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Dream job with animals comes with some nightmares

Marcie Moriarty of the B.C. SPCA gets some play time with her blind Boston terrier, Jeeves.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Marcie Moriarty found her dream job, but it's one that can involve nightmare situations. Originally trained as a civil-litigation lawyer, Ms. Moriarty is the chief prevention and enforcement officer for the B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The life-long pet owner was interested in a job that combined her love of animals with the ability to make a living. The position, however, forces her to confront the grisly details of scores of animal-abuse cases. Recently, there was the aftermath of the killing of more than 50 sled dogs in Whistler. The accused pleaded guilty.

And there was the case of Captain, a German Shepherd found brutally beaten in a Kitsilano dumpster in July. He later died. A Vancouver man has been charged in that case.

Each year, the SPCA deals with thousands of calls. Ms. Moriarty's job not only involves enforcement, but advocacy on animal-welfare issues.

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You have a law degree and worked in civil litigation. Did you earn your law degree intending to use it in animal advocacy?

Absolutely not. I [also] have an animal biology degree. I had always been passionate about animals and thought about becoming a vet or how I would combine my passion for animals and make a living. I didn't know about this position, but a friend brought [it] to my attention. … I knew the ability to bring some of my legal background to the table was an asset because a number of the things I do from day to day involve some basic legal principles. I draft decisions, when we do seize animals, on whether animals should be returned to their owners.

You currently have a [terrier] named Jeeves. What was your first pet?

A little dog named Brava. I was four. He was a Maltese.

And then we got a cat, Costa. I was always the child who was constantly surrounded by pets and begging my parents for more. I actually got Jeeves in my third year in law school because I knew I'd have time in third year to properly train a dog and, hopefully, the funds to look after him in the years to come. He's sitting here right now. [He's] blind. I can pet him. That's one of the amazing perks of working at the SPCA. He's in my office.

Is it ever a good idea to give an animal as a Christmas gift?

We like to encourage people to not give the actual pet, but instead give a gift certificate to the SPCA for a dog. Surprising somebody with a pet? We see those animals turning up in our shelters three months after Christmas. My dad surprised my mother and us with a kitten at Christmas. While she graciously accepted the kitten, I think she would have been much happier if she had been involved in the decision-making process.

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Vancouver is a dense urban area. How can we defuse tensions between pet owners and non-pet owners?

Pick up your poop, people. It drives me crazy. I'll speak [about] dogs because, often times that's what comes up. As a dog owner, [you] have a responsibility to be picking up after your dog, keeping your dog on leash in areas where it's not an off-leash area, training your animals, putting them into behaviour classes.

We hear about these issues in parks. What about condos? Is that on your radar?

Absolutely. I live in a condo myself. If we want to see pet-friendly housing, that is essential. That is a problem in cities like Vancouver, especially pet-friendly rental housing.

What kind of a problem?

There's not enough of it. We find many people surrendering their animals because they can't find pet-friendly housing. The best thing we can do as animal owners is demonstrate we can be good citizens – in fact, better people to rent to because we're more responsible with respect to our animals. You're ambassadors for animal ownership, I guess, because you just ruin it for everybody else if your pet is unruly and causing problems.

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After eight years at the SPCA, do you have any better understanding of why people torture and abuse animals?

If I had that answer I would be working for CSI or whatever. That is a question that baffles policing agencies – anybody involved in law enforcement who comes across those cases where it's just pure hatred. That area, over eight years, has not changed for me in terms of understanding.

How do you cope with the disturbing cases?

I always have to focus in on the end goal and that is relieving animals of distress and … seeking justice for what's being done to them. If you focus in on how horrible human beings can be, day in and day out, I wouldn't have lasted a few months in this job.

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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