Humane Society: 'It seems like house of horrors'
Animals at the Toronto Humane Society are living in 'a house of horrors,' inspectors said Nov. 27, 2009. Neglected animals allegedly live and die in terrible pain; feral cats roam free between walls.CARLOS OSORIO/TORONTO STAR
An inside look at the Toronto Humane Society revealed a place where neglected animals lived and died in terrible pain and feral cats roamed free in the basement and between walls, one dying a slow death in a trap.
On Friday, a tip led investigators to pull panels from a ceiling on the second floor, where they discovered the body of the caged animal. Its skin stretched thin over frail bones. Its organs turned to thick dust, the remains of a feast for maggots.
"It sent chills down my spine," said Kevin Strooband, lead investigator from the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
"I don't know what is going on here, but it seems like a house of horrors."
The cat was sealed in a live trap, the door closing after it was lured by food, above a high-traffic area. Its weakening cries would have mixed with the chorus of animals below.
The facility has been described by former employees as a place of unimaginable suffering, where the weak were stacked in overcrowded disease-ridden conditions and left to die in terrible pain.
Since the OSPCA raided the building Thursday, five animals - a puppy, a dog, two cats and a raccoon - have been euthanized.
"I have seen things that have made me cry and haunted my dreams in that building," said Marcie Laking, a former animal-care worker who has spoken out numerous times against the society.
Laking started working at the society as a volunteer in 2001, and became a staff member in 2005. By 2006, what she had seen in the building had taken its toll.
"I remember taking dead animals when my shifts would start, and dead kittens," said Laking. "These animals are dying painful deaths - from ailments that are not being treated, are not being treated properly or can't be treated - and they are dying in their cages."
The body of the mummified cat was put on display Friday during a guided media tour of the facility. Strooband led groups of journalists and television crews through the area of the building used to house about 1,000 cats.
In a back room, veterinarian Johanna MacNaughton discussed the conditions of four of the animals being treated.
"None of these cats were on any pain medication," said MacNaughton, as she held out a female whose eye ulceration was ignored to the point where it had prolapsed.
"She was not on any pain medication at all. With proper care and treatment, it wouldn't have reached the severity it had reached."
MacNaughton worked for the Toronto Humane Society from August 2008 until she resigned in April. She was surprised a cat was left to die in the ceiling.
But feral cats ran loose in all corners of the building, including the basement, she told the Star.
"It is a known fact there are ferals in the ceilings, there are feral cats all through the shelter."
She would not comment on what she saw while working at the shelter because of legal reasons but said she resigned because of management overriding veterinary decisions and extreme understaffing.
After Thursday's raid, she returned to help treat the remaining animals. Some of them had not been treated by veterinarians in months, she said.
"It is pretty deplorable."
MacNaughton said 20 per cent of the cats she examined in the adoption area of the facility - where cats are supposed to be healthy - were suffering from respiratory disease and "should have been isolated."
There were so many animals, there was no way to properly isolate the animals, or arrange for the mass cleaning of cages, she said.
Among her complaints was the hiring of staff without proper medical knowledge.
"They were hiring untrained staff and throwing them into positions that require knowledge of drugs and dosing," said MacNaughton. "Nobody should be taking on those roles unless they are appropriately trained."
She had nothing but high praise for staff taking care of the animals, and said she has faith the Toronto Humane Society can rebuild.
Right now, staffers are "just trying to get on top of years of understaffing," she said. "It is going to take so much time to dig ourselves out."
Feel free to share your thoughts on this issue.