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 Some were withdrawn.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.