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The Yukon Dog Rescuer Who Went Off-Grid to Keep Her 50 Dogs

Shelley Cuthbert abandoned her home to avoid a court order telling her to surrender the dogs already in her care.

by Lori Fox
Dec 18 2018, 2:41pm

Shelley Cuthbert and her dogs. Photo courtesy GoFundMe

Shelley Cuthbert, one-time owner and operator of Any Domesticated Animal Rescue (ADAR) and Boarding Kennel, has been living off-grid on territorial land at a site southwest of Tarfu Lake, Yukon, with 50 dogs since the summer.

Cuthbert chose to abandon her home in nearby Tagish, Yukon, in June 2018, following an October 2017 court decision which ordered her to have no more than two dogs on her five-acre property and to turn over the surplus animals to territorial authorities. She maintained that doing so would put the animals in her care at risk, as many were difficult or downright unadoptable due to behaviour, health or aggression issues.

She filed an appeal, which was dismissed.

In February 2018, Cuthbert would tell media she had 10 of her dogs euthanized to comply with the court order; however, it would later be revealed in an affidavit that she actually only turned over four dogs to the Yukon Animal Health Unit, and that the other six were returned to their original owners.

Cuthbert would eventually choose to move the entire facility to its present location and continue living with her dogs off grid than comply with the court order. At the time she vacated her property, she refused to disclose where she had gone, and it remained a mystery until October, when the Yukon department of Energy, Mines and Resources (EMR)—which oversees territorial land—filed a petition seeking she vacate the site.

She maintains she is lawfully camping because none of the structures are permanent and has refused to comply. The matter will go before the court in January 2019.

“Yeah, it could be worse, much worse weather for camping,” Cuthbert said via telephone, commenting on the unusually warm winter the territory has been having. VICE managed to catch her in a brief window she was in cell service, of which there is none—nor internet, running water or electricity—at her campsite.

Cuthbert said she frequently goes into the village of Carcross some 90 km away, where she can receive these services. She lives with her dogs full-time at this site, nestled in amid a barrage of fencing, tarps and tents.

Tarfu Lake takes its name from the military slang acronym for “Things Are Really Fucked Up” (TARFU).

This would be an accurate description for the way things have played out for Cuthbert over the last year and half.

How Cuthbert came to be living alone along the spartan, wind-swept stretch of road which connects the isolated town of Atlin, BC—which has no road access to its home province—to Yukon begins in 2012. Cuthbert, then the president of Humane Society Yukon (HSY) purchased property in the residential neighborhood of Tagish Estates (a subdivision of Tagish) and moved there with her business and approximately 30 dogs. Issues arose between her and her neighbours almost immediately around what they said was an unacceptable amount of noise and smell related to her kennel and rescue, which they said was harming local businesses and damaging their quality of life, as well as perceived safety concerns over potentially aggressive animals.

Despite the complaints, Cuthbert continued to operate. Aside from the rescue, she also boarded dogs and worked as a dogcatcher for Carcross/Tagish First Nation (CTFN). She housed dogs she told VICE were aggressive or otherwise unadoptable through the local shelter.

The ADAR Facebook page also lists available services as “doggy daycare” and “behaviour bootcamp.” Reviews for her boarding and training services on her Facebook page are largely quite positive.

The email address provided for her services ends in SPCA, suggesting Cuthbert’s rescue is affiliated with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). But she is not, and the SPCA does not have a Yukon chapter.

A post regarding these services dated December 16, 2017, reads “We all love our dogs but many times they need help with behaviours. (ADAR offers) the help you need to address their behaviours and if need be will work with them until the right home is found of they live out their natural lives in a home environment.” The post also goes on to offer CTFN citizens help with sick or injured animals “even if it’s just calling the vet” for them.

In November 2016, however, her six neighbors, fed up with what they claimed was incessant, unbearable barking, sued Cuthbert, claiming the rescue and kennel was a nuisance.

At the time this suit was filed, Cuthbert was reported to have 80 dogs in her care. That’s around one dog for every three residents of Tagish.

The matter went before the courts in September 2017, with Cuthbert representing herself.

