Neighbours worried about dogs living in vehicle

From a few metres away, the dark blue minivan that often sits in a parking space behind a west-side affordable housing complex looks ordinary enough.

One of the side windows is cracked open a few inches and the rear door is propped ajar with an empty cooking pot. The back seats have been removed and replaced with a box-like wooden structure, open at the back end.

Walk closer and the barking starts. It’s not just an empty old van — it’s a mobile den for two large dogs whose owner apparently has nowhere else to keep them.

For months, neighbours and other passersby have been calling Saskatoon animal protection officers with concerns about the dogs, which appear to be pit bull-type terriers, living in the parked vehicle on Bennett Place. Sometimes the van has been moved elsewhere by the time the authorities arrive, but sooner or later it always returns.

"I’m not going to watch these dogs die," said Todd Hrabok, an employee of a private security company doing patrols in the neighbourhood for the Saskatoon Housing Authority. At times, the dogs have been kept inside the van for so long that their urine and droppings are literally leaking out of the doors, he said.

"Somebody’s got to do something."

The situation is complicated because keeping dogs in a vehicle is not illegal, and the animals can’t be seized unless they’re at large or "in immediate distress" due to dangerous temperatures or lack of food and water, Saskatoon SPCA shelter director Tiffiny Koback said in a recent interview.

"I understand that people are quite frustrated. They probably expect us to just go and remove the dogs and be done with it, but unfortunately it’s not that simple," she said.

Animal protection officers have been dealing with the dogs’ owner since last year, Koback said.

"In the wintertime he had the dogs in the vehicle and we were not satisfied that the conditions were warm enough for the dogs."

The SPCA kept them in its shelter for about a month after that, while the owner was "required to either find them alternate accommodations or construct something in the vehicle that would provide them with adequate heat so that they’re not going to freeze or be subjected to the cold climate — and he had done that," she said, referring to the van’s wooden addition.

"So for the winter months he was meeting the bare minimum under the Animal Protection Act, so at that point we had to return the dogs to him. Now, obviously it’s becoming warm outside, so our concern, as with everybody else, is that with the warmer temperatures, what’s going to happen now?"

Animal protection officers carry temperature gauges, and they want to keep a close eye on the situation, Koback said. The SPCA wants to encourage people to keep watching and calling with information about the dogs’ condition, she emphasized.

"We routinely promote not to leave your animal in a vehicle at any time unsupervised because of these reasons, and then here we have someone who does it all the time and unless we actually see the animals in distress, our hands are tied," she said.

"And people don’t understand that, and I can understand they’re going to be frustrated because we’re saying one thing and then we’re allowing this to happen . . . (but) in fact we are doing our best, and the moment we find those dogs in distress we’ll be definitely removing them."

The dogs’ owner, who has no fixed address, did not respond to an interview request.

He’s had plenty of time to come up with another living arrangement for his pets, Koback said.

"That’s something that people have to really think about. If they’re not in a situation where they’re able to provide all the necessities, then should they be keeping the animal? So we’ll be looking at that and having those discussions with him as well."


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