Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Toronto Humane Society Wants To Clear Its Cages And Start Anew

The Toronto Humane Society is seeking a court’s permission to close its doors, clear the cages and make sweeping changes to its animal-care policies in a rebuilding effort that would amount to pressing the reset button on one of Canada’s oldest and largest animal charities.

The closing, which was recommended by independent animal-care experts and approved recently by the charity’s board of directors, would last approximately six to eight weeks, with the shelter likely reopening in June. Such a move would leave the fate of the dwindling number of animals still inside the shelter, estimated at about 200, in the balance. Most have health and behavioural problems and, with slim chances of being adopted, many would probably be euthanized.

In an affidavit recently filed in court, THS executive director Garth Jerome outlined his designs “to rebuild the THS as a shelter and adoption centre from the ground up, and regain the public’s confidence in the organization.”

Mr. Jerome said he would have to regain control of animal care from the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to carry out the rebuilding. A court awarded control of animal care in the shelter to the OSPCA three months ago, after the provincial organization charged five senior THS managers and its board of directors with animal cruelty.

“The current situation gave the organization a chance to re-evaluate its mission and its goals,” said Frank Addario, a lawyer for the board of directors, who added he was reluctant to discuss the matter further as it remains before the courts.

The OSPCA said that “such a drastic step” should not be taken without consulting the charity’s membership.

“In addition, we do not agree that the decision to close the facility, even temporarily, should be made by the current board of directors of the Toronto Humane Society,” said Brian Shiller, a lawyer for the organization.

Most of the members of the board of directors have “indicated an intention to resign shortly,” he said, and any plan for renewal of the embattled charity should be considered at a special meeting of the members.

Mr. Jerome’s affidavit states that during the closing, the entire River Street facility would undergo a deep cleaning, staff would be retrained and a new computer system for tracking animal intake and care would be implemented, among other changes.

Ontario Superior Court Justice David Brown will consider the proposal next week, when hearings will begin on an application by some THS members and the OSPCA to have the charity’s current board of directors removed and order an election for a new board at a special meeting of the members.

The affidavit also outlines some problems that contributed to the need for a shelter overhaul, including animal corpses stored at too-warm temperatures, overcrowding, and animals whose physical and mental states had deteriorated to the point that they had little quality of life.

Euthanasia policies remain a controversial issue at the shelter, where six dogs, some of them favourites of dog-walking volunteers, were euthanized on Friday. The deaths fuelled a demonstration outside the shelter over the weekend in which protesters called the OSPCA dog murderers. However, in a statement posted on the shelter’s website, Mr. Jerome said the decision to euthanize the dogs was made by the THS.

Marcie Laking, a volunteer familiar with the dogs, most of whom were pit bulls who had lived in the shelter for years, said she blamed their deaths on bickering among THS staff, volunteers and the OSPCA.

“If we spent half as much time trying to adopt these animals as we did taking shots at each other there’d be no animals in the shelter, they’d all have homes,” she said.

According to Mr. Jerome’s affidavit, as of March 2, there were 255 animals in the care of the THS, including just 160 cats and 22 dogs. When the OSPCA took control of the shelter in November, there were more than 1,100 animals.

“It is my objective to keep the animal population at the THS moving through our facility quickly to adoptive homes or foster homes so that we do not accumulate a disproportionate number of chronically ill, unadoptable animals,” Mr. Jerome said.

“To a large extent, I believe that closely monitoring and controlling the population of unadoptable animals, coupled with an aggressive adoption campaign, will prevent the problem of overcrowding in the future.”

**Written by Kate Hammer, taken from the Globe and Mail

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