Thursday, March 25, 2010

Notes on the meeting

Kate MacDonald is the CEO of the OSPCA. She has a clear, soft spoken voice and fields questions and gives explanations without seeming defensive or professorial. It's easy to imagine her as a very effective lawyer. The intention last night was to let people get together in a "family" atmosphere in one of the meeting rooms of The Grand hotel to ask their questions and voice their concerns about the OSPCA's months long involvement at the Toronto Humane Society. Accompanying Kate MacDonald were suited OSPCA lawyers, staff and security. It may have been a family gathering but there was no mistaking that this was going to be a strictly enforced, well mannered, no nonsense family gathering. No surprise given the open animosity directed at the OSPCA in the recent weeks.

After a brief introduction, Ms. MacDonald got down to the crux of the evening and opened the floor to questions. Several hands shot up.

It was a fairly diverse crowd - all ages certainly. There were THS staff, volunteers, people from various protest and reform groups, animal foster parents, THS members, animal rescuers, past and future would be adopters, OSCPA critics and a scattering of the general public.

The pace was steady. Perhaps a couple dozen questions or more, some fairly involved, were answered in the hour and a half time allotment.

A lot of the questions involved euthanasia and trying to get details on the OSPCA's policies regarding euthanasia. Three points came out of this.

1. The requirement for euthanasia is determined by a vet.
2. Euthanasias have been performed due to lack of space at OSPCA shelters.
3. No animals have been euthanized because of space reasons at the THS while the OSPCA has been there. All animal euthanasias at the THS have been determined by vets.

Someone asked about the number of animals euthanized at the THS under the OSCPA and one of the lawyers said that based on per capita, the number of animal deaths was better now than pre-OSPCA. No exact number was given by the OSPCA (but from talking with THS vets, I've heard that the number is around 200).

One person wondered why cats with FIV or which were diabetic were not allowed to go up for adoption but this was refuted by a couple of people who said that there were indeed cats with FIV or diabetic who were placed in adoption.

Another person then criticized the vets for putting down cats simply because they had FIV. She was asked to provide an example. She mentioned a cat which was very recently put down and one of the vets responded that this particular cat didn't just have FIV but had other serious underlying illnesses, one being multiple tumours (?) in its mouth which had become extremely painful to the point where the once friendly cat would attack anyone who tried to touch its face. According to the vet, and confirmed by another, that specific cat did not have a good prognosis and was suffering which was why it was euthanized. The person asking the question then dismissed that example, saying it was only one example, but did not provide another. She continued to question why the OSCPA didn't actively try to find fosters or rescues who were willing to take in such a cat despite its illnesses. An OSPCA animal care staffer responded that moving a sick cat from the THS into a foster home or rescue is not alleviating the suffering of the animal. Someone from a rescue added that while rescues would love to be able to take in every FIV or diabetic cat, there just isn't always room nor are they always able to carry the expenses associated with keeping a sick cat.

Many people in the audience were not clear about the delineation of responsibilities between the OSPCA and the THS and asked questions such as why THS staff was being let go or if someone could update the THS website or why the THS was slow to accept new members. In response, it was suggested they ask the THS those questions as those matters were outside the control of the OSPCA.

There were definitely some people in the audience who were pro-OSPCA and some who were anti-OSPCA. Those who were pro-OSPCA spent most their talk time expressing their thanks to the organization. While some of these expressions of gratitude may have been a bit "speechy" (overheard from post meeting conversations), I'm pretty sure they were not, as some have suggested, "pro-OSPCA plants in the audience". The OSPCA may appreciate its fans but I doubt they would organize them in this manner. There is certainly no evidence of that.

One woman, who was standing just behind me, was asking questions near the beginning of the evening and she was clearly anti-OSPCA. Her questions/accusations tumbled out one after the other without giving Ms. MacDonald a chance to respond. A couple of audience members asked her to let Ms. MacDonald respond but the woman ignored them and continued to speak over Ms. MacDonald. At this point security was called in and she was asked to leave. She refused but she did settle down.

Ms. MacDonald reminded the audience that respectful behaviour at the meeting was obligatory.

The disruptive woman behind me leaned over to the person standing beside her and whispered, "I hate the OSPCA".

There were also several questions concerning the return of normalcy to the THS. When would adoptions open? What about intake for kitten season? When would volunteers be allowed back? Could people with dog experience be allowed to work with dogs with behavioural issues? When will fostering start up again? The general answer to most of these types of questions was that the OSPCA was working on it. Staffing and organizational issues had to be addressed before those programs could be brought back.

