Friday, November 5, 2010

Peter Worthington's Take On The State Of Animal Welfare In Ontario

While it may be vindication for individuals, the damage done to reputations and to the principles of the Toronto Humane Society may be long-lasting. On Monday, Crown Attorney Christine McGoey dropped all charges against former THS executives who were charged with cruelty and conspiracy nine months ago, and photographed leaving the shelter in handcuffs under police escort. “Serious breaches” under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and unreasonable search and seizures methods, meant that there were “no reasonable prospects” of conviction of former THS President Tim Throw, chief veterinarian Steve Sheridan and others.

So ends the drama. Or does it? Reputations were ruined by the OSPCA’s raid that should never have taken place, and which verged on a conspiracy by alerting media to what was going on so that incriminating photos could be taken of the principals in handcuffs. The old THS board was replaced in May by a “Faces of Change” board which has scaled down the THS policy of not refusing any animal in need, and its reluctance to euthanize any but the most sick or injured. Where the THS shelter had some 1,100 animals at the time of the OSPCA raid, the new board says it houses only 250-300 animals, will accept no stray dogs or cats, and animals should be surrendered only by appointment. That’s a far cry from being “dedicated to providing compassionate care, shelter, adoptions to caring homes and a voice for abandoned, abused and injured companion animals,” as advertised on the THS website. What it seems to mean is that the THS is lowering its sights from caring for any and all animals to dealing with a few animals in need. Strays and others go to Toronto Animal Services which is the pound; killing takes precedence over adoption. Put bluntly, needy animals in Toronto are in for a hard time. People concerned about animal welfare should be uneasy. The OSPCA, which waged a vendetta against the THS for years and finally won, is itself under fire these days. It recently settled out-of-court for $40,000 when it raided and confiscated farm animals from Don Hervieux of Elmvale. Earlier, it announced it intended to kill 250 animals with ringworm, but reduced the number to 99 when a storm was raised. So it’s not a happy time for animals in the province.

Back in the 1980s, a rebellion among THS members resulted in a new and reduced board of directors run by Vicki Miller and the late Kathy Hunter that focused more on ethical treatment of animals than control and euthanasia. The province intervened and the board was expanded, but controversy seethed. In the early 2000s there was another attempt to take over the THS, and again the membership intervened to vote Tim Throw as president — and he led the campaign to reduce the THS’ kill rate to 7%, instead of the more usual 50%. It’s not unreasonable to suppose the THS membership, which is around 3,000, could rally to replace the “Faces of Change” board if it fails to meet expectations and continues to reject strays and becomes prohibitively bureaucratic. The former THS management may have erred, but its concern for animals was undeniable, albeit sometimes misguided. While the courts have tried to right the wrong, it doesn’t solve the problem of abandoned or mistreated animals in Toronto.

The Toronto Sun