Sunday, July 5, 2009

... and Hamilton/Burlington SPCA

Continued from here.

I like the ride over to Hamilton on my motorcycle. Going over the QEW Burlington Skyway is always exhilerating and especially so on a blue sky day. The cartoon perfect white clouds hanging over the lake are somewhat mesmerizing and I have to force myself to keep my eyes on the road.

I'm in a pretty good mood by the time I get to the Hamilton/Burlington SPCA. It's location certainly doesn't disappoint. It sits off a country road on a well manicured plot of land. There are open areas and tree shaded areas. There are gardens and rock benches and even a pet memorial site built on a patch of grass surrounded by a ring of shrubs for privacy.

There's also a decent sized dog park on one side of the lot, complete with agility course and at first, not knowing any better, I actually think the two dozen or so dogs in the park are shelter dogs until I realize they are pets out with their owners.

Inside the shelter, it's bustling. It's been a long time since I've been inside a real shelter and I've forgotten just how noisy and crowded they can be. Toronto Animal Services South is technically not a shelter, of course, and so to compare isn't exactly fair but if I were a dog awaiting adoption, I'd have to say I'd rather be waiting around at TAS South. I know the mandate at HBSPCA is to save as many lives as possible and the way to do that efficiently is to pack in many animals so as to be able to show them to the public and move them through. Still, I'm not used to the constant waves of barking and the cages of dogs lining the hallways and all the dogs in display windows which reminds me of a pet store.

The energy in the place feels good, though. It's sad to see so many dogs caged up but they're on display for a good reason and there are many potential adopters walking around checking them out. One young guy is very impressed by a Rottie that was just brought in. He's going to adopt her but has to wait until Tuesday after she's gotten all her shots and paperwork done. Another older couple, who arrived on a Harley, spend a good part of the afternoon with a little Schnauzer/Terrier type dog. I wonder if they're going to somehow take the dog home on the bike with them but at the end of the day they leave the guy behind. I'm hoping they'll return for him later with their car.

The staff at HBSPCA are typically young. They look a bit harried but they are helpful and friendly and very keen about the animals. No one looks like they are just doing time. As I'm standing there, absorbing and adjusting to the environment, someone approaches me and asks if he can help me with something. I explain that I'm looking for three dogs: Olga, Dakota and Keenan. He takes me to see Olga and Dakota right off and then after a bit of searching, finds Keenan as well. Dakota and Olga are in glass display cases and Keenan is in a cage.

Keenan at 0:20. Olga at 0:45 and 2:10. Dakota at 1:51

I immediately feel bad for them. I know they have a much better chance of being adopted here than they would at TAS North with that facility's limited hours due to the strike but still, seeing them here in their cramped quarters surrounded by a constant cacophony is sad. TAS South was like the Four Seasons comparatively.

I take Keenan out first. The environment is too stress inducing and he's completely forgotten how to sit in his crate while the door is being opened. On the way out, he's beserkers as we walk through the crowded main entrance way, pulling towards other dogs, cats, people. And his hackles are up so I have to be careful not to let him get too close to other excited dogs.

Once outside, it takes him a few minutes to calm down and then he's back to his old self again, alternating between sniffing around and returning for attention. We walk the perimeter of the grounds, going around to the other side of the property where Hamilton Animal Control is located but I see no activity from that part of the building. I find a shady spot and sit with Keenan just to let him decompress for a bit in the outdoor calm. I spend half an hour with him and then bring him back in.

I take Dakota out next.

Dakota's a bit more relaxed and we end up in an area where there's a volunteer standing around with a raggedly terrier/poodle looking dog. She seems like a suburban grandmother so I'm a little surprised when she tells me that her favorite dogs are Pit Bulls. Her last had just died a while ago at 15 and she hasn't found a replacement yet so she's getting her dog fix volunteering at the HBSPCA. I ask her how many dogs they have in there and she says she doesn't know but there are a lot. They've got a large capacity for dogs. She tells me that they sometimes get shipments of up to a hundred Louisianna dogs, the continuing fallout from the dogs abandoned during Katrina. And now I understand why the crowded, cage lined hallways. Better that than death by gas chamber in some high kill pound in the south.

On the way out with Olga, she's hackling the whole time and as we pass by a woman with her Boxer, she snaps at him and he at her but leashes keep them back from one another. It takes Olga a few minutes to destress outside and then she's doing her favourite thing rolling in the grass. I take her around the property and then find a shady spot in the trees. By the time I get her back inside, it's past five and the shelter is closing.

I give Olga to one of the staff to put back in her display case and then go visit Keenan one last time in his cage. He wags his tail when he sees me, happy and expectant, but I say goodbye to him, pat him through the cage and then leave.

It's for the best and the people there will look out for them but still, I'll be checking their adoption site daily and I'll be a lot happier once Keenan, Olga and Dakota are homed.


House of the Discarded said...

Hey Fred,

I could hardly look at that video. It looks like an eff'ing palace compared to how the dogs live next door at Animal Control. I would really like for you to see it and would be pleased to meet you and your motorcycle over there when you can make it.

