Sunday, January 24, 2010

Taking photos at the Toronto Humane Society

The dogs at the Toronto Humane Society are getting new photos. After a few weeks of uncertainty and back and forth e-mails, management at the THS decided to let their dogs be re-photographed and so yesterday morning, Mel and I head over with camera gear, leashes, treats and fashion accessories.

Mel and I check in to let management know we've arrived and we're ready to start. We discuss which dogs we'll be doing first and some other logistical stuff and it's all going fine until one of the THS supervisors tells us that we can't take any photos unless we're accompanied by an OSPCA officer. This would basically wreck the day because I'm pretty sure no OSPCA officer is going to make himself available to follow us around for the several hours these photos are going to take.

Every time I've gone over to the THS since the arrests last year, there always seems to be something that goes awry and things which should be simple aren't necessarily so simple and this time was going to be no different. This isn't a complaint, just an observation. Everyone at the THS is still operating under a cloud of uncertainty, suspicion and lack of communication and it's unlikely any of that will change until the leadership question is resolved as in who's going to be in charge of the place (and that decision may come as soon as Tuesday).

We decide to discuss the picture taking situation with the OSPCA officer in charge.

The OSPCA is in another part of the building with their own offices and security. While the two sides, the THS and the OSCPA, aren't treating each other like enemy combatants or anything - at least not from I could tell - I get the feeling they're not exactly partying with each other in their after work hours. We explain to the OSPCA officer about the photos and he's a little concerned about it. He tells us that absolutely no photos are allowed to be taken inside the building. When we look at him quizzically, he explains that there's no way he's going to let us take photos of the facilities in case we decide to use whatever images we capture as some sort of evidence against the OSPCA and their management of the animals.

Uh-huh. Where have I heard that before? Except this time, it's more a case of perhaps too much caution than actual concern for what we might document. While the THS isn't spotless, it's a lot better than it was. Though I can understand how with a situation this contentious and litigious, there would be concerns about misrepresentation and distortion, I also can't help but feel that the last thing we need right now is more secrecy. Maybe I'm being naive but wouldn't full transparency with regards to animal care be preferable?

The problem with secrecy is the gossip that is generated to fill the information vacuum and usually, as is befitting human nature, the gossip is negative. Here's one via e-mail that was making the rounds last week (I received it four times from four different sources):

... And there are now rumblings that they're planning on 'doing away' with some dogs and about 300 CATS !!!!! I've already taken in as many dogs as I can handle. And I'd take in another cat or 2 if I had to (I already have 2 cats of my own). But there may be hundreds on their slaughter list. Do you know of any rescues who are currently accepting cats? This is SO upsetting. (Over the last couple of months I've come to hate the OSPCA).

It's amazing the stuff people come up with (why 300 and not 400 or 800?) and it's amazing what we are inclined to believe simply because someone else wrote it and hit send. This nasty bit of rumour-mongering, however, could have been stopped in its tracks if things had been more transparent from the start, especially with regards to something as sensitive as euthanasia.

Here's the OSPCA response to the rumour:

With regards to the animals at the Toronto Humane Society, our first priority has been, and continues to be, to make sure that animals in need get the care they deserve. The Ontario SPCA has done everything it possibly could to get these animals the care they deserved based on the recommendations of veterinarians.

While the Ontario SPCA has been handling animal care at the THS, veterinarians have recommended euthanizing of 65 cats, 4 dogs, and 13 other animals.

The animals that were euthanized suffered from terrible health problems and their condition was terminal. Their treatment was supervised by veterinarians. It is important that we follow the recommendations of veterinarians, and not leave the animals to die in their cages.

There is nothing humane about letting a terminally ill animal starve to death or suffer needlessly in a cage. This is unimaginable cruelty, and most veterinarians would agree with that.

While 65 cats is an unfortunate number of cats euthanized, it's a far cry from 300, and as the response states, these decisions were based on the recommendations of vets and not made lightly. In the end, it's not the numbers that are important anyway. Whether 65 cats or 300 cats, what's important is whether or not there are valid reasons to justify euthanasia in each case and when it comes to health issues, those decisions are made by a qualified vet.

I do think, however, there needs to be more communication between the veterinary staff and the rest of the workers and volunteers who have formed attachments to the animals in the months and, in some cases, years, of caring for them. It doesn't matter if it makes all the medical sense in the world to euthanize an animal. If that reason isn't properly and compassionately passed on to the people who have close bonds with the animal then those people are going feel slighted and worse. The animal care staff and volunteers must be treated with empathy as well.

So, back to the photo sessions. We agree to take all the photos outside the THS premises and the OSPCA officer is happy with that. Now, however, we have a problem with the Pit Bulls because they need to be muzzled when outside and of course taking photos of muzzled dogs doesn't do any good for anyone. We discuss this with some THS staffers and it's decided that we can take the Pitties outside without their muzzles as long as we stay on THS property and we promise that's what we'll do. Then we have to figure out what exactly is THS property and where it stops. More discussions and finally we get it sorted.

The picture taking begins and we try to get a routine down because there are so many dogs to get through. Mel does all the shooting while I do the dog handling. It takes several hours but we get all the adoptables and most of the Pit Bulls done and as usual, the Pitties are some of the best dogs there in terms of their people luvin' personalities (a good thing too because a Pit Bull rescue is there at the same time who are assessing the Pit Bulls for placement in out of province foster homes and I think several of them are on their way to friendlier pastures but more on that in another post).

It's a long day but we're pretty happy with the results and we end the day hopeful for the dogs and hopeful for the THS.

(Mel did a fantastic job of photographing the dogs and I'll be posting up the best shots when she gets done processing the final images.)


Laura HP said...

Fred, that's fantastic that the dogs have new photographs. It's great that you're doing so much work with the THS - I hope when the dust settles (whenever that is) it'll be a much more positive place. Can't wait for the photos!

Interesting article...Toronto Hydro might cut their power? Yikes.

Anonymous said...

oh , finally!!



Ian said...

I`m glad you`re involved with getting new photographs done.
Can`t wait to see them.
Good photos make such a difference.

Anonymous said...

Way to go Fred, and Mel. Can't wait to see the pics. Seriously, great job guys. Sounds like it wasn't easy


Lynda said...

I always disliked the photos the THS had on their website. So glad better ones are being put up there. Way to go, Fred!


Anonymous said...

Glad to see that some of what look like your photos are finally gracing the TAS adoption pages as well!
Some of them there were doing the animals no favors either.

Sheba has disappeared from the adoption pages - what a sweetie! I hope she got a great new home with a family that loves her.

Arwen said...

The photos are starting to go up!

Please please please spread the word about the dogs available for adoption at the THS.

Anonymous said...

Yes Sheba was adopted, yay


Pamela said...

I just checked the dog photos at THS, they are fantastic! Kudos to Fred and Mel.