Bullying, Threats, & Community Bias force Valley Mastiff Rescue to move across river to Ontario

Saint-Cécile de Masham, Que: France Turcotte’s Valley Mastiff Rescue has saved 86 dogs since 2009, including successfully rehabilitating 14 dogs recovered from a raid on Canada’s largest puppy mill in 2010. Some of the dogs are terminally ill and are cared for by Valley Mastiff Rescue during their last months or weeks of life.


France Turcotte with Sydney, left, and Austin, who is terminally ill, right. Turcotte’s sanctuary, a federally registered charity, has saved 86 dogs since 2009, including successfully rehabilitating 14 dogs recovered from a raid on Canada’s largest puppy mill in 2010.
Photograph by: Joel Balsam

The sanctuary which has received support from well known people such as Don Cherry and Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray, is no longer taking in dogs and will be put up for sale. France Turcotte plans to move across the river to Ontario.

Turcotte claims, “bullying” started to occur as soon as she put the sign up in 2008. Since then, she says there have been attempts at intimidating her into leaving by several area residents. “These dogs are not a threat. They’re sick. They come here to die. How is that a problem for the residents of this municipality?” said Turcotte according to the Ottawa Citizen.

In 2011, Turcotte reported a neighbour to the police. He had threatened (according to Turcotte) to kill one of her dogs using a bear trap if it came on his property. A year earlier, police had evacuated the entire street  when Turcotte found a suspicious package with the back of a clock inside it. Turcotte believed it was a fake bomb meant to intimidate her. A crossbow bolt was found in one of the dogs’ cages, and garbage had been dumped on the front lawn. The final tipping point came when one of Turcotte’s 23 volunteers was threatened while walking a four month old boxer. “It was very scary for him to be told he was going to be beaten,” said Turcotte.

Patrice Pharand, one of Turcotte’s neighbours says the mastiff refuge presents a danger to the community. “History says (mastiffs) will die for its master,” said Pharand. “I’m not taking away from any of the things (Turcotte) is doing, but I’m preoccupied by the safety … our safety, the safety of our children, the safety of residents,”  According to Pharand, any sort of refuge or shelter is “an automatic inconvenience for all the neighbours.”

The municipality agrees with Pharand’s concerns about mastiffs: it prohibits the breed, along with Staffordshire terriers, American pit-bull terriers, American Stafford terriers, and bullmastiffs “at all times” as part of breed-specific legislation. However, the law does allow these breeds if the owner has had a permit to have one since Dec. 31, 2011 which Turcotte has but that might not be the case for much longer.

The permit that the municipality has issued Valley Mastiff Rescue to run as a sanctuary or refuge with 16 or more dogs has been up for review since December. Charles Ricard, director general for the municipality said that they had modified the permit by making an exception to the bylaw that permits breeding. The question the municipality is now asking a legal adviser is whether or not that modification was legal.

If the municipality’s legal adviser determines the breeding bylaw does not apply to Turcotte’s refuge, she will need to apply for an exemption. Turcotte believes that because of community bias against her sanctuary she will be denied that exemption if it goes to a vote.

“Dogs are dying because I don’t have a permit,” Turcotte told the Ottawa Citizen. “That blood is on their hands, not mine. They don’t understand the urgency of what we do.”