BC SPCA chief executive officer Craig Daniell, left, presents SPCA leadership award to Kathy Woodward (centre), joined by BC SPCA president Jennifer Gore. - Image Credit: Contributed by BC SPCA.

Investigating animal abuse

SPCA animal cruelty officer says job can be both rewarding and heartbreaking.

For SPCA animal cruelty investigator Kathy Woodward, it is the memory of one particular dog that motivates her on a daily basis.

Woodward says many if not all the 35 SPCA constables across the province share a similar experience, one incident, one animal that sticks out above the rest for personal reasons.

For Woodward, it was in responding to a complaint years ago in Beaverdell where she came across a pregnant dog, chained to a dog house, without food or bedding, emaciated and pregnant.

“I looked in her eyes and I could see she was giving up,” Woodward recalled.

She convinced the owner to immediately surrender the dog to her as an investigation started into what lead to a seizure of 97 dogs.

She brought the ailing dog back to the SPCA and it gave birth to 13 puppies the next day.

“As soon as she was separated from her pups, she just laid down and died. She stayed alive for those puppies,” Woodward remembers.

“When I wake up in the morning, I see that dog’s face and I know why I come to work everyday. All of us I think have that story that wakes us up every morning and gets us going.”

While Woodward’s role as the senior animal protection officer for the Okanagan region can be demanding, she says keeping a balance in her life is something she and her co-workers always strive for.

“It’s hard sometimes because we are devoted to what we are doing. I actually hired a new constable last year and the first thing I said to him is go into this knowing you need to find a balance or this kind of job can overtake your life,” she said.

“Even though that’s on your mind it still takes over your life at times, but that is the choice we all make.”

While serious animal abuse cases tend to generate headlines and the most stress, Woodward says most often making a call involves dealing with pet owner who lack the education or resources to properly care for their animals.

“We get the opportunity to see happy endings, it’s not all sad,” Woodward said.

“You do see making a difference. Sometimes you go on a call and suggest how a person could do this or that to help their animals.

“Then you come back and see they’ve done a phenomenal job because they just didn’t know and you see the difference in the animals. We do get to see what we’re working towards.”

Story of interest: High number of animal seizures

Woodward recently received the B.C. SPCA Leadership Award, presented at a banquet in Richmond on May 5.

The award was created to recognize the outstanding achievements of individuals who go the extra mile to achieve the society’s goals, and who lead and inspire others to live out the mission and purpose of the SPCA.

“Kathy is truly inspiring. She is compassionate and diligent and is a shining example to her team,” said Marcie Moriarty, chief prevention and enforcement officer for the BC SPCA.

Woodward was a tad embarrassed by all the attention directed her way at the award ceremony, saying any success she was applauded for was the result of an outstanding team of five constables under her supervision—three full-time, one part-time and one casual relief covering an area from Osoyoos to Armstrong and the Kamloops region.

But her dedication speaks for itself.

She took on the responsibility for the entire Kootenay region in 2016 after a colleague went on long-term disability.

She personally deals with complaints in the Revelstoke-Golden-Nakusp area to relieve that stress from her co-workers who already have their own designated areas.

She chooses to be on call 24/7 in case her advice or support is needed.

“When I do get a call, it’s generally an RCMP officer or a friend who have come across an (animal abuse) situation and don’t know how to respond,” Woodward said.

“I know what that it’s like to be out there and confronted by a situation and have no one to turn to.”

Woodward initially moved to Kelowna with her husband 23 years ago, after selling their sawmill operation in Bamfield on Vancouver Island.

Her girlfriend managed the Kelowna SPCA branch at the time invited her to come down and help out at the facility, to help clean the cat and dog kennels.

That started her down the path towards taking an interest and then committing to the training to become an SPCA animal cruelty investigation constable, animal law enforcement positions sworn in by the attorney general but paid for entirely through fundraising.

“The support from the SPCA has been phenomenal. When I started in this job we had no office, so I had to do up reports at home, interview people at the local police station and we were on the road all the time,” Woodward said.

Both through fundraising and some provincial infrastructure funding support, Woodward is based out of a second floor office in the recently added Kelowna SPCA animal shelter addition.

Woodward has taken seven training courses at the Justice Institute dealing with topics such as writing reports for Crown counsel, obtaining search warrants and forensic photography and also trained with B.C. Conservation Officers and RCMP.

She generally either responds to complaints on her own or with another constable, but they are accompanied by police when serving a search warrant.

“Sometimes you can face difficult encounters as not everyone is necessarily thrilled to see you when you show up on their property with a search warrant,” she said.

“We actually taken training at the Justice Institute on how to deal with those situations on how to deal with people who may be upset if we show up.”

Complaints she has handled generally involve horses, dogs and cats, but she’s also had cases involving also some exotic animals such as lions and tigers, livestock such as goats and sheep, primates, and birds.

Earlier this month, Woodward was involved in an investigation in Chase, a community west of Salmon Arm, that saw the seizure of 59 neglected and injured cats.

“The cats were being kept in a filthy environment, with faces everywhere and high levels of ammonia from the urine,” Woodward said.

“There was dense mould in the trailer and camper and the animals did not have access to food or water.”

She said the cat owner was known to the SPCA from previous complaint investigations and animal cruelty charges are being recommended.

But with the price of puppies continuing to escalate, the financial incentive for puppy mill operators has never been greater.

Yet for those dogs, Woodward says the level of forgiveness is unfathomable given the abuse they must endure.

“I remember one puppy mill we found in Cawston about 15 years ago, for puppies that were Shih Tzu crosses. They were kept in a pit covered by a canopy, and when we lifted up the canopy you could hardly distinguish the head from the tail of any of them, as they were so closely packed in together.

“They were badly matted, dirty and just in horrible condition. We bought them in, cleaned up them up and had them checked over by a vet. But despite everything they had been through, those puppies were still so trusting and loving.

“The Beaverdell dog case was the same thing. Four-month-old puppies put up at our animal shelter were allowed to run outside free for the first time, to experience grass for the first time. It is so rewarding to see these animals able to experience those firsts in their lives.”

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