The Toronto Humane Society has been at the centre of a controversial firestorm recently. And while the situation is repairable, we should remind ourselves that Humane Society volunteers are the unsung heroes and heroines of Canadian society.
“Can the Toronto Humane Society Rebuild?” asked a headline in the April 11 Toronto Star.
The organization’s reputation has been hurt following grave allegations of animal cruelty last year. By the end of 2009, some were predicting the Toronto Humane Society would close its doors for good.
Last June, officers with the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals raided the Toronto Humane Society after receiving tips alleging animal cruelty and neglect. They reported incidents of “overcrowding, starvation and rotting corpses.” A second raid by the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals resulted in the arrest of the organization’s president, Tim Trow, and four high-level officials in the organization.
The controversy at the Toronto Humane Society has been far from black and white. Much of it stemmed from Trow’s resistance to euthanizing animals. Factions formed, with many members of the Humane Society board of directors backing Trow.
But there were troubling reports coming from the facility of animals suffering because they were not getting the care they needed and were not being euthanized. There were also allegations of financial mismanagement under Trow.
When the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals took over the shelter in late November, the place housed 1,100 animals. By March, due to a combination of adoption blitzes and euthanasia, that number was reduced to 255.
The Toronto Humane Society is being radically restructured right now. It closed its doors temporarily earlier this year. As part of the restructuring, a court ordered a new election for the Toronto Humane Society’s board of directors. There are now 50 people running for the board’s 15 seats.
Trow’s name has been tarnished by this affair. But the 63-year-old attorney, who took on the time-consuming, unpaid job as president, was actually supporting an anti-euthanasia position that has become increasingly popular across North America. So-called “no-kill shelters” are springing up in parts Canada and all over the place in the United States.
It’s an idealistic position, but it ignores a troubling reality. There is a great deal of public irresponsibility when it comes to animals. Countless pets aren’t getting spayed or neutered. To make matters worse, there are always feral animals — especially cats — roaming neighbourhoods and breeding.
Trow was so opposed to euthanasia that he stubbornly refused to obey court orders to put down Bandit, a pit bull-Labrador cross that mauled a three-year-old child in 2003. Last month, Bandit was euthanized under orders from an Ontario Superior justice.
However one might feel about the Toronto imbroglio, it is important to remember that the overwhelming majority of Humane Society volunteers epitomize the very word humane. Every day, they are confronted with new arrivals: abandoned pets (including guinea pigs, parakeets and other small animals), feral animals, and sick dogs and cats. And every day they are forced to make difficult judgments about the fate of each creature.
These volunteers are driven by compassion and a deep love of animals. Last month, I adopted a five-year-old cat named Summer from the Kitchener-Waterloo Humane Society. The extraordinary volunteers loved and cared for her and did everything they could to get her adopted. Thanks to them, Summer now a loving home.
These amazing men and women deserve our constant gratitude. The Toronto scandal shouldn’t obscure the fact that they are truly heroic Canadians.
Andrew Hunt is an associate professor of history at the University of Waterloo.

*Taken from