One question for which many in the audience were not satisfied with the answer was about adoption returns. It is the OSPCA stance that once an animal is adopted, that animal becomes the property of the adopter. If the animal is "returned", it is considered an owner surrender, not an adoption return and presently the OSPCA is not allowing any animal intake. When asked where people were supposed to take their animals then, the response was Toronto Animal Services which elicited some murmuring from the audience about TAS' high kill rates. (Regular readers of this blog know how I feel about the THS generated propaganda surrounding those numbers so I won't get into it here). Ms. MacDonald then explained that the OSPCA had worked out a deal with TAS whereby any animals from the THS which ended up at TAS and which they could not adopt out would be transferred to one of the outlying OSPCA shelters.

One item on my own agenda, going into the meeting, was to try to get the story behind Kincaid resolved. I posted about Kincaid a couple of days ago. He's a German Shepherd from the THS who was allegedly stolen. After the post, several people replied that they doubted the story was true. A THS volunteer dog walker named Dominique commented beneath the post that he was the driver who had driven Kincaid to a rescue in Orillia and that it was all above board and done under the eyes of both the THS and the OSPCA.

I wanted to find Dominique at the meeting. By this point, the story that was going round was that the OSPCA was accusing Dominique of stealing Kincaid. In truth, the OSPCA didn't even know who Dominique was.

During the question-answer period, Dominique told the OSPCA and the audience that he had driven Kincaid to a rescue in Orillia and that it was done legitimately. He expressed concern that if this "theft" was the reason the volunteer program was suspended then the OSPCA might reconsider. Ms. MacDonald responded that there were other considerations when it came to the volunteer program, including liability and safety. Apparently, there have been several recent threats issued against both OSPCA and THS staff.

After the meeting, I suggested to Dominique that I could introduce him to Kate MacDonald but he declined. He asked that I write something about this in the blog and I asked him what he would like me to write but he walked away and declined to comment further.

The OSPCA did not provide any further information as the case is still under investigation but they are still under the impression that a German Shepherd looking dog was stolen from the THS. I have no doubt that Dominique did not steal any dog. But, I also doubt that the OSPCA would completely make up a story about a dog theft including tracing the transport vehicle to rescues outside of Toronto. I do have doubts, though, about the paperwork involved. Perhaps it was a different dog. Perhaps it was misidentification. With no one talking, we may never know the full story.

After the meeting was over, many people stuck around to talk with OSPCA staff. The media was also let in at this point. They had not been allowed into the meeting proper possibly in part because of restrictions issued by a judge requiring the OSPCA to keep their media presence down.

Kate Hammer from the Globe and Mail saw me and walked over and asked me why I was allowed in. "It's because you're legit and I'm not," I said.


K said...

Fred, thank you for your balanced reporting on this entire issue.

selkie said...

I am always fascinated on how differently individuals can experience the same situation; people truly are unique and each of us carries with us our own baggage. Thank you for your perspective on this meeting, which i saw from a different standpoint.

Fred said...

selkie, feel free to chime in. Also, being at the back of the room, I may have missed some of the details in the comments at the front.

selkie said...

Fred, grins, I tend to "wax on" as it were so posted my thoughts in my own space. I was encouraged that the ospca was cognizant that something like this was definitely necessary, but definitely found the "love-in" between ART and the ospca gaggingly laughable lol - particularly the (to my mind) very scripted closing remarks!

But then I'm a cynical bitch! I AM happy that some actual statements were made as several of us had been trying unsuccesfully for months to get some feedback.

Sunny Reuter said...

I commend you for your balanced reporting. For the record I agree with your statements regarding Kate MacDonald.

It is important to respect and remember the OSPCA is "called forth", mandated and empowered under provincial legislation.

It is equally important to realize the organization is classified as a NON governmental agency -governing and investigating itself.

The Ontario SPCA does NOT answer to the Ministry or the Ombudsman. I'd be happy to email you copies of correspondence from the Ministry attesting to this.

Former Minister Kwinter told me once, the OSPCA is untouchable except through charity legislation.

My position is that there SHOULD be legislatively enshrined accountabilty, transparency and independant oversight of the Ontario SPCA, after all, they are a provincial police force exercising extraordinary enforcement powers which include the right to warrantless entry.

Please do not interpret my comments as anti OSPCA, they are rather a call to the province.

Jenna said...

Hey Fred,
As K says above, thanks for covering this story so well. It is great to have a trusted voice to make some sense of it all.

Fred said...

selkie, thanks for your input. I'll go check out your blog post.

Heather said...

I am the one that asked the question about euthanizing FIV or diabetic cats and if I was given the opportunity I would gladly have named other examples. I adopted a FIV+ diabetic boy (Big Boy) from the THS recently that was going to be euthanized if he was not adopted in a certain period of time. There is nothing wrong with him other than being expensive "unadoptable". Ethan is another example of a cat that was going to be euthanized because he is an older diabetic cat. He too was adopted. I have more examples if you want them.

