Monday, June 1, 2009

You say tomato, I say tomahto

The second of three articles about the current state of affairs at Toronto Humane Society came out today. "A leader with a passion for animals, loyal supporters - and an iron grip" focuses on Tim Trow the man more than on what's happening with the animals under the THS roof.

The article starts off with a story I've often heard from people regarding their experiences at THS - that of being publicly berated and humiliated for some perceived wrong they were doing.

Now I'll be the first to admit that there have been times when I would've loved to have been able to tear a strip off of someone for being an asshole in their treatment of an animal. If someone decides to dump their pet because they're bored of the 12 week old puppy they got 4 weeks ago, or if someone leaves their dog outside in the backyard for 12 hours everyday and then wants to euth the dog because it's a problem barker, or if someone thinks constantly beating their dog is the same as training, then, yeah, I'd have a go at them.

But if someone thinks feeding their dog only cheap kibble is good enough or if they're a fan of the old school methods of dominance training or if they crate their dog all day when they're away at work - all things which I disagree with to varying degrees, I keep my mouth shut or, at most, politely mention an alternative. Why not yell and stamp my feet at their perceived sins? Several reasons: because I might be wrong, because I might be missing information, because everyone has different ways of caring for their dogs, and mostly because, it's not going to help the animal. After all, when was the last time some jerk screaming at you got you to change your long term behaviour? If anything, it probably turned you against the message he was trying to convey.

From the article:

... soon after they entered the lobby, a large man began yelling at Ms. Piccinin and Mr. Perkins.

Ms. Piccinin, a 22-year-old bank worker who has worked with pit bull rescue groups in London, said that the man asked whether her dog was wearing a prong collar.

“And then he starts shouting, ‘I’m the president of the Toronto Humane Society and you have to get out of here’” she said.

“He continued to yell at us and call us dog abusers and then had some people escort us out of the building,” Mr. Perkins, a 28-year-old construction worker, said.

Yelling at potential adopters in this way paints a picture of a man who has a poor concept of how to relate to individuals on behalf of animals and has no emotional control over his temper tantrums. Yelling is not communicating. Yelling is domineering. Yelling is offensive. Yelling is aggression.

They were considering making a $500 donation and adopting another dog but instead the couple were yelled at and escorted out. How's that supposed to help a dog dying in its cage?

Here's the reason Ian McConachie, a THS spokesman, gave for kicking out the couple.

... the couple had refused to remove the prong collar when they were asked to do so, and were asked to leave because the society objects to prong collars as anything other than training devices.

“[That type of collar] should not be used every day because it can cause pain to the animal, it’s essentially digging into the animal’s skin around it’s neck,” he said.

Anyone who has done any research into prong collars knows that the device, while it may look mean and nasty, can be an effective and injury free training and control tool. There are endless debates about the actual harm it causes, if any, compared to, say, a choke chain or a martingale or even a flat collar and obviously, any tool, used improperly can cause injury. The key thing here, though, is that the prong collar is not an all out assault against the dog it's being used on and to judge someone's ownership potential solely based on its use is wrongheaded.

And even if there was strong disagreement with its use, wouldn't it have made more sense to present the objection with a discussion of alternatives rather than an abusive oratory and an escort out the front door? Yelling and calling out the guards might appease a big man's ego but, again, what does this do for a dog dying in its cage? What does this do for any dog?

The article goes on to talk about the board apparently dominated by Trow and also about the impression Trow has left on various people, friends and detractors both but mostly detractors.


CyborgSuzy said...

There are several wise sayings that spring to my, mainly my favorite by Sun Tzu: "He will win who knows when to fight, and when not to fight."

Also, perhaps: "throwing the baby out with the bath water." (or, in this case, throwing the donation money out with the person with whom you have slight difference in philosophy).

Bree said...

I definitely appreciate your opinion and your views on this situation. I must admit, I am the one they are speaking about in the article. And I completely agree - not everyone is going to agree with the training methods used, but the way in which Mr. Trow approached the situation can only be described as on thing: wrong. Much of the story was not touched on in the article - as I expected (the original account was very lengthy!). I was fearful that many (perhaps those not knowledgeable re: prong collars) would side with Trow on this subject. I would not suggest a prong to everyone or every breed. But for my experience, and my dog, and my training methods, that is a choice I have made and I stand by it 100%. Jaxson happens to be training for Obedience Trials and is currently 1 point shy of his CKC Championship. He is not mistreated to say the least. And abuse? Please. Why would we do that to our beloved family member with whom we invest so much time, love and money into. In short, I'm glad the story was able to be used as just one example of what many patrons and employees at the THS have had the displeasure of experiencing. I thank you once again for your opinion and view on this article. May voices like yours be the change the THS needs!

Joan Sinden said...

Wow - you have in Toronto what we went through in Halifax a year ago - it seems like almost exactly - with the corrupt, almost mentally unbalanced leadership making decisions and doing things that actually hurts the animals they are supposed to be saving.

Good luck to you all - we were very lucky down here in Nova Scotia that things ended well and we currently have an enlightened Board in place and things are going really well and our humane organization has been revitalized - we're unlike you guys in that we only have one major humane organization - the NS SPCA - whereas you have the TAS and the THS.

