Turtle Gardens Animal Rescue

Turtle Gardens closed for intake of animals

Manager says closure is due to a lack of community support.

Moses is a dog that was adopted five months ago from Turtle Gardens Animal Rescue, a no-kill group foster home and rehabilitation centre situated in Topley, B.C.

Just when it seemed that Moses had finally found a nice family home to live in, he was brought back to Turtle Gardens.

“He is just too big, unruly and knocks the small children over,” explained manager Yvette Labatte. “He may find another family once he is balanced and has gained manners.”

Although Turtle Gardens still accepts dogs such as Moses – dogs that used to live in the facility and have been returned -, the facility is no longer accepting any new dogs.

The reason? A lack of support from the community, says Labatte.

Labatte said that when she asked the community for help with fencing and cleanup, nobody showed up.

“We advertised on Facebook, blog, posters, radio, e-mails all locally,” she said.

According to Labatte, the family-operated group needs more “physical support.”

“We don’t need your money; we need your time and your muscle,” she said.

Most of the support Turtle Gardens receives originates from the Lower Mainland. The volunteer base in Vancouver consists of over 80 people that can help organize events such as fundraisers.

“Donations have never been depended upon locally,” she said.

Although 98 per cent of all the adoptions are family homes in the Lower Mainland, Labatte said Turtle Gardens has helped many animals and families in Northern B.C.

“We feed a lot of low income dogs and supply dog and cat food to anyone who need it; we quietly spayed female dogs and returned them to their owners while adopting out the pups into great homes; we paid medical bills for injured dogs and returned them to their homes; but when we needed physical help, there was no one; that is why we closed.”

In addition, there is the issue of safety.

Severson Road, a 50 km/h highway that bisects Turtle Gardens, has created an unsafe environment for dogs and visitors, said Labatte.

“Even with good fences, dogs do get out and are at risk as are people who walk on the road,” she said. “It is not safe for volunteers to come here when the road bisects the property and cars are whizzing by; a child could be killed when people come here.”

Labatte said she has tried to reach out to different government agencies over the years including the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako and Lakes District Maintenance; but her problem has not been resolved.

Labatte said that, in order for the facility to reopen, the speed limit would have to be reduced.

The Village of Burns Lake has only recently become aware that Turtle Gardens hasn’t been accepting new dogs.

Sheryl Worthing, Chief Administrative Officer for Village of Burns Lake, said that although the village still hasn’t been affected by the closure, it does creates a “major concern” as the village has no other place to take impounded dogs.

“Staff are researching options and will report back to me with some alternatives and the costs associated with those alternatives,” said Worthing. “If this [closure] causes an increase in costs, we will bring a report to council to discuss options.”

Opened in 1988, Turtle Gardens began like any other non-profit animal shelter, but has since evolved into a group foster home and rehabilitation centre.

“We live with the dogs as a family group; sharing our home so they [the dogs] learn to be a family companion,” said Labatte.

The family-operated group home specializes in stray/feral dogs from communities and municipal pounds. Most of the dogs are first and second generation strays and they have never been in a building or a home.

Although the facility is not accepting any new dogs, Turtle Gardens makes an exception for the so-called sanctuary dogs – dogs that come from abusive homes and are showing signs of aggression.

Currently, Turtle Gardens has 35 sanctuary dogs.

“We take in the worst of the worst – the dogs that no one else will take – and we rehab them and get them family-safe and ready for adoption.”

According to Labatte, the facility has adopted over 6000 dogs and cats over the years.

“When we take responsibility for a dog, we do so for his/her lifetime.”

Investigation into complaints at Turtle Gardens

Over a month ago, the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BC SPCA) received two complaints about the care of some dogs at Turtle Gardens Animal Rescue.

According to Lorie Chortyk, Spokesperson for the BC SPCA, a special constable responded to the complaints. However, the BC SPCA does not share details of investigations unless formal charges are laid.

In response to those complaints, Turtle Gardens manager Yvette Labatte said she suspects that the two complaints were “instigated by the same person.”

Labatte said the first complaint involved a senior lumpy Labrador that arrived in Turtle Gardens from the Burns Lake pound.

“When the dog discovered the soft green grass of the new yard [at Turtle Gardens], that is where he slept,” said Labatte. “Like a dead dog, he stretched out day in and day out in the sunshine.”

When people drove by, they assumed the dog was dead and called the BC SPCA, said Labatte.

“He [the dog] doesn’t look dead to me; he is eating and drinking very well,” she said.

The second allegation involved complaints of dogs in unhealthy conditions.

“We take in skinny dogs in distress as per our mandate but none are present at this time,” said Labatte.

Chortyk mentioned that Labatte was not welcoming to SPCA’s constable and did not want him inside the facility.

“We take in dogs that are slated to be killed by the SPCA and they are kept safe behind the fence,” said Labatte. “We cannot guarantee their safety if strangers come into their home, so the general public does not come in as respect for the dogs is paramount.”

Chortyk explained that there was never any intention to shut Turtle Gardens down.

“We would never be shutting a facility down even if animals were seized,” she said.


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