Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Moving forward with animal welfare in Toronto and how you can help

Last Friday night I watched the excellent documentary, Cat City on Global. It's about the stray cat problem in Toronto and how various groups try to help out. Toronto Cat Rescue is featured prominently as are many other independent cat rescuers. Toronto Animal Services is also mentioned in the film with scenes talking about adoptions as well as euthanasias.

In the documentary, there are a few sequences with Bill Bruce, the head of Calgary Animal Services, presenting possible strategies to humanely alleviate the abandoned cat problem. Bill Bruce has arguably set up the best animal control agency in Canada, possibly the world, especially if you judge by CAS' ultra low euthanasia numbers.

There are a lot of things we in Toronto could learn from Calgary but we also need to be careful to not compare apples with oranges. There are some major differences between the situation in Calgary with that in Toronto and I discuss some of those here but a few major ones stand out and bear repeating.

Calgary Animal Services doesn't have to deal with Breed Specific Legislation which in Ontario have resulted in the killing of thousands of Pit Bulls and dogs which sort of look like Pit Bulls. Instead, dog laws in Calgary are more sensibly based on misdeeds, not breed.

CAS does not accept any surrendered animals whereas TAS accepts all surrendered animals. For obvious reasons, this difference in policy will skew the euthanasia results. In Calgary, animals will only be accepted for surrender at the Calgary Humane Society. This an example of the separation and coordination of services with respect to animal welfare which has been worked out so well between CAS and Calgary Humane Society. This brings me to the final point, really the most significant one.

The dedication of the Calgary Humane Society to their animals is pretty apparent. The information I get off their very professional website shows them to be highly focused on important animal welfare concerns (as opposed to, say, interagency mudslinging or celebrity adulation). They seem to be doing everything right including having a behavioural team which works with problem dogs, an extensive veterinary team, community outreach and a well organized volunteer program.

Of course it's easy enough to paint a glowing picture of one's own organization, while overlooking any faults it may have, so I try to dig up some CHS dirt on-line. Well, guess what. I can't find anything - to which I say, Good! Finally, a large animal welfare organization in Canada that isn't replete with conflict to the detriment of its animals.

One of the things that really inspires me about the Calgary Humane Society is their working partnership with Calgary Animal Services. This is an ideal situation allowing each agency to focus on their respective mandates while still being able to cooperate with one another in the area of saving animals. Having these agencies work together can only increase their mutual efficiency as well as garner greater public goodwill.

This cooperation between local animal control and the local humane society is the way things should be in Toronto. Unfortunately, with Tim Trow and his hate-on for Toronto Animal Services at the helm of the Toronto Humane Society, this will never happen. As a city, we'll never be able to make any big advances in animal welfare until the THS, the largest and most lucrative animal welfare organization in the city, sheds the monkey on its back, gets straightened out and begins to rebuild relationships internally with its staff and volunteers and externally with TAS and other city rescues.

Renewing the THS will be the most significant positive step towards improved animal welfare in Toronto. Run properly, the THS would have a huge impact on the lives of animals through reinvigorated THS services like spay/neuter clinics, pet food bank, adoption services, rescue coordination, trap/neuter/release for feral cats, behaviour modification training, only to name a few. And the THS, once it gets its name cleared and regains its political clout, would have enough influence to tackle bigger issues like improving animal cruelty laws and breed specific legislation.

This is where you can help out.

Start by applying for a membership at the Toronto Humane Society. There's a membership drive on right now to recruit as many concerned and informed people into the THS as possible with the hope that once enough new people are members, the old board can be voted out. A membership is going to cost $30 and as loathe as you may be to contribute any money whatsoever to an organization like the present day THS, it's a risk that might help lead to positive change.

The membership form is here and you can mail it in or submit it in person to the THS at 11 River St. Please keep a record of all your submissions and if you end up paying in cash, ask for a receipt, because there's always a chance you might get rejected if someone thinks you're not going to toe the company line.

Whether you get in or not, drop THS Protest an e-mail at and let them know your status. It'll help them keep track of who's on side and how they can contact you when voting time comes round.

Even if the THS board isn't removed by vote, there's a good chance they'll be booted by some other means and then your membership contribution will be even more important to a newly formed THS.

A well run Toronto Humane Society, especially one working with a sympathetic Toronto Animal Services, can resolve the majority of animal welfare issues in the city as well as assist animals in other jurisdictions.

Calgary's doing it. We can too.


Social Mange said...

I'm glad the membership form is circulating on the 'net because the membership part of the THS website has been deliberately disabled for at least two weeks.

Membership is vital to renewing and reenergizing an organization that seems to have lost its way along with some $3M in revenue from 2007 to 2008.

If you attended the THS AGM, you have a notion of just what the problems are and how deep they run.

Laura HP said...

Here, here, to everything you said. I checked out the Calgary Humane Society website - did you see their 'pet calculators'? They calculate how much money a pet will cost (not just the initial cost) per year, and much to my glee, they have one for rabbits too. What an awesome addition to their site!

Laura HP said...

Oh and I also love that they have a little biography about each animal, talking about their personalities - that makes such a difference to people browsing for a new pet =)

Lynda said...

I'm definitely applying for membership as soon as I move here at the end of this month. I'll keep you posted Fred - I'm also going to pay THS a visit and maybe volunteer so I can check things out. I think it's not too far from where I'll be living.


Anonymous said...

Some time ago Better Farming Magazine ran an article

'Animal Welfare in Ontario, A system that has been broken since the late 1980s'

The article discusses the Alberta model:

Please confirm - do you have to be a resident of Toronto to become a THS member?

Fred said...

Anonymous, no you don't have to be a resident of Toronto to be a THS member. In theory you have to be within 60 km to vote but no one checks.

Thanks for the link.

Social Mange said...

The THS by-law says all members who reside or are employed within a radius of 60 km of 11 River Street shall be entitled to vote at all meetings of THS except blah blah. Interestingly, the membership fee is the same whether one is a voting or a non-voting member. If I couldn't vote, I sure wouldn't pay $30 for a membership.

Anonymous said...

I watched the documentary and feel that the message was made loud and clear!!! spay and neutering is imperitive. I agree with the by-laws Toronto Cat Rescue is suggesting: spay and neutering all owned cats, All adoption groups neutering and spaying cats before they are released for adoption. I commend the people who are puting their heart and soul into rescuing cats on a daily basis. Honestly, this documentary was hard to watch. I feel sick to my stomach. I am forever greatful to the men and women who are doing their part to save one cat at a time