As for the prong collar conversation - I have to admit, Fred that I'm a bit - I don't know if the word is shocked, because my emotion isn't that strong about what I'm feeling - but maybe I'm bemused about what you wrote regarding your feelings about prong collars - that they "are not an all out assault against the dog it's being used on and to judge someone's ownership potential solely based on it is wrongheaded".

I appreciate that there are a lot of different ways that people can use to train dogs - but in today's world - there are so many less punitive ways to get the same job done. I also know that I'm not going to change Bree's mind about their choice of training collar, but personally - when I bring a dog into my home - when they walk through my door - I don't want anything more negative to happen to them again. I want it all to be sunshine and lollipops - and there's training methods out there now that are really effective that allow me to train my dogs well - and still have nothing punitive in my dogs' lives - and that's the path I've chosen. And all I can do is to live and lead by example and show that it works.

As well - putting a prong collar on a dog gives the impression to other people that the dog has a behaviour problem bad enough - that they need something as aversive as a prong collar in order to manage it - so it sends a very negative message out to anybody that you meet in public.

That in no way condones what Mr. Trow did, he was still a complete asshole - and I'd never call out a person for putting a prong collar on their dog - but also not adopting out based on whether you put prongs on is a choice of the organization.

Some organizations won't adopt out if you don't have a fenced backyard - so prongs are the same thing. But they are usually organizations that are no kill. THS doesn't sound like one of those, unfortunately.

Just my thoughts.


Dog Training for Dog Lovers said...

Most people still use prongs and choke chains because they just don't know of a better way. Education is the answer, not verbal abuse.

Fred said...

Bree, good of you to step up and do the Globe article. Hopefully, many more people will air their stories soon enough.

Joan Sinden, I don't use a prong collar but am going by what I've read (in comparisons with other restraining devices) and the couple of friends who have used them in the past. I can see your viewpoint when you use the no fence analogy that some rescues go by but, in my view, choosing to outright refuse someone an adoption based on their use of a prong collar and thus letting a dog languish in a shelter for months if not years, is not a sound choice. At the very least, a discussion would have been in order. Yes, there may be better methods for training a dog but more critical here, I think, is that there are better ways to let a dog live out its life than in a cage.

Social Mange said...

There's nothing wrong with a prong collar properly used. It enables the dog to make a choice for correct behaviour and be praised for that, thereby reinforcing the correct behaviour. It should be properly fitted so that the prongs are loose during normal behaviour and only point into the neck when the dog strains the leash. As soon as the dog steps back into the leash, the pressure stops, thereby rewarding the dog for its correct choice. If you have what I call a tough-head dog (and I've had 'em), a prong collar properly fitted and used can save you tons of grief.

Bree said...

All great comments in here.

I will just say that I am not naive to alternative training methods.

I know the prong isn't the favourite, or even my first choice - but it worked for us. And by no means was it a habitual collar for Jaxson. And the prong was retired after 6 months of training as it was no longer needed. As far as I'm concerned, that day at the THS was a training ground. A new city, a Humane Society (during an adoption drive), lots of new noises and smells - he was only 18months old!

What is worse, is that Mr. McConachie (spokesperson for the THS) agrees that a prong is just fine for training situations. So why were we thrown out? Because instead of speaking with me, Mr. Trow shouted at me - for something we ACTUALLY AGREE ON. I too would rather not see a prong on a dog as anything but a training tool.

And not once, ever, was I asked to remove his prong. It was "get out of here" from the get-go and the only reason I didn't head for the door immediately was because there was no way I believed this man was actually the President of the THS. Would have you?

And trust me, I would love for everything my dog sees and experiences to be sunshine and roses... but perhaps as the author of this blog has mentioned - you may not have all the information. I can respect others' opinions and decisions, even when they may contradict my beliefs - it pains me that mine do not get the same respect from others who share a love and genuine care for animals as I do.

I would just like to know why?!

Joan Sinden said...

I think that the THS shelter shelter experience and Bree happened because of Tim Trow's personality and his quirks - not because of what necessarily shelters adoption policies are. Things are getting a bit skewed here. You were never going to get a conversation going with Mr. Trowe about prong collars because he's an unstable attention seeker - he wasn't interested in having a conversation - he just wanted to look important and anti-punitive in that moment. And he probably succeeded. If there would have been a sane, level headed president of a humane organization in the room - the incident never would have happened - and maybe a conversation would have taken place instead of the debacle that did happen, and maybe Bree could have been convinced by a pillar in the rescue community that devices like a prong collar are as unnecessary in today's world as kill shelters are.

At the same time I think that any "shelter" that kills should not have such strict policies as not adopting out to people who use punitive training devices, for sure. That would be stupid. But probably shelters that have high kill rates also don't sign over dogs to rescues, or have adoption blitzes, or HAVE dogs that languish for months either - and that's why their kill rates are so high.

You obviously also don't want dogs languishing for months in a cage - I don't know anything about the THS - do they have any kind of enrichment programs for their dogs? Are they a no kill shelter? From their website it looks like they have adoption blitzes and try to take their animals to the people - so they seem to be trying to do some things.

As for me having all the information - about what? If you don't think I know enough about the miracles that prong collars can produce in training a dog to behave - then you're mistaken. Dogs can become very well trained with the use of aversives - it's just that I'd personally rather have my dogs learn through means other than pain, fear, and uncertainty.