Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Why didn't someone step up to help dogs?

Anonymous phone call could have ended misery

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Slowly, and with voices barely above whispers, Peter and Judy Chernecki's neighbours are starting to talk about what they knew and when they knew it.

Sixty-four dogs were taken from the Gull Lake couple's property. Six of the dogs had to be immediately put down.

The animals had been neglected so badly some were vicious and others in shock or injured. The dogs had feces matted into their fur.

So how can a small community live with this horror in its midst without anyone knowing?

It turns out people did know. Some suspected something was wrong; others thought there were "only" 15 or 20 dogs. They could smell the ammonia from the dogs' urine when the wind was right. They could hear the dogs barking hour after hour. And still no one told authorities.

In fact, the animals were rescued only because a resident complained the couple were feeding bears. They've been doing that for at least 15 years. In fact, they were once lauded for keeping three orphaned cubs alive.

People riding their quads near the dump claimed they recently spotted the pair leaving bread and bones for the bears. A Natural Resources officer stumbled upon the canine house of horrors because of the bear complaint.

But why didn't people step forward and voice their suspicions earlier?

"My cottage is a mile away," says Sonya, who didn't want her last name used for fear of retribution. "I've talked to people and they said if they said anything they were afraid."

More than a decade ago, she says, the couple had three dogs that were often pregnant. Even then the situation was spiralling out of control.

"I can't tell you how bad I feel about this. It's just unbelievable that something wasn't done."

Darlene Chizick, who lives in the Gull Lake region, rages against the community:

"In my opinion, these people are as much to blame as the Cherneckis. That would be the same as hearing children screaming and crying and choosing to do nothing about it."

There are certainly many well-intentioned people in Gull Lake. A lot of them had no idea what was happening on the property. Certainly no one knew how bad it was. "We keep to ourselves" was a common message from the residents to whom I spoke.

But that's an excuse, not a justification.

Here's Muriel B., another resident.

"He (Peter) was well-known for the fact that he fed the bears all the time and I am surprised that you didn't find one or more on his property. Last time my husband was there he did say he heard some dogs but Peter had a couple of his own we used to see in the yard.

"We were glad to hear that at least all these dogs will be out of that situation at last. If we had had any idea of the amount of animals he had, we surely would have reported it so much earlier but because he kept them where the humane society found them we really just didn't know."

But what's the number you have to reach before you feel justified in calling the authorities? Is it eight? Ten? Fifteen? How do you decide?

It's not unlike witnessing an act of child abuse in a grocery store. Do you step in when a harried mother calls her child an idiot and slaps her? Do you rush over when a baby is being shaken but back away when it's a six-year-old?

We have to make these decisions. We all have a moral compass. We know we're supposed to protect the vulnerable and the innocent.

It would have been terribly uncomfortable for anyone in the vicinity of the Chernecki residence to confront the pair. No one wants trouble with the neighbours. But an anonymous phone call would have saved those dogs untold misery.

Sometimes you really do need to step up. This was one of those times.

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 30, 2010 A6

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About Lindor Reynolds

National Newspaper Award winner Lindor Reynolds began work at the Free Press as a 17-year-old proofreader. It was a rough introduction to the news business.

Many years later, armed with a university education and a portfolio of published work, she was hired as a Free Press columnist. During her 20-plus years on the job she has written for every section in the paper, with the exception of Business. She’ll get around to them some day.

Lindor has received considerable recognition for her writing. Her awards include the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ general interest award and the North American Travel Journalists Association top prize.
Her work on Internet luring led to an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada and her coverage of the child welfare system prompted a change to Manitoba Child and Family Services Act to make the safety of children paramount.

She has earned three citations of merit for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism and has been awarded a Distinguished Alumni commendation from the University of Winnipeg. Lindor was also named a YMCA/YWCA  Woman of Distinction.

She is married with four daughters. If her house was on fire and the kids and dog were safe, she’d grab her passport.
 
lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

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