type” dogs seized from the property were turned over to the OSPCA, the organization responsible for animal welfare in the province. Three dogs were euthanized for medical reasons, and the OSPCA sought court approval to put down a further 21, arguing the animals had irreconcilable behaviour issues, and couldn’t be put up for adoption anyway because a provincial law prohibits the breed.

Catching wind of the case, a dog-rescue group and an animal rights organization jumped into the fray, arguing that former fighting dogs can be rehabilitated and offering to shelter and work with the 21 until they’re ready to transition into homes in locations where owning the breed is allowed. In an unlikely alliance with the dogs’ owners, they applied for intervenor status in the OSPCA’s application.

The different groups have different reasons for wanting to intervene, but one theme is common to both: the dogs are innocent victims and do not deserve to die for the alleged sins of their owners. Furthermore, they should be entitled to representation in the courtroom because they cannot speak for themselves.