It all started with a puppy they named Tucker.
In 2017, Edmonton Police Department Constables Ilka Cunningham and Ted Dyck were sent on an animal cruelty appeal and found a puppy that had been beaten.
“When we grabbed [the puppy]I noticed that one of his eyes was pretty bloodshot, ”Cunningham said.
“We took him to the emergency vet and [the pup] had trauma to his eye because he was probably punched or kicked. “
She said the dog got its name from the fact that it looked “withdrawn” when they took it to the vet clinic.
“We took a ride with us that day holding him in his arms, and the puppy … melted into his arms and fell asleep.”
The pit bull mix has fully recovered, but Dyck said he and his partner made many mistakes in the investigation.
“We did not receive any veterinary statements and most importantly we knew nothing about the provincial animal welfare law,” said Dyck, who, along with Cunningham, now heads the cruelty investigation unit. towards police animals.
It officially formed in May and would be the first of its kind in Canada.
Cunningham said Tucker’s case would have been “bulletproof” if officers had been trained to handle animal cruelty cases and knew what is needed to prosecute attackers.
“We got a conviction, but it certainly wasn’t a jail term or a very high fine,” she said.
Tucker was the catalyst for them to deal with more animal abuse cases.
“We were always frontline patrollers, but we were doing these animal records on the side of our desk,” Dyck said.
He and Cunningham reached out to law enforcement agencies across Canada for advice, but couldn’t find a dedicated animal cruelty investigation unit.
They extended their search south of the border, where they worked with police in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Houston, Dyck said.
Today, the Edmonton unit has 17 Animal Liaison Officers with specific training. The unit works with veterinarians, municipal animal care and control officers, and provincial crown attorneys.
In many parts of Canada, abuse cases are often handled by animal welfare groups and municipal workers. But they don’t have the same investigative resources as police do for serious cases, Cunningham said, and in Alberta they don’t have the power to lay criminal charges.
Kendra Coulter, associate professor of labor studies at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., Said research around the world has shown there may be links between cruelty to animals and violence against people.
“Animal cruelty issues may be just the tip of a much more dangerous iceberg,” she said. “It can happen before or next to other types of crime.”
In 2019, the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals announced it would no longer enforce cruelty laws, which it had been doing for more than a century. That same year, an Ontario judge declared the company’s enforcement powers unconstitutional. The judge said the province erred in granting policing powers to a private organization without demanding standards of accountability and transparency.
This prompted Coulter to conduct an online survey of 20,000 Ontarians on animal cruelty laws. He revealed that 90 percent of those polled wanted the police to apply the rules.
“Canada’s enforcement of animal cruelty laws is a patchwork of quilts,” Coulter said.
“Who will conduct the investigation really varies depending on where you are in the country, where you are in a specific province, the type of animals involved and even the day of the week. “
All of these factors can be frustrating for people who wish to report animal abuse, she said.
“Police can still, anywhere in Canada, enforce provincial laws or the Criminal Code. The question is, do they have the knowledge or the experience?
“More often than not, the answer is, not necessarily.”
Coulter applauds the work Dyck and Cunningham are doing and suggests that the unit is a good role model for other jurisdictions to follow.
The two gendarmes participated in the training of other members of the force. They said officers from other police departments also requested training.
They say what keeps them in the most difficult cases is their love for animals and their dedication to protecting society’s vulnerable creatures.
Cunningham said they keep in touch with many families who are adopting rescued animals, including Tucker. They have a wall in their office of all the photos and cards sent to them of animals now in loving homes.
“We see a lot of terrible and negative things, so it’s nice to see some of the positive things.”