Wednesday, December 9, 2009

How important is the Toronto Humane Society?

It took me a minute to find 150 dogs put up for adoption on Petfinder by private rescues in Toronto.

At full capacity, the Toronto Humane Society only has around 100 dogs, many of which are not immediately suitable for adoption. Some of which may never be suitable for adoption if significant improvements aren't made with respect to how they deal with their animals.

If the new THS just becomes another mediocre institution for warehousing dogs before adoption then why bother? Take that $10 million annual budget and redistribute it to the rescues in Toronto. At least with the dogs in rescue, most of them are living in homes with loving caregivers, and not in small, hard institutional kennels where each dog might get a few minutes of interaction with a human a couple of times a day.

I walked through the THS a couple of days ago and while it may be better than it was before, it was still unquestionably depressing weaving through the rooms full of dogs behind thick, double wire mesh cages with huge warning signs on each door. The overcrowding of cages in the hallways, the murky lighting and dinghy paint, the multitude of surveillance cameras. There is very little that is friendly or inviting. The place doesn't make me think of a shelter. It makes me think of a prison and it is only fitting that the dogs there behave like prisoners. Some of the dogs were quiet and just stared back at me. Some were withdrawn. Some bared their teeth and growled. A few tried to attack through the bars if I lingered too long or looked at them the wrong way.

I talked to one TAS staffer who in the turmoil after the arrests had worked at the THS - TAS donated a few staffers for a few days - and then volunteered for a few days more and then couldn't go back anymore. It was too disheartening, not so much the health conditions, though that was bad enough, but the living conditions.

Some of those dogs there, especially the ones who snap and growl and stare hard through the cage doors at people passing by, what life do they have in there? What will happen to them? They are the ones I feel sorry for most. Some of them will never know a good life.

At Best Friends, I was talking to one of the trainers about their few unadoptable dogs. I'm not even sure she'd use the word "unadoptable" because they have the luxury of never having to give up on a dog. These dogs who have been there for years who are still dog aggressive and human aggressive, who feel rage and fear or whatever combination of misplaced emotions constantly and with almost everyone, who know no happiness. The trainer wonders, What kind of a life do they have even in their indoor/outdoor runs and regular meals and health checks when they feel so little joy because they don't know joy is out there?

And what life do dogs like that have at a facility like the THS where there is no space to run or feel the sun and wind or real ground under their feet or see other animals though they can hear them well enough on the other side of the concrete wall, barking for attention, barking for boredom, barking because their pent up energy relieves itself as aggression. Can these dogs ever be saved and if they can be saved, will the THS ever be up to the job?

The THS can really only justify its existence if it becomes a superb facility and a leader in the animal welfare community in Toronto. With its budget and the tremendous public support behind it, there's no reason why it can't be both those things, unless politics once again rears its ugly head.

The one thing that is going to make the THS great is us. The one thing that might stop the THS from being great is us. We need to get our act together.


Terry said...

Your blog entry highlighted many of the quality of life issues around dogs. The THS is not a long-care or rehabilitation facility, for the past few years it has kept dogs as if it has been, but without even the necessities like proper food, exercise, vet care and human companionship. Many of the dogs there have been there for years or many months, are unadoptable because of chronic medical issues or severe aggression where it would be irresponsible to allow someone to adopt them for public safety. With overcrowding this becomes worse as aggressive dogs are housed next to fearful dogs, where there cannot be quarantining of diseased animals and so healthy dogs become sick, sick dogs sicker.
As it stands now, and for several years, these dogs are slowly deterioriating mentally from lack of stimulation or from overstimulation in a crowded shelter. I remember dogs who would chase their tails for hours on end, who could not be cleaned until someone who knew them was able to take them out, presuming that person wasn't fired or quit. They cannot be handled safely, they haven't been assessed by honest dog experts, and many have injured or mauled countless employees and volunteers.
This cannot go on. And the myth that they can be rehabilitated in-shelter, taking several more months or years, is a harmful myth, which will prolong their suffering. People have to start to think of it from the animals' perspective, and stop thinking that the 10-15 minute walk they give the dog is anything resembling a good quality of life. Let's not do what Tim did, just keep the shelter overcrowded as a marketing tool to get donations and because we dog stewards or owners cannot face up to our responsibility to humanely euthanize animals or to preserve the public safety.

Megan said...

And, think of all the cats. The cats are living in extremely crowded conditions, many to a cage. Most of the cats in there never had any exercise, there was a little FIV+ room where about 10 cats could get exercise, but they didn't bother alternating cats, it was just the same cats, just to imply that all cats got exercise. I am talking years and many months in a cage, often in squalid conditions, diseased, in pain, so old that they could scarcely move, matted and without human companionshiip except for the few minutes each day or every few days that someone changed their litter, gave them food and water.
And think of the scores of feral cats with FIV, URI and other contagious conditions who cannot be released because they would sicken other cats, but neither can they be kept humanely because few can handle them.
I remember a feral cat named Jesus, who they had up for adoption for some reason. Jesus had a neurological condition and couldn't be released as a result and he required medication twice a day to prevent seizures and progressive neural degeneration. Because Jesus wouldn't eat the meds, even when put with a meatball chaser, it took two people to restrain the cat and stick the pill down his throat. Twice a day for three years this cats only interaction with people was being restrained, or biting the brave or ignorant person who tried to feed or clean them and sending them to the hospital. Some days Jesus wouldn't get his pills because there were no techs, and he suffered a few seizures, and for the final 6 months prior to dying in his cage, he was so brain damaged that he spent his days swatting at imaginary objects.