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B.C. farmer loses legal battle to stop her missing dog's adoption to new owners by B.C. SPCA

Dale Malkinson's dog Zeva rides on her farm tractor west of Dawson Creek, B.C., in a 2015 photograph. (Submitted by Dale Malkinson - image credit)
Dale Malkinson's dog Zeva rides on her farm tractor west of Dawson Creek, B.C., in a 2015 photograph. (Submitted by Dale Malkinson - image credit)

A farmer in northern British Columbia says she's devastated after losing a legal battle to get her dog back, nearly two years after it was adopted into a new home 800 kilometres away.

Dale Malkinson's farm near Dawson Creek, B.C., is home to a herd of goats and sheep — and for eight years, her beloved Yorkshire terrier named Zeva.

After the dog vanished on April 10, 2022 — running from the barn as Malkinson was feeding her lambs — she searched the rural area for days.

Ultimately, she concluded Zeva must have been taken by a predator.

"I was devastated," Malkinson, 65, told CBC News. "I don't have a lot in my life. I have no husband, no children, no nothing.

"She's my little girl … My farm and my little dog are my life."

Three days after Zeva vanished, she was turned in to the B.C. SPCA's South Peace Animal Centre in Dawson Creek. Six weeks later, the Yorkie was adopted into a new home, sparking a legal battle between Malkinson and  the animal welfare organization.

In a decision issued Friday, the B.C. Civil Resolution Tribunal ruled that Malkinson lost ownership of her dog as soon as it was adopted, and the SPCA had acted in good faith.

"The law in British Columbia gives the [B.C. SPCA] the right to take custody of lost animals and, where the owner cannot be found, find new homes for those animals," tribunal member Peter Mennie wrote.

"Malkinson's rights to Zeva ended when a new owner adopted Zeva."

Dale Malkinson's dog Zeva is seen in a 2015 photograph on her farm west of Dawson Creek, B.C. After the dog went missing in 2022, the B.C. SPCA renamed her "Delilah" before giving her to a new adoptive family in B.C.'s Lower Mainland.
Dale Malkinson's dog Zeva is seen in a 2015 photograph on her farm west of Dawson Creek, B.C. After the dog went missing in 2022, the B.C. SPCA renamed her "Delilah" before giving her to a new adoptive family in B.C.'s Lower Mainland.

Dale Malkinson's dog Zeva is seen in a 2015 photograph on her farm west of Dawson Creek, B.C. After the Yorkshire terrier went missing in 2022, the B.C. SPCA put her up for adoption. (Submitted by Dale Malkinson)

'They could be twins'

According to the tribunal decision, Malkinson found an adoption listing for a dog that looked like Zeva. She contacted the B.C. SPCA to try and adopt the dog listed as "Delilah."

The B.C. SPCA responded that it was only considering local adoptions because the dog had ongoing appointments for dental work in Abbotsford, located around 800 kilometres southwest of Dawson Creek.

Malkinson said she told the B.C. SPCA that Zeva and the dog in the listing "could be twins."

"Nobody mentioned the dog came from Dawson Creek," she said.

"I had no reason to think my dog would end up in Abbotsford. Why would I?"

The dog was adopted on May 27, 2022. That same day Malkinson told the B.C. SPCA's South Peace branch that the dog named "Delilah" on the BCSPCA website was in fact Zeva, according to the tribunal decision.

Malkinson said she had her veterinarian send them checkup documents, rabies vaccination tag numbers, and the identification number tattooed in Zeva's ear.

But it was too late.

"The SPCA sends me an email to say sorry, but she's already been adopted," Malkinson said.

Dog's ID was 'illegible,' 'out of date'

In a statement, a B.C. SPCA spokesperson said they tried to find the dog's owner by posting on social media, and calling the phone numbers listed on the dog's rabies vaccination tag.

The dog's identification tattoo was faded and "the B.C. SPCA misread one letter of the tattoo and was not able to find Malkinson," according to the tribunal decision.

The organization sent the dog to Abbotsford for veterinary care, and it was put up for adoption.

"Unfortunately, Zeva's various forms of identification were either illegible or were out of date," an agency spokesperson told CBC News in an email. "So, despite significant efforts to trace both IDs, we were not able to make contact with her owners."

"Zeva entered into a foster-to-adopt program with a third party at this time and was successfully adopted by the same individual."

'I'll fight to my last breath'

For Malkinson, that doesn't make sense because B.C. SPCA documents list Zeva's tattoo ID number correctly, except for the first letter which was wrong.

"She has a tattoo and a rabies tag, and I figured if she ever showed up any place like the vet or the SPCA, I would have automatically gotten a call," she said, "and she would have been home — even if they only had a partial tattoo."

She said she was shocked by the tribunal's decision, and is considering whether she can appeal it to a higher court.

But with few financial means, she's not sure she can afford it. At the B.C. Civil Resolution Tribunal, she represented herself.

"The truth is that I own that dog," she told CBC News. "I'll fight to my last breath for my dog — do everything I can — because she means everything to me."