Thursday, July 21, 2011

Day 51: Signatures

"Will you lend a caring hand,
to shelter those who need it,
Only have to sign your name, 
don't even have to read it."
 - From Dr. Horrible's sing-along-blog

I've been wondering how effective petitions really are, especially these internet petitions that ask you to sign your name and tell someone to do something. I think that the petitions could work to bring awareness to the public about an issue, but can they actually do anything about the issue? So to illustrate this, I found these two petitions about dogs in Churchill.

Petition Number 1:

Picture attached to petition

It has been brought to my attention that a horrible act of cruelty has been being bestowed upon dozens and dozens of innocent dogs in the north.

These innocent dogs in Churchill Manitoba need your help! Please Rescue these dogs from a life of loneliness, pain, and suffering. Imagine yourself in their position. All year long they are tied up on chains in the open wilderness in the North. Some are even killed by wild animals...and nothing is being done about this? Apparently seeing helpless dogs tied up in the freezing cold with no food or water and shelter is actually some sort of a tourist attraction. It saddens me so much to actually see that people can get away with this kind of abuse.

No animal should be treated this way. These are innocent sweet dogs that deserve to have a safe, loving, warm home to call their own. A dog doesn't ask for much. They don't care how much money you have or what you look like, give them your heart, and they will give you theirs.

[Your name]"

This petition is directed at Greg Selinger, and Stephen Harper. Selinger is the Premier of Manitoba, and Harper, well, if you don't know who Harper is, you probably don't know much about Canada - he's the Prime Minister. This petition has 1,245 online signatures.

I think that there are several really critical problems with this petition, which makes me think that there are petitions out there that are, frankly, hurting the cause they try to help. My first criticism is the language. If any petition is to be taken seriously, the language must be professional, or at least proofread. There are instances when the language doesn't have to be professional in order to illustrate someone's personal background and the views presented - in my epistemology class we read a paper that used an example of writing an opinion piece to a newspaper using slang English to bring attention to the person who was writing it rather than writing an academic, proper English paper that has less power and soul. But that is not the case here. Here, the opening sentence, "act of cruelty has been being bestowed upon" is trying to sound more sophisticated than the writer really is. Write at your level and be sincere!

My second criticism is about the inaccuracy of the information in this article. It seems like the petition writer really didn't do her homework on this. She had a friend who saw dogs out in the snow and came back and told her. "Dozens and dozens of innocent dogs in the north" sounds like there are many cases of animal cruelty in Churchill and in other northern communities, almost as though all the dogs up north are treated like this. Well, being up here, I can testify that many are well cared for and loved, that the case described is terrible, but anomalous. The petition also says that it is a "tourist attraction" which seems to me to be talking about a very specific local dog sled owner and the description of "tourist attraction" being applied to "seeing helpless dogs tied up in the freezing cold with no food or water and shelter" is completely misleading. Because the information was told to her by a friend, I think that she misunderstood that the tourist attraction is the dog sledding, not seeing these dogs tied up.

My third criticism is the lack of a call to action. What could Greg Selinger or Stephen Harper really do for these dogs? They are politicians who, if they even pay attention to the petition, will only be able to make it into a media story without having any authority to enforce the laws about animal cruelty already in place. So who could have the authority? Another note on language, who is the audience of this letter? Is it really Selinger and Harper or is it, as it seems to be written, addressed to the potential petition signers to convince them to sign? I don't think that the writer had a clear message to tell the politicians and maybe shouldn't have been sending it to the politicians anyway.

I found a second petition about the dogs in Churchill that has been put on the web. This petition seems to me to be talking about the same dogs, from what I know about the area, but is much more factual and much more directed for action:

Petition Number 2:

Picture with petition

"Provide Sled Dogs with Shelter
For years, the conditions for Brian Ladoon's sled dogs in Churchill, Manitoba, have caused outrage among residents and tourists alike. Dozens of dogs are kept chained in extremely cold, windy conditions without any shelter. Reports that dogs are periodically mauled by polar bears and wolves have made it all the worse.

Manitoba's Animal Care Act requires an owner to "provide … reasonable protection from injurious heat or cold." Although the Chief Veterinary Office of the Manitoba Agriculture, Food, and Rural Initiatives reportedly inspected Ladoon's dogs in the fall of 2010 and recommended that Ladoon provide doghouses and bedding, these animals are suffering through yet another frigid winter without these necessities.

We ask that the Chief Veterinary Office act in behalf of Ladoon's dogs immediately.

