When Chuck’s parents invited his family on an outing to a Lower Mainland petting zoo, he thought it would be the perfect way to spend Canada Day.
But it didn’t take long for the Abbotsford resident to be dismayed by the conditions he saw.
Chuck, who didn’t want his real name used, described the situation as “deplorable.”
“The whole place was dirty, stinky, poopy and generally unsafe … We went with our little son and I couldn’t wait to leave … It really just made us all sick to our stomachs,” he said.
Among Chuck’s concerns were animals confined to cages that were too small, chickens missing feathers and eating from a pile of rotten vegetables, and goats covered in scabs and missing hair.
“(It was) truly the saddest thing I’ve seen in a long time – and I don’t have a problem with petting zoos in general,” he said.
As well, he said there was no soap in the hand-washing station. Johnson reported the site to the SPCA the next day.
Marcie Moriarty, chief prevention and enforcement officer with the BC SPCA, confirmed that the agency received the complaint and sent out a constable to investigate.
She said two recommendations were provided to the facility. These related to space issues and the need for hand soap. No animals were taken from the site.
“The vast majority of animals on the property didn’t meet the definition of distress,” Moriarty said.
She said the site has been the subject of prior complaints, but the owners have always complied with any recommendations issued by the SPCA.
However, she acknowledged the incident raises questions about petting zoos in general.
The SPCA does not support these operations, but there are no government regulations in place that are specific to petting zoos, Moriarty said.
Rather, the SPCA follows the same guidelines it does with the care of any animal and can seize them when neglect or abuse is evident.
The agency’s position statement lists the five “freedoms” it believes must be fulfilled for every domesticated animal in human care: freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from pain, injury and disease; freedom from distress; freedom from discomfort; and freedom to express behaviours that promote well-being.
“It’s very challenging typically for these types of facilities (petting zoos) to meet those five freedoms,” she said.
But circumstances are rare in which an offence has occurred under the Criminal Code and charges can be laid, she added.
Moriarty encourages the public to think about their decisions in participating in recreational or entertainment activities that involve animals.
“If the law is not there and people are feeling this is not how they’d like to see animals being kept, then don’t support it,” she said.
Charges laid against petting zoo owners are rare, but a prominent case in 2008 resulted in an Armstrong couple being convicted of animal cruelty.
BC SPCA seized several animals from the roadside petting zoo north of Vernon in July 2008. Issues included pot-bellied pigs suffering from overgrown hooves and untreated eye infections; a fennec fox in poor health and kept in a poorly lit and poorly ventilated enclosure; and turtles kept in a filthy aquarium with no filtration system.
Owners Sandra and Jim Tullett were sentenced in August 2010 to a fine of $250 each and six months’ probation. They were allowed to keep all of the animals still in their care, including horses, cats, sheep, goats, chicken, exotic birds and a dog.
At the time, the BC SPCA expressed disappointment in the light sentence.