Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Toronto Humane Society Calls Urgent Meeting Over House Full Of Sick Cats

The Toronto Humane Society board has called an emergency meeting Wednesday night to decide on whether to oust Ferne Sinkins as a board member after an embarrassing situation arose this week over a house full of sick cats in Hamilton. That house belongs to Sinkins and an investigation was launched after at least 50 cats were removed from her house on Tuesday. One cat was found dead at the scene and another had to be euthanized. Sinkins, who owns the house but doesn’t live there, was voted onto the board in May following an investigation into charges - later dropped - of animal cruelty at the humane society. The Toronto board realizes that this is an embarrassing situation, but at the same time wants to gather all the facts before deciding on how to proceed. Garth Jerome, executive director of the THS, said he was unaware of the situation in Hamilton until this week. “I’m just waiting for some feedback from my board on where they’re going to proceed,” Jerome said in an interview. “We had no knowledge there were animals there.” The home in Hamilton is not part of the operation of the Toronto Humane Society, Jerome said, adding that “it is now our concern clearly now because Ms. Sinkins is a director with the Toronto Humane Society. We need to decide where we are going with this.” He said he did not know yet whether Sinkins would be part of the board’s emergency meeting. Jerome would not speculate on whether the board will vote to remove Sinkins. He said he hasn’t talked to Sinkins, but other board members have. Sinkins has not returned calls to the Toronto Star. It’s not clear if she knew there were that many cats in the house, which is a clear violation of city ordinances. A new city bylaw in Hamilton limits all pets to two per dwelling. She had rented her house out to a 69-year-old man, Robert Gould, who looked after the cats in exchange for free rent. Sinkins is currently trying to sell the property, but has reportedly lost contact with her tenant. Investigators from the Hamilton-Burlington arm of the OSPCA arrived at a Hamilton home on Tuesday to find squalid conditions. Inside was the body of one cat that had been dead for a few weeks. Another cat had to be euthanized because it was in such bad shape. Wearing latex gloves and respirators, the investigators herded the cats into cages and relocated them to Durham Region, where they are under a veterinarian’s care. The surviving cats were not malnourished but had other medical issues, such as breathing problems, according to Vivian LaFlamme, an inspector with the Hamilton-Burlington OSPCA. “All the cats were fed and given water, but other than that they were not cared for,” LaFlamme said. There were so many cats left on their own that they were not socialized, LaFlamme said. When investigators arrived, the cats were petrified and began jumping around the house and trying to attack the investigators, LaFlamme said. The tenant has publicly blamed Sinkins for not making sure the cats were fed. Under their arrangement, Sinkins had provided free rent and the cat food if he would care for the cats. However, it’s not clear how the arrangement broke down, or who knew how many animals were in the house. “We don’t know the full truth because we’re getting different stories all the time,” LaFlamme said. She said early indications are that the tenant began picking up strays to the point that “he became overwhelmed.” This was the second time that animal control has been called to that location. Investigators are concerned that some of the cats may have owners who are looking for them. LaFlamme said that if anyone in the Hamilton area believes one of the cats is theirs, they should call the Hamilton-Burlington SPCA at 905-574-7722 and attempts will be made to reunite the cats with their owners.

*The Toronto Star

Cats Rescued From House Of Humane Society Board Member

At least 50 sickly cats have been rescued from a Hamilton house owned by a board member for the Toronto Humane Society elected after the animal-welfare group weathered allegations of mismanagement and animal cruelty last year.

The board member, Ferne Sinkins, called the Ontario Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to her own property last week after losing contact with a cat-sitter who had been living there rent-free. For several years, the two worked under an unorthodox arrangement whereby Robert Gould, a 69-year-old pensioner, lived in the home free of charge as long as he cared for rescued cats and she supplied food. Ms. Sinkins bought the Victorian house as a shelter for cats she retrieved from Hamilton Animal Control. She operated it as a charitable endeavour and continues to write it off on her income tax, she said. But the agreement soured earlier this year. Following a dispute over Mr. Gould's continued residency, Ms. Sinkins said that her tenant severed all contact with her. “He has closed up the door and won't answer,” she said. “I haven't been in touch with him since May.” In the meantime, she stopped dropping off food for the animals. Mr. Gould claims that their health has deteriorated significantly as a result. “I'm an old-age pensioner,” he said. “I've been trying to buy food for all the cats, but it hasn't been easy. That was supposed to be her end of the deal.”

On Tuesday, OSPCA officials arrived wearing latex gloves and respirators to retrieve the cats. At least one had been euthanized. “They were in very poor shape,” said Mr. Gould. “They ran all over when the OSPCA was here knocking over this and that. The house is a mess. I feel sick about it.” He received a notice for a tenant-landlord hearing the same day and suspects to be evicted some time soon. The two disagree where all the cats came from. Mr. Gould claims his landlord dropped off the majority over the past year. At one point, he alleges, there were as many as 120 in the home. He says he rescued no more than 10 or so - from local feral populations, and did so with her consent. A new city by-law limits cats to four per dwelling. Ms. Sinkins insists that her tenant's affection for strays accounts for the high numbers. “He goes outside in the neighbourhood feeding them and then he brings them back [to the house],” she said. “He accumulates them like a hoarder.” “He wouldn't tell me how the cats were doing and I put off doing something for as long as I could,” she continued. “But I'm on the board of the Toronto Human Society so I don't want to do anything that jeopardizes the board or gives it bad publicity. It has had enough of that the last while.”

The shelter was closed in April as part of a court-approved agreement between the THS's previous board of directors and the OSPCA. Late last year, the OSPCA raided the shelter, arrested five senior managers and charged them with animal cruelty. All charges have since been dropped. On May 31 the organization voted in Ms. Sinkins and 14 other new board members, all running on the Faces of Change slate, who promised to change the way things are done at the THS. Garth Jerome, executive director of the THS, said he was unaware of Ms. Sinkins' Hamilton home until this week and hopes the incident doesn't detract from efforts to restore the organization's reputation. Shortly after her election, Mr. Sinkins put her Hamilton property up for sale. She hopes to sell it as soon as Mr. Gould leaves. Late Tuesday night, she had found a new home for the Hamilton cats and was leading OSPCA officials there as she spoke to The Globe.

The Globe And Mail