Dr. Wayne Lees, Chief Veterinary Officer
Dr. Terry Whiting, Manager, Animal Health and Welfare
Office of the Chief Veterinarian
Manitoba Agriculture, Food, and Rural Initiatives
204-945-4327 (fax)"

This second petition is directed to the Chief Veterinary Office and has 1,553 online signatures. The criticisms that I had with the last petition are solved in this one. The language is professional, almost lawyerly with references to the Animal Care Act. The petition is also directed at one individual, not against an abstract number of dog owners. I haven't met him, but I have seen him at the Seaport with a bandanna around his head. He is known for not taking care of his dogs and there are various odd stories about him - several blog posts could be dedicated to his story alone, but this post is really about the petitions themselves. So the last point I want to make is that this petition is directed to a specific organization, the one that does have the authority to do something about the conditions of the dogs. This petition can be successful because of this last point. It is telling the authority about a specific case of animal cruelty, and telling it en masse, showing that many people care about this. I don't know how recent this petition was posted, I don't know if it was sent to the Vet office, and I haven't seen any change with the dogs, so I don't know how effective this was/will be. But out of the two examples, this would be the one that works.

I guess this type of petition is akin to tattletaling, reporting on your neighbor, which is another issue in it self - citizens reporting on citizens. Even if it will help the dogs, I feel uneasy about the idea of neighbors tracking my every move to see if I mess up. The argument against that is I don't have to worry about my neighbors if I'm not doing anything wrong, that it's beneificial for me if my neighbors are looking out for me and the rest of the street if they are monitoring everyone. There are definitely some moral questions here, but I will let you think about that rather than diving into it myself.

My point to make about the petitions is that this type of petition seems like it will work. It's a law enforcement thing. What about the petitions that ask for lawmakers to pass a law to give teachers a better pension? Or a petition to save a wetland? Or a petition to get Harper to change foreign policy? How effective are these? Are these more like public opinion polls? Will these get anything done?

And how do you measure the effectiveness of a petition? Do we know it worked if the dogs are removed from Ladoon's care? How do we know someone else didn't just call up the vet or police to report animal cruelty? Would that be more effective than a petition?

What about the role of a petition to tell the public about something, almost a media role? Just by me sharing these petitions on this blog, I am informing you of a case of animal cruelty in Churchill. Isn't awareness just as important? Action can not happen if there isn't awareness first, right?


  1. Neither of these petitions are correct. Go and watch the film "The Last Dogs of Winter"!

  2. just because there is a film about him does not make it real. these allegations ARE CORRECT the dogs to freeze in the cold, some with no houses and they are not fed nearly as much as they should be and they are never let off their leashes, for exercise, their muscles are weak and they are very skinny, you can see their bones in their backs. "Dozens and dozens" is an understatent, there are 185 dogs.

  3. you really have no idea what you are talking about. These dogs will not use a dog house other than to pee on it. This would be like taking a polar bear and making him a polar bear house. I was out this fall with the dogs, they are well fed and actually don't all finish what they are given because the left overs are picked up. They are watered and cared for the same as they were one hundred years ago. They are not our poodles and terriers. Do your research. I know first hand that these dogs are well taken care of because my granddaughter is caring for them providing them with food and water. But anyone that knows anything about animals outside during the winter, they eat snow in the winter for water. I was there for several days. They are also not skin and bones like you are describing. People need to go and experience first hand a situation before they go ranting and raving about something they don't know anything about.

  4. To whom it may concern

    I've just watched a documentary on Brian Ladoon and his dogs.
    I think he is doing a amazing thing and long may it continue.Those dogs are made for artic conditions that is there home were they should be. People see a dog out there in - 30 looking cold but if you see that same dog in + 30 that's the cruel one it will over heat and die.I have a Alaskan Malamute Husky and i live in New Zealand....This is cruel in itself because its nowhere near cold enough here for this dog to be comfortable.i take it up to the cold alpine and snow every chance i get and this is were it is happiest.There is nothing that makes me more sad than seeing my dog on a hot summers day overheating.What i'm saying is those dogs are not cold and as for the wolfs and bears.Yeah that is shit but i lived all over Canada for a few years my girlfriends dog was outside got mauled by a cougar and died .That's the way of life.Wild animals do wild things.
    I've got another example for ya in New Zealand a few years ago there was a wild life park full of lions and tigers.One of the keepers was at his own choice in the en-closer with the tigers who were generally very friendly.One tiger was not in a good mood and killed the keeper-wild life park was shut down.No one in New Zealand wanted the responsibility to take care of all those WILD anmials. They were all put down that's cruel.What will happen to those dogs if Brian and his team are shut down ha?

    That's my rant

    Thank you for your time

    Ross Nimmo