07/04/2016 11:18 EDT | Updated 07/04/2016 11:59 EDT

It's Time To Modernize Animal Rights In Canada With Bill C-246

Les Hirondelles Photography via Getty Images
Dog with muzzle in owner's hands looks at camera

One night in 1999, one of my sisters called me, sobbing her heart out. She kept repeating, "It's over! It's over! It passed! We have what we need!" I asked, what passed? What are we talking about? She disclosed with a giant sigh of relief: "Bill C-17! The animals will be safe now!" At the time, my sister was a rescuer of many years, and I was just a newbie trying to follow her incredible lead.

In our ignorance, Bill C-17 had just (and only) passed first reading in Parliament, and we, like most Canadians, were as clueless about animal cruelty laws as we were of Parliamentary process. Sadly, it was just the beginning of a 17-year ordeal, where we watched C-17, C-15/15B, C-10, C-22, C-50, C-274, C-277 and C-610 never make it into legislation, despite overwhelming public support and support by multiple justice ministers -- all fuelled by considerable Canadian tax dollars.

In 1999, my nightmare had just begun. I was three years into a six-year battle trying to secure custody of my first rescue, Magus. Fighting for the well-being of a neglected local dog came at a considerable emotional and financial cost to me. I reached out to politicians, senators, animal protection agencies, city officials, local citizens, Canadian media and even a clergy member for help. To my horror, I had no legal options.

Max's ear tips were eaten by flies in good weather, and frostbitten in bad. His coat was brown/tan, instead of black/tan (read: malnutrition). I saw him look down into his family's basement countless times, watching his owners parade around in their housecoats and slippers, oblivious to the faithful doggie in the window... the dog they took for granted as he, suffering in the cold, wet and heat, crippled with arthritis, remained 1,000 per cent loyal to them. He was "just a dog' living in a Toronto yard, for 13 years -- presumably guarding the basil plants. He, literally, had no protection.

It is well known that Canada falls far behind other nations recognizing the sentience and rights of animals.

The Canadian Act for Animals was written in 1892 -- that's not a typo. We've had some changes through the years, but still have few enforceable laws to protect animals even from extreme neglect and cruelty in this country. It is well known that Canada falls far behind other nations recognizing the sentience and rights of animals.

Member of Parliament Nathaniel Erskine-Smith has brought forward the latest iteration, Bill C-246, scheduled to go to complete second reading in late September. C-246 proposes moving "animal cruelty offences," currently located in the property offences section of the Criminal Code, to a new section called "offences against animals." Erskine-Smith advises this does not change animals' legal status as property; rather, it recognizes the widespread view that animals deserve protection, regardless of whose property they happen to be.

The changes proposed by this bill will not affect animal-use industries (agriculture, hunting, fishing), nor their livelihoods -- it simply will make the case for if you abuse or neglect your animals, you will be charged.

And so it should be. Ninety-two per cent of Canadians surveyed agree that the Criminal Code should be updated to make it easier to convict people who commit acts of cruelty to animals.

Magus' "owners" finally surrendered him to me six long years later in a palliative state, and he died in my arms weeks later. Magus had no protection, but he did have a champion in me.

I urge the Liberal cabinet and caucus not to turn their backs on animals and to champion those who are neglected or cruelly treated, as I and so many in the rescue movement do, 24/7, year after year. I urge all MPs to honour Canadian voters who are asking for the most basic animal protection laws by supporting Bill C-246.

Ministers of Parliament, advocates and rescuers across the nation implore you to show up and vote yes! to Bill C-246. Because it's 2016! Canadians, please click here to help modernize the Animal Protection Act.

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The Rescued Dogs, Before And After