Saturday, June 6, 2009


When I first started volunteering at Toronto Animal Services South and heard about the division of labour and the antagonism between TAS, Toronto Humane Society and the OSPCA, it didn't make any sense to me. It still doesn't - not entirely - and I'm guessing most people don't know or understand what the differences are and what that means for the animals caught up in the middle of it.

It goes something like this (I think). The OSCPA, or the Ontaria SPCA, used to be called the Ontario Humane Society and they are the provincial body which oversees animal welfare and cruelty laws and have the power to appoint and remove animal cruelty investigative policing powers. The OSPCA, in effect is the Humane Society for all of Ontario but in certain jurisdictions, like Toronto, they allow other organizations (and in Toronto that would be the Toronto Humane Society) to do similar animal welfare work under their guidelines by giving them an affiliate status and allowing certain employees to have animal cruelty policing powers. Last week, when the OSPCA started to investigate some questionable practices by the Toronto Humane Society, they suspended the licences of the three animal cruelty officers who worked at the THS.

The Toronto Humane Society is Toronto's largest animal welfare agency. It can take in animals that are owner surrendered and it can sieze animals that it feels are under threat of animal cruelty. It cannot pick up strays ie. it's not the dog catcher. It's now entirely charity run even though a few years ago, it had the city contract to be dog catcher as well. THS lost that contract and Toronto Animal Services was expanded to take over the role of dog catcher in the city of Toronto. Now you can see why Trow has always had a hate on for TAS. He probably views them as the competitor in his us vs. them brain.

Toronto Animal Services' mandate could be said to be protection of the public from animals and a few years ago, it could be argued, that's maybe all they really cared about. They were the pound. They were the dog catchers. Stray dogs or dogs which broke the by-laws (eg. noise) were taken and brought to TAS and if they weren't claimed within a few days, well, the outlook wasn't good. TAS did adoptions even back then but I'm not sure how much effort was really put into it.

Things are quite different at TAS today, at least at TAS South anyway (there are four TAS locations). It's still officially the pound but it's also transformed itself into a rescue where adoptions are given high priority. It's no longer about hauling in stray dogs, giving them a few days for their owners to show up and if no one does show up, being put down. Now, all dogs who are behaviourally and physically sound are put up for adoption or sent to a rescue. Even Pit Bulls, which in many other jurisdictions in Ontario, are simply killed by local animal control (just following Ontario's ignorant and cruel breed prohibition laws), are given a chance and if they pass assessment, they are shipped out of province, through a bully rescue, to be placed in a foster home.

Given this transformation of Toronto Animal Services, where now the philosophies of both TAS and THS with regards to the well-being of animals are more closely aligned, there's no reason why THS and TAS can't have a working partnership. In fact, it makes a lot of sense.

From the Globe and Mail article, What happens to the cats and dogs at the Toronto Humane Society?:

Mending bridges with other animal lovers and rescue groups should be a priority [for THS], said Liz White, director of Animal Alliance, a Toronto-based animal advocacy group.

“First of all, there needs to be co-operation between the OSPCA, the Toronto Humane Society and Toronto Animal Services,” she said.

Ms. White suggested a lack of co-operation has created inefficiencies among the city’s shelters. She put forth a working model in which TAS would be the front-line shelter taking in lost or abandoned animals, and the THS would acted as a “second-chance program” for animals that are more difficult to match with an adoptive family.

Toronto Animal Services has been open to the idea for a while now. They even invited the THS for discussions about working cooperatively but THS turned them down. That's too bad but I'm guessing it would've been hard anyway to form a relationship with someone who has temper tantrums and goes on screaming jags.

In Calgary, which has a very successful animal control/welfare program - arguably one of the best in North America, there is a strong partnership between Calgary Animal Services and Calgary Humane.

From The Calgary Herald:

"We have a very collaborative relationship. When we talk to other humane societies, they say we're the only ones they've heard of that have a positive working relationship with the city bylaw department," said Calgary Humane Society spokeswoman Lindsay Jones. "Other cities learn from us and the way we do things here."

Both the TAS and the THS are different sides of the same coin, that coin being animal welfare. There are people in both agencies which work hard for the good of the animals. The two agencies' responsibilities, one to the public, the other to the animals, may be different but still, many of their services are similar and have similar goals in mind. They both try to find good, permanent homes for pets, both rescue animals out of abusive and/or neglectful situations, both provide decent food, shelter and human contact for their animals, both have (or should have, anyway) outreach programs with other rescues and foster homes. With all these areas of convergence, a partnership between TAS and THS makes a whole lot of sense. Ideas can be shared. Responsibilities and kennel space more efficiently allocated.

It's time to throw down the knives and start working together. Unless Trow undergoes a psychological makeover, I'm guessing this can't be done until a new board and president are running the THS.


janice said...

great common sense analysis. Too bad it doesn't seem to be much of that around right now.

Just so you know, Toronto (as we now know it) always had animal services. These were outside of Toronto proper in the old cities of Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough...

THS never serviced those regions outside of the old City of Toronto (although I know that they adopted animals into those regions and I suspect that they would accept an animal from those regions if the animal's guardian wanted to surrender to a 'no kill' facility).

After amalgamation, the 'new' Toronto inherited the existing Animal Services (I'm pretty sure that TAS West is still at the same location as the original Etobicoke Animal Services). Since THS wouldn't be able to support the whole region, and Toronto would have to maintain the services in the 'old' suburbs, it made perfect sense for Toronto to assume the public service aspects for the whole region.