It pisses me off that people who dump their dogs and cats at Animal Control *THINK* they're going next door to the "lovely SPCA". The staff at HAC doesn't tell them - they don't want to get into any conflict with people dropping off their pets. Seriously.

After all these years, I've intentionally never gone into the Hamilton SPCA. I can't stand seeing all the shelter hoopla "Adopt me! Adopt me!" and then how the animals live just a few feet away. I don't mean to make it seem like it's horrific at HAC. It isn't. The cages are clean, etc.

Next door, there's nothing but hopelessness.

Let me know when you're ready to see the other side. I'll give you the nickel tour. It'll change your life forever.


Fred said...

Yeah, I'm not so sure I want to go into HAC if it's as hopeless as you describe. But why is that? I would've thought that the whole point of having the two agencies side by side is so they can work together to get the adoptable animals into homes.

Sharon said...

Yay!! Im glad you got to see them and that the machines hadn't taken over. As much as a relief it is t know they are "okay", its still heartwrenching to know that they could get "lost" in a crowd of furry faces with so many dogs there.

Roaming Tigress said...

What a great review of my local shelter! Glad you got to visit with those beauties.

I got the chance to walk Keenan today; after reading his read up that you've written here, I had to get acquainted with him. He is a doll. Even put his head back so far that I though he'd get whiplash, just so that I can pat his throat. Is that trust, or what? Oh, and he soaked up belly rubs galore.

Meaghan Edwards

Roaming Tigress said...

Oh, and the SPCA will be gaining back the HAC side of the building by the end of the year/possibly early next year. Should really help with the noise and need to crate the dogs, and help open up more space for the cats.

-Meaghan Edwards

Fred said...

Sharon, I'm hoping they don't get lost either but I've just looked on their adoption page and it looks like Dakota's already been taken so that's excellent!

Roaming Tigress, yeah, I got a pretty good feeling from the place - well, you know, as good a feeling as any animal shelter can give. A lot of it had to do with the attitude of the staff I met. They seemed really positive and energized.

That's good news about them taking over the rest of the building. I couldn't quite tell from the outside but is HAC a big space? I guess HAC is moving to a facility further away?

Roaming Tigress said...

>>Roaming Tigress, yeah, I got a pretty good feeling from the place - well, you know, as good a feeling as any animal shelter can give. A lot of it had to do with the attitude of the staff I met. They seemed really positive and energized.<<

This is very true!

>>That's good news about them taking over the rest of the building. I couldn't quite tell from the outside but is HAC a big space? I guess HAC is moving to a facility further away?<<

I think HAC is a fairly sized place. From what I remember when the SPCA had the full building, I think there's about three rooms each for dogs and cats alike, and then there were vet rooms, office, etc. Not sure where HAC will be moving but I think it'll be still fairly close to the SPCA.

When I was coming home today, Dakota was getting loved on by some people interested in adopting her. I think they're going to take her home!


onequarterdal said...

Its heart warming that you are watching over these three. You're a good person Fred!

Wow, after seeing the footage at TAS North and this one - you'll never want to see some of the rural pounds out my way. Regardless, its all about getting folks into the centres and adopting. The whole world needs a cultural shift big time.

GoodDog said...

Wow. I have such mixed feelings about that video. The facility is indeed well kept and beautiful, but those "fish tanks" the dogs were in just don't sit right with me. No ability to den or tune out the crowd. No indoor/outdoor privileges. Of course I have seen much, much worse, so I should be happy that these animals have such an energetic staff to care for them.

GoodDog said...

Just had to look at that picture of Olga in the grass again. God that looks like fun!

mmmmm soft cool grass.... :)

Fred said...

GoodDog, yeah, Olga was pretty happy on that grass. I hope she ends up with someone who has a lawn.

Anonymous said...

There is much more than meets the eye at the hbspca. At a members meeting last night it came to light that the money that hardworking Hamilton and Burlington donors are giving to help the animals is being used to pay the salaries of another charity T.E.A.D. that the hbspca would like to amalgamate with. T.E.A.D. provides equine physical therapy to disabled adults and children and while it's certainly a worthwhile charity has nothing to do with the prevention of cruelty to animals, to caring for and finding loving homes for homeless animals things that are the foundation of the mission of the hbspca. Funds have also been spent on portable buildings that are only licensed to be used for two years, with no official plan on how to recoup the financial cost of the building ($230,000+) once it has to be moved. It has been used for pet therapy and humane education and has no sewage or water facilities. The board attempted to use smoke and mirrors to give the illusion that the charity is in better financial shape that it actually is. There is a $400,000+ deficit for 2009 as money that was donated to care for homeless, abused and neglected animals was funneled into unnecessary buildings, salaries and benefits for people who work for another charity and more. Meanwhile, the dogs continue to sit in wire cages on the floor. The hbspca has leased runs on the HAC side where dogs wait with no walks and basic, food, water and cleanup,often for extended periods of time before they make it on to the floor of the hbspca. The cats and small animals are stressed beyond words by the overcrowding and high noise levels. The hbspca has the facilities to be a shining example of what animal welfare can be, instead it is an example of where greed, empire building and non-chalance can bring a shelter down.