Thursday, July 29, 2010

OSPCA protesters not giving up fight

As cars drive by on Woodbine Avenue, three women hold up signs asking residents to sign a petition calling for the Community Safety and Correctional Services Ministry to take control of the OSPCA.
"Some people stop, ask us questions and sign the petition," Eva McDowell said. "Some people yell at us to get a job. This isn't over. We'll be here until we get some answers."
It has been more than two months since the OSPCA euthanized 99 animals at its York Region shelter after an aggressive strain of ringworm broke out, but the protesters know the fight to have the shelter overhauled isn't over.
No date has been set for the reopening of the shelter. In fact, an independent investigator to probe the handling of the outbreak still hasn't been announced, even though the OSPCA board of directors announced one would be in place May 28.
Every day since the ringworm breakout, for a couple of hours after coming home from work, Ms McDowell, Michele Langston and Katie Patrick take up their positions along Woodbine.
Not only is this group of women standing its ground until the promised investigation is complete, it is also standing up to accusations against them, as a whole, by the OSPCA.
The OSPCA cancelled an adoption blitz in late June citing an increase in threats against staff and the public from aggressive protestors.
"We want to clear our names," Ms McDowell said. "We want no harm to the people inside the shelter or to the building.
"We've become the scapegoat. Why are we being blamed for the shelter not getting things done."
"We were thrilled these animals were up for adoption," Ms Patrick said. "Getting the animals out is exactly what we want. Why would we stop them? We were ready to cheer them on."
According to a regular weekly report sent to the Town of Aurora, which contracts services from the shelter to handle animal licencing and animal control, the cleaning and contamination process is complete, the shelter is undergoing minor repairs, cleaning of the duct work is ongoing and the animal agency has started the process of recruiting a new branch manager for the York Region location.
But the main issue remains the lack of an independent investigation.
The secrecy surrounding the OSPCA leaves many wondering what the agency has to hide, Ms Patrick said. She compared the lack of action and discussion with the 2008 Maple Leaf Foods listeria situation.
"When that broke out, everyone knew what the next steps were," she said. "What do they have to hide? Why are they so secretive? We're hearing rumours over and over again to the point where it sounds true. We don't know what to believe. Why won't they just come out and tell us?"
The protesters are not the only ones fighting for answers. The Stop the Slaughter of Over 350 Animals Facebook page has more than 39,000 members.
The people who continue to protest have serious concerns and want reassurances this situation will not be repeated, Newmarket-Aurora MPP Frank Klees said.
Mr. Klees tabled a resolution in the provincial legislature and is collecting signatures to bring the OSPCA under the control of the Community Safety and Correctional Services Ministry.
"We get signed petitions in weekly," he said. "This is not an issue that will be dropped. There needs to be proper provincial oversight."
Mr. Klees plans to present the petitions once the legislature sits again in the fall.
According to the Community Safety and Correctional Services Ministry, the OSPCA is responsible for its own actions and the ministry has no legislative role in this matter, spokesperson Anthony Brown said.
Mr. Klees also said he has regular conversations with OSPCA board of directors chairperson Rob Godfrey for updates on the progress of the promised investigation.
The board was to hold a meeting last night to approve the terms of reference and approve two investigators, one from the veterinary community and the other from the legal community, Mr. Klees said.
"I have every confidence the board is moving forward," Mr. Klees said. "The board is responding. The investigation will take place. We need to know how the situation developed and who is responsible."
To sign a petition, visit frank-klees.on.ca
For more information or to get involved in the online community, visit ospcatruth.com

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