Thursday, March 25, 2010

OSCPA Meets With Toronto Humane Society Workers Amid Infighting

There’s a dog and cat fight brewing within Toronto’s animal welfare community over an allegedly kidnapped German Shepherd, cats on death row and the operations of the Toronto Humane Society.

The infighting reached a pitch last night when the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which has been running the shelter since November, when five senior managers were charged with criminal animal cruelty, held a meeting to answer questions from frustrated THS volunteers, staff and animal lovers.

The OSPCA, which has been criticized for speaking too openly to the media, barred reporters from attending the meeting.

The OSPCA “certainly haven’t been welcoming to us and they’ve been treating us like we’ve done something bad,” said Sheenagh Murphy, a volunteer dog walker who left the meeting feeling that she only got partial answers to her questions.

The tension has been fuelled by rumours about everything from mass overnight animal euthanasia to the disappearance of Kincaid, a German Shepherd who was either kidnapped from his cage, a similar-looking dog slipped into his place, or transferred to a Northern Ontario shelter. (The first version of the rumour has spread amongst OSPCA staff, the second within the THS.)

Ms. Murphy said the dog was transferred, not kidnapped. Rosaline Ryan, a spokeswoman for the OSPCA, declined to comment because the matter is under investigation.

“There's a lot of mistruths circulating on both sides,” she said.

Over the last three months, several e-mails have circulated amongst THS volunteers threatening that hundreds of cats will be euthanized overnight if the OSPCA isn't stopped. Concerned volunteers have watched as a steady rotation of cats have been posted on the shelter’s “Rainbow Board,” a place where animal profiles are posted in a last-ditch effort to find them homes before they’re euthanized.

Many are skeptical of the OSPCA's assertions that only 95 animals have been euthanized, given that only about 300 remain in the shelter and the rotation of pets on the Rainbow Board. (There were 1,100 animals when the OSPCA took over in November.)

Staff and volunteers also raised concerns that the OSPCA has stopped animal intake until it bolsters its staff numbers and finances.

“They've created a spiral that just makes thing worse,” said Art Skibicki, a volunteer dog walker.

Without animal intake and adoptions the shelter can't generate income or hire staff, he said.

Fred Ni, author of the animal welfare blog One Bark at a Time, said he felt most of the rumours had been put to rest.

“I think [OSPCA CEO] Kate MacDonald explained the OSPCA's position fairly well,” he said.

He added that he hoped in the future, the OSPCA will keep the lines of communication open, and employ a “softer touch” with volunteers.

**Taken from the Globe and Mail article by Kate Hammer, which can be found here.

One Individual's Account Of The OSPCA Meeting Last Night

"Tonight from 7:30 pm to 9 pm the OSPCA held a "Question and Answer" style meeting at the Grand Hotel, downtown Toronto. Present were Kevin Strooband (lead investigator), Kate MacDonald (CEO) and Linda MacKinnon (member of "Association for the Reform of The Toronto Humane Society) among other OSPCA officials, and "ART" members.

Before entering the meeting we were questioned more then once if we were members of the media. They were neither notified nor allowed to be present during the discussion. The OSPCA stated this was not the kind of meeting that required note taking as it was a casual information discussion.

The room was packed and emotions ran high. The OSPCA demonstrated their remarkable ability to avoid straight answers to questions. One question posed was if it is true cats with FIV or Diabetes are being euthanized simply because they possess this treatable disease. Their response was, "There are cats with FIV available for adoption, this is a fact". Right. Well, that doesn't exactly mean you aren't still euthanizing other FIV positive cats does it?

There was apparently a cat euthanized that very day that a volunteer described as a very sweet cat that had FIV. An OSPCA vet stated the cat was euthanized due to a dental condition that made his mouth sore as well. "If you stroked your hand against the cat's mouth it would meow in pain". Are both these medical conditions not treatable? Many sick animals are in pain. Many sick people are in pain. That is not a justifiable reason for euthanasia. Now if the cat's "dental condition" was untreatable and going to cause it chronic extreme amounts of pain then that could be a justifiable answer. This was not the case.

There were many questions regarding euthanasia policies. They stated both in their own facilities and within the THS, euthanasia is entirely in the hands of the veterinarians. They were further probed, if this were true, why are animals euthanized due to lack of space? They digressed by saying no animals have been euthanized at THS due to lack of space. They neglected to clarify how a veterinarian would determine animals to be euthanized do to lack of space, which they confirmed, is something that "regrettably has to happen". It was then stated that not every OSPCA facility or affiliate facility is equipped with a veterinarian to perform this duty. In those cases euthanasia is not in the hands of a vet. What a round about.

They confirmed they have not been accepting new intakes due to lack of staff. However, they have removed many THS employees and are not accepting any new volunteers. Their doors are locked from 7 pm to 7 am. A question was posed if there was a sign on the door or anything to direct people to another facility in Toronto where they could take an injured animal. They said there are pamphlets inside that instruct people to take all animals to a Toronto Animals Services facility. Obviously this isn't much help to someone stuck outside the building at the front door. They stated people who show up to the facility between 7 pm and 7 am can "knock on the front door and a security personnel will direct them to take the animal to Toronto Animal Services". Unless a security personnel is permanently stationed near the front door where they could hear someone knocking (which they are not) they cannot guarantee this. Which is indeed what they claimed. Keep in mind Toronto Animal Services has replaced the city pound. Their main interest and concern is not rehabilitating sick or injured animals, it’s controlling the animal population.

I asked if they could confirm that the majority of OSPCA board members are paid member affiliates or employees. They stated 10 of the twelve board members are paid affiliate members, two of which are paid employees. This distinction to them ensured that there was no conflict of interest of any members. They also confirmed that there are two board members that are not a member of an affiliate facility and they are considered 'B' class members that do not have a vote. Kate MacDonald, CEO of OSPCA, stated she has been with the organization for a very long time and is not aware of a report by management consultant firm Grant Thornton that concluded "perceived conflicts exist because employees of affiliate societies are permitted to serve on the board". Grant Thornton was hired to do a governance review of the OSPCA in 2006 and urged that, "Employees should not be eligible to serve on the board.”

At the end of it all, the meeting held by OSPCA in an attempt to stop this Sunday’s protest, only confirmed that the rally is a necessity. I, and others will be there with bells and whistles on."

**The Toronto Pet Daily neither supports nor opposes these statements, and we can not speak to the validity of the statements, though we felt the need to publish this writing in an effort to ensure that those pets who can not speak for themselves are being treated with the most humane care throughout this process. Let your voice be heard by commenting, and for more of the author's thoughts on the situation, visit her blog by clicking here.