In October, a Yukon Supreme Court judge ruled in favour of Cuthbert’s neighbors, ordering that Cuthbert be limited to two dogs on her property. She was to turn over her dogs to territorial authorities 10 at a time on the 15th of each month until such time as she was left with only two, beginning in February 2018. The dogs were to be assessed and placed with Humane Society Yukon at the Mae Bachur Animal Shelter in Whitehorse to be rehomed, if possible.

Dan Moore, current executive director of Humane Society Yukon, told VICE the Mae Bachur Animal Shelter is a no-kill operation, with a high success rate when it comes to finding homes for the animals in its care. While they have the capacity to take in around 22 dogs, they “typically only have seven or eight at any given time.”

Usually, he said, dogs are adopted out relatively quickly, with the “odd dog who is a long-term stay,” usually due to behaviour issues, in which case the shelter works with the dog through training. The shelter also has a good network of care centres down south, he said, so if a dog is not adoptable within the community, it can sometimes find a home outside the territory.

In the three years Moore has been with HSY, the shelter has never been at capacity, he said.

Cuthbert continued to openly refuse to turn over the dogs as ordered. In June 2018, Cuthbert abandoned her Tagish property, giving up payments on her mortgage.

A Go-Fund-Me page was started in Cuthbert’s name on October 31 in order to provide winter supplies for the dogs at the camp. In a November update to the campaign, Cuthbert said all the donations go “towards straw, shelters for the dogs and firewood to keep them warm on those cold winter nights.”

To date, the campaign has raised $490 of its $10,000 goal.

Despite being homeless and sustaining her present pack of dogs under such difficult circumstances—Cuthbert has been mum on how she affords to feed them, now that her business is shut down—Cuthbert told VICE she is continuing to work with Carcross/Tagish First Nation (CFTN) in her capacity as dog catcher. Although she is paid for each of the dogs she brings in from CTFN traditional territory, she said this money goes towards caring for the dogs and she “isn’t getting any money” from this position.

She makes her “rounds a couple times a week,” she said.

Cuthbert explained she had a contract with CTFN “for several years” but that, following these legal issues, they have since given the contract to another company, which subcontracts to Cuthbert. It is unclear who owns this company—Cuthbert declined to say—which is only known by the name 8508828 Canada Limited. It is registered as being headquartered at 1048 Tagish Estates—the neighborhood in which Cuthbert previously lived—and incorporated April 30, 2013.

This reporter initially contacted CTFN communications coordinator Daphne Vernier to confirm whether or not Cuthbert had, as she claims, been the contracted dogcatcher for the First Nation. Vernier confirmed the First Nation did have a contract at one point with Cuthbert, but was not aware of the current status of the contract, nor what it contained.

During an interview about the contract, Cuthbert maintained that CTFN executive director Michelle Parsons was fully aware of all of her activities, although Cuthbert noted that Parsons might not know all the details of the contract.

Cuthbert said she would “love to provide a copy of the contract” but that she couldn’t because she didn’t have access to a scanner.

In a follow-up call, Vernier said that CTFN had chosen not to comment on the matter, and would not disclose whether or not Cuthbert was still working for them in any capacity.

Cuthbert also claims she is running vaccination clinics for parvo—a severe gastrointestinal virus which is often fatal in puppies and younger dogs—for CTFN.

The First Nation again chose not to comment.

Cuthbert told VICE that the RCMP are aware of her role in the community, and are calling upon her as such when necessary, which they had done as recently as Dec.10, she said. Despite being difficult to reach, she said, if the situation is dire, has invited the police to come out to her.

“If it’s an emergency, they can just come out,” she said.

“I make sure I’m available.”

VICE asked Yukon RCMP if they were indeed aware of Cuthbert’s role in the community, and if they had been calling on her to act in that role. The RCMP refused to comment on the matter.

“The RCMP won't be commenting on another agency's potential contract or service agreement with another party,” said Coralee Reid, communications coordinator for the Yukon RCMP, via email, “... the details of the service offered within the community, and the details of if/how/when that service is provided or initiated, is not the RCMP's to speak to.”

When asked if, given her alleged continuation of her contract with CTFN, meant she was still continuing to take in dogs to her rescue at its present off-grid location, Cuthbert said she was.

“Of course I am—why not?” she said.

“(This) is a service that needs to be provided,” she said.

“The service is needed by CTFN and their traditional territory (and) this was the only way to ensure the service is continued.”

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