Tuesday, May 18, 2010

More OSPCA News

Recent headlines about the Ontario Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA)’s decision to kill hundreds of animals in their Newmarket “shelter” raise troubling questions about that agency, but also about our own moral inconsistencies.

The OSPCA’s chief executive officer, Kate MacDonald, said the organization would kill all the animals (except two turtles) in its facility because of an outbreak of ringworm, a contagious skin disease. Ringworm is associated with inadequate nutrition, unsanitary conditions, and overcrowding. It can be treated with topical shampoos and, if necessary, antibiotics. MacDonald claimed that the outbreak was due to errors on the part of the unit’s manager, who had been fired, and that killing all the animals was the only option.

Left unexplained was the reason the animals had to pay for the manager’s errors.

While high-school students protested outside the Newmarket facility, other humane societies criticized the OSPCA’s decision, saying they had treated ringworm outbreaks in the past without killing a single animal and likening the condition to athlete’s foot. Toronto Humane Society president Bob Hambley described the OSPCA’s decision as unprecedented and as simply taking the easy solution, while Ruby Richards of the Durham Humane Society pointed out that "kids get it in school all the time … You get a ringworm outbreak in the school, you don't euthanize all the kids." Volunteer staff members were forced to leave the premises by OSPCA staff, complaining that even uninfected animals would be killed and that people in the community were willing to adopt the animals and provide treatment.

Yet rather than taking advantage of this outpouring of concern, mounting an emergency campaign to raise additional resources, and working with the public to save the animals, the OSPCA was determined to kill them, hiring security guards in SUVs to patrol their facilities and prevent rescue efforts.

MacDonald’s decree was followed by public outrage. Toronto newspapers were inundated with online comments overwhelmingly opposed to the OSPCA’s actions. Newmarket MPP Frank Klees called the OSPCA’s actions irresponsible and demanded a stop order be placed on the killings until a better solution could be found.

Despite the fact that the OSPCA elected to euthanize 99 animals, as opposed to the original 350, the episode has clearly been a public relations disaster for the OSPCA. However, it may have some positive results because it will focus attention on the organization’s practice of killing animals it is supposed to protect. The OSPCA’s readiness to kill is part of an ongoing controversy. In November 2009, the OPSCA raided the Toronto Humane Society, citing a breakdown of procedures to protect animals, overcrowding, and cruelty. These are serious charges that have yet to be examined in court. While important questions remain about conditions at the THS, the two groups have bitter ideological differences over killing and many believe the OSPCA wanted to overturn the THS because that organization’s no-kill policy reflected badly on the OSPCA’s high kill rate. Now the OSPCA is facing opprobrium for some of the same charges it laid against its rival.

The outrage over the killing raises questions about our inconsistency in designating some animals as pets and awarding them better treatment than those we designate as research tools, food, or raw material for clothing. In fact, the animals killed by the OSPCA will suffer less than those processed through factory farms, slaughterhouses, and laboratories. These animals receive even less “protection” from animal welfare organizations like the OSPCA, which endorse our commercial exploitation of other living beings and go out of their way to distance themselves from “radical” animal rights groups.

But even if we limit discussion to those animals designated as pets, we still are faced with these moral inconsistencies. Every year, thousands of unwanted pets are sent to “shelters” that are in actuality killing centres, established to dispose of those animals people find it too inconvenient to maintain. However, public callousness does not mean those organizations that exist to offer “protection” to animals are not culpable. The OSPCA could have pursued a more humane strategy, but it did not want to spend the money to do so.

*Taken from citytv.com

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