The case of Kello the German Shepherd has resulted in a landmark ruling from a quasi-judicial body in British Columbia called the BC Farm Industry Review Board. The Farm Industry Review Board is the body to which appeals are made by people who have had their animals seized by the British Columbia SPCA. In this case, Mr. Tarmo Viitre appealed to have his dog Kello returned to him. The Board refused to relinquish Kello to his owner “over concerns it [sic] would endure future ‘emotional suffering’.” You can read the Board's decision here.
The articles at the links below explain how Dr. Rebecca Ledger, an animal behaviour specialist, was relied on in Kello’s case to provide expert testimony related to psychologicalsuffering in Kello. Dr. Ledger has also provided testimony in other high-profile animal abuse cases, including those of Emma Paulsen and Desmond Hague. No longer does the criminal justice system rely solely upon evidence of physical suffering when determining whether to lay charges and prosecute people for animal cruelty. The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies’ National Centre for the Prosecution of Animal Cruelty contends that the definition of animal “distress” needs to incorporate psychological and emotional distress, not just physical distress. When prosecutors are presenting animal cruelty cases to the courts, the submission and acceptance of evidence from expert witnesses like Dr. Ledger is one way the legal definition of "distress" in animals can be enhanced, and is therefore a very important prosecutorial tactic.
This decision by the BC Farm Industry Review Board is great news! The fact that the Board and the courts have accepted testimony from Dr. Ledger demonstrating that animals have suffered psychologically and emotionally is evidence that the attitudes of the courts are changing with regard to what animals require to live fulfilled lives. No longer is the availability of food, water, and shelter sufficient proof that an animal was not in distress. This is a huge step forward for animals.
Thank you to Dr. Ledger, the BC SPCA, the BC Farm Industry Review Board, the courts, and everyone else who is embracing updated notions about animals and the way they should be treated. Let’s hope for more of these types of decisions in the future, and in other jurisdictions too!