Monday, July 5, 2010

Animosity grows between OSPCA and its critics

Nearly two months after the OSPCA euthanized 99 animals at its York Region shelter amid an aggressive ringworm outbreak, there is no word on when a probe of the matter will begin, nor on when the Woodbine Avenue facility will reopen to the public.
In the meantime, animosity is growing between the provincial animal-welfare society and its detractors, including a thriving online community and a few persistent protesters who maintain a physical presence outside the shelter.
Hundreds are expected to attend a demonstration at Queen’s Park next Saturday calling for a review of the OSPCA Act, which gives the society sweeping powers and which Newmarket-Aurora MPP Frank Klees blames for the “tragic circumstances” surrounding the ringworm outbreak.
The Queen’s Park gathering comes as both sides trade bitter allegations; the OSPCA accuses “extremely aggressive” protesters of derailing a planned adoption blitz at the York Region shelter late last month by making threats, while protesters say the provincial society is attempting to discredit their legitimate grievances.
“We never threatened anybody,” said Michelle, one of several women picketing outside the York Region shelter on a recent evening. She says her group would have welcomed the adoption blitz, designed to find homes for about 30 cats and kittens deemed healthy after follow-up ringworm tests.
“The OSPCA is trying to turn the public against the protesters while gaining sympathy for the OSPCA. They have made it clear that they are not happy that the protesters are still there,” noted Douglas Brown, who administers an online forum critical of the society.
The OSPCA, however, professed to be “deeply saddened that these individuals claiming to be protesting on behalf of the animals have actually interfered with the re-homing of the animals.”
Spokeswoman Alison Cross says the society has received threats ever since the May outbreak, citing voicemail messages warning staff and veterinarians to “be very careful” when leaving the facility.
“We’re all coming after you — when you come out of the door, when your car blows up,” one such message states.
After the OSPCA announced the adoption blitz, Ms. Cross said, a new wave of threats emerged, including people vowing to take photos of those involved, record their license plates and track where adopted animals would be going.
Ultimately, for “the safety of the staff and the animals and the general public,” the blitz was cancelled and the animals sent to other shelters.
Mr. Brown, noting protesters are merely seeking “oversight and accountability,” vehemently denied protesters would employ such tactics, particularly against the general public.
York Regional Police Constable Rebecca Boyd says no criminal reports related to the York Region shelter have come in recently, though police did investigate a number of incidents back in May.
Ms. Cross says it is difficult to pinpoint the origin of the latest threats: “A lot of them are coming through email and voicemail, so we don’t know if it’s from one particular group.”
Asked how, under the circumstances, the York Region shelter will ever be deemed safe to reopen once it is fully sanitized to remove ringworm spores, Ms. Cross said the OSPCA “will have to evaluate the situation at that time and see what’s best.”
The current standoff has its roots nearly two months ago, when the OSPCA announced plans to euthanize up to 350 animals at the York Region facility amid a severe ringworm outbreak. Facing immediate and intense public criticism, the society quickly cut that number to 99.
OSPCA officials have attributed the outbreak to human error and are negotiating “terms of engagement” with an external candidate selected to probe and publicly report on the circumstances.
Dozens of animals who survived the outbreak were sent to external clinics for ringworm testing, and while the group of 30 cats and kittens were cleared, many are still awaiting final results.
motoole@nationalpost.com

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