Her black lab, Garry, inspired Yvonne Russell to start the animal tip line. Garry is a rescue dog and it sickened Russell to hear his story.
"He was locked up on cement and left to basically starve," she said. "It's heartbreaking to see things like this."
Russell has taken the problem of animal cruelty into her own hands, initiating a new hotline called Paw Tipsters for people to report animal abuse.
"You have so many stories of animal cruelty, I thought, wouldn't it be neat to have a tip line."
Paw Tipsters will launch next week, she said, in co-operation with Winnipeg Crime Stoppers, to motivate people to report animal abuse, whether it be a neighbour mistreating pets or a dogfighting ring.
Paw Tipsters will provide rewards, just as Crime Stoppers does, when an anonymous animal-cruelty tip is called in and leads to justice.
Raising funds for the rewards is Russell's job. A tipster can receive as much as $2,000 if the tip helps police make a conviction.
"Animal cruelty isn't as much a priority to some people," Russell said. "This way, it will motivate people to phone in and let the public know that this isn't OK."
Winnipeg police Sgt. Tom MacKay said linking with Paw Tipsters is an extension of what Crime Stoppers does best.
"Our specialty is to receive anonymous information, try to validate it and then send it to the right hands," MacKay said.
"I have no way of predicting if this will have a dramatic effect on the number of calls we receive about this. But it will increase the exposure of this."
As far as Russell knows, this is the first tip line in Canada that offers a potential reward for animal-cruelty tips.
In the past week, three incidents of alleged animal cruelty have made headlines: a puppy thrown from a van, a Pomeranian attacked with a hockey stick and a kitten struck with a hammer.
Such acts shake Russell to the core.
"It literally stays with me for weeks," she said. "I have always felt passionate about animals."
Russell said puppy mills and dogfighting rings are the biggest problems, and she believes dogfighting is on the rise.
"People's dogs are stolen out of their yards and used as bait dogs," used to test a dog's fighting instinct, Russell said.
Bill McDonald, executive director of the Winnipeg Humane Society, said having a tip line for animal cruelty is a good idea. "The more mechanisms we have to find these acts the better it will be. It can be educational to the public, too."
McDonald said he knows of no incidents of organized dogfighting in the city or province, but they have received complaints about puppy mills.
"They are hidden away and we only hear of them when a concerned member of the public calls us," he said. "The only way we find these places is if we are tipped off."
Russell said there's a potential $2,000 reward for tips. "It's sick. There has to be some sort of consequence to this," she said. "This can help put an end to the cruelty."
How to report animal cruelty
CALL Winnipeg Crime Stoppers at 786-TIPS (8477) or toll-free at 1-800-222-8477. You can also submit a tip online at www.winnipegcrimestoppers.org . Callers never have to reveal their identity. You can also text TIP170 plus a message to CRIMES (274637). If your tip is helpful, you could get as much as $2,000.
How to donate to Paw Tipsters
PAW Tipsters will launch with a fundraising campaign kicking off Aug. 11. Sign up to canvass for Paw Tipsters at the skydive fundraiser at Assiniboine Park from 10 a.m. to noon. Donations will be tallied Sept. 14-16 and the person with the most donations gets a free skydive from Adventure Skydiving. Email firstname.lastname@example.org .