I only have experience with the Etobicoke TAS prior to amalgamation, but I know that my family adopted an adult cat there who had been in the shelter (very well cared for) for over 5 months. So, I don't believe that they were only acting for the protection of the public or that the outlook wasn't good for animals caught by the dog catcher or surrendered to the shelter. (By the way, Luke was in our family for more that 11 years and he was the most dog like cat I've ever known - he could open doors, and always got his way). They had a great staff in Etobicoke back then (seems like they are keeping up the tradition based on your caring attitude).

Also, I don't believe that the public interest is very much different to the interest of the animals. I think if you surveyed people in Toronto, very few would find it acceptable to kill healthy animals because they hadn't yet found their people.

Let's keep our fingers crossed that this disagreement between the organizations, and Tim Toews personality, don't have any ill effects on the animals.

You are absolutely right, the 3 organizations should be working together to help the dogs and cats (and rabbits, ferrets, whatever).

I'm going to keep watching and start writing my city councillor & the Mayor if it looks like the animals are in jeopardy.

Hope you don't end up on strike!

Social Mange said...

Good analysis of the similarities and differences between TAS and THS. Calgary has a brilliant animal services director, Bill Bruce, so it doesn't surprise me that Calgary has an excellent working model for cooperation.

In the last few years, THS seems to have an "animal rights" cast to its statements and behaviours which causes me grave concern, and which will no doubt interfere with any attempts to reform THS.

Tim Trow spends too much time chasing stories round-the-world and writing letters, and not enough time learning the management skills necessary to run an animal welfare agency of THS's size. The board must stop enabling his behaviour, as they are responsible for the deterioration of THS.

Ian said...

Very informative post.
Does the HSC have anything to do with these organizations or are they a twin to HSUS?

I notice they have an open letter to the Mayor of Toronto re a statement he made about TAS.

I can`t open the letter(pdf file) for some reason.
Here`s the link for anyone who wants to have a look.

I don`t know if it`s related to the recent problems at THS.

Anonymous said...

Your post reminded me of some background on the US situation in Nathan Winograd's book, "Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution in America", especially when it comes to THS' sour grapes about losing the pound contract to the city.

"New York City’s aldermen asked Bergh’s ASPCA to run the dog pound. Henry Bergh refused. He believed the ASPCA was a tool to champion and protect life, not to end it. He believed that its role to protect animals from people was fundamentally at odds with that of a pound. Bergh understood implicitly that animal welfare and animal control were two separate and distinct movements, each opposing the other on fundamental issues of life and death."

"Rethinking Animal Control Contracts" from his blog:

Winograd argues that it costs more to kill than to place animals. So it would be great if TAS is moving away from simply animal control. Although I don't trust our councillors to use those savings wisely.

Fred said...

Ian, just checked out the HSC site and letter to Miller. I'd never heard of them before. It looks like they're similar to HSUS in that they're lobbyists for the most part.

Their letter to David Miller could have been written by Trow. Instead of addressing what's happening at THS, they talk about euthanasias at TAS. Ridiculous. Talk about invalidating one's credibility. In their letter, they also suggest that TAS should stop rescuing dogs from Montreal and only fill up its kennels with Toronto dogs. Why? So, that TAS can be a mirror image of THS, and become a hoarder's paradise? Again, ridiculous.

redstarcafe, I agree with the opinion that animal control and animal welfare agencies are and should remain two separate entities. Winograd gives some good reasons for that and one of them is that animal welfare groups tend to be charities while animal control is publicly funded. Often what happens when the two agencies are merged, is that the money gathered through charity which is supposed to be directed to animal welfare is siphoned off to deal with animal control issues and that's not fair. Winograd has found that in jurisdictions where the two agencies are merged into one, the money allocated per animal processed through the shelter/pound tends to be significantly less than if the two agencies were kept separate.

Having said that, it still doesn't mean the two agencies can't work together in areas of common concern.

Laura said...

Hi Fred,
I just found your blog and have been going through old posts and reading them all morning. You take beautiful shots of some familiar faces - I volunteer at the South shelter as well! I work in the rabbit room, giving the bunnies (and other small animals - my preference is birds but thankfully we don't get many of those) some love and exercise. It's great to read about the shelter and TAS overall from your point of view. It's especially interesting to read about the division between TAS and THS, especially with all the recent drama. I loved reading your stories about the shelter dogs...thanks for all your hard work!

Fred said...

Thanks, Laura. You must've seen that giant bunny that was in about 2 - 3 weeks ago. I think it got adopted but jeez that one was huge.

Anonymous said...

In light of Janice's historical background re: TAS West, it's interesting that THS has been casting about for a brand (remember their request for consumer input on a logo) and their tagline is now "humane society of the GTA".

Laura said...

Ha! Actually I'm the one that adopted that giant bunny! Her name is Alice and she's settled in very nicely here. She definitely is huge. She acts like a cat mostly; has the full run of the house and loves to throw things around. You can always hear her running around because her footsteps are so loud!

Fred said...

Good for you, Laura! If you like, send me a photo of the guy and I'll post it. If you put something in the shot for a size comparison, people can see how big it is.

Laura said...

Thanks, Fred, I'll send a shot along tomorrow!