Lil'Mac said...

Thank you so much for adopting Big Boy, Heather! I am so grateful that there are people like you out there willing and able to take these kitties. i just pray that more can be found very very fast.

Fred said...

Hi Heather, when I've talked to the vets at the THS, they say that euthanasia decisions are, besides being extremely difficult decisions to make personally, also a very difficult thing to agree upon between colleagues so it's not surprising that there will be even greater disagreements between vets and non-vets over health and quality of life issues especially in a facility where communication is poor between departments.

My own experience with animals who are forced to live in cages for long periods of time is that, outside of adequate nourishment, water and general hygiene, it doesn't matter much to the animal if they live in a cage at a shelter or at a hoarders or at a pet store. A cage is a cage. Some animals may be fine or at least we humans are too insensitive to perceive any negative impact. Some animals slowly decline. Some go crazy. Some get sick and die.

And those that get sick and die, locked up in a cage in a shelter sometimes - actually, quite often - blossom once they find themselves in a caring and compassionate new home. But what if that home doesn't come along? A vet has to make a choice for an animal about how long that sick animal in decline needs to suffer in wait.

You can either assume the vet is competent and has the best interests of the animals at heart and is making the best decision possible and respect that decision or you assume the vet is not competent and/or not compassionate enough and you can challenge that vet. But if you challenge the vet, I suspect the only way you'll be able to do it properly is to either get another vet to back your opinion or become a vet yourself.

While I haven't talked to all the vets at the THS, the ones I have talked to are both highly competent and very compassionate when it comes to animals and that's coming from someone who doesn't necessarily have the highest regard for all vets.

Heather said...

I have no doubt that it is an extremely hard decision to make for any vet. I also agree that the vets at the THS are wonderful and compassionate. I have fostered many special needs and palliative cats and dogs for the THS for several years and all the staff have been kind and supportive. As a palliative foster parent I have often had to make the decision when to euthanize and the THS vets backed me in every case.

However, if cats are going to be euthanized because they have been in a cage too long or because they require expensive ongoing care, they should be allowed to be released to a rescue organization that is willing and able to take them. That option was never made available and requests by rescue organizations were denied.

Fred said...

"However, if cats are going to be euthanized because they have been in a cage too long or because they require expensive ongoing care, they should be allowed to be released to a rescue organization that is willing and able to take them."

As long as there is assurance that the animal will have quality of life outside of the THS, then I totally agree. Let's see where we can go with this.

Melanie Laking said...

We need to start banding together if we want to see real changes at the THS. The OSPCA presence at the THS is temporary. What are we going to do when they leave? What do we want the Toronto Humane Society to be? How are we going to get there?

There is real work to be done. If we want to see no-kill/low-kill/whatever at the THS, how do we make that vision a reality? We can’t just slap a label on the THS and then merrily go on our way. No-kill is more than a euthanasia policy. Who is going to step up to the plate and help to design the programs that will support that euthanasia policy?

It isn’t fair of us to assume that local rescues have the ability and resources to take in all the sick and hard to adopt animals from the THS. These rescues are overwhelmed and overworked as it is. If the THS is going to be accepting animals, it needs to have a plan to deal with each and every one. Housing an animal for a year or two in a cage until an adopter comes along isn’t a plan.

The reality is that we don’t know if the THS has the financial resources right now to bring in experts to repair the shelter. The board has been silent on this issue. They were very quick to speak with the media about reaffirming their support for Tim Trow. Where are they now? Why hasn’t the board hosted a public information session to answer our questions? Why haven’t they called a special members meeting to discuss the state of the shelter? Our board of directors has failed the members, failed the public, and most importantly failed the animals.

We aren’t all going to agree on the details of how the THS should be operating, but I think that we can find common ground and work together to achieve it.

selkie said...

Could I ask you, Fred, to ask your friends at TAS if indeed they have to sign off before the pitties from THS can be released to go to the rescue found for them in Ohio? And if so, have they been approached to do so?

Cathrine said...

As an outsider with a fair amount of experience in rescue and adoptions, what I hear is 'too many needs, not enough resources.' To run a real no-kill/low-kill shelter, one must be able to place the physically and temperamentally demanding animals. Sometimes, there just is no place left. Once all the rescues are jammed, all the shelters are overcrowded, and your own house is full, then what?

Fortunately, we never had to euthanise an animal for lack of room, because once I had filled all my spots, all my colleagues' spots, and every boarding kennel I could afford, I turned animals away. Both I and another woman who also paid for and ran a shelter were constantly under attack from activists who did not have those responsibilities for refusing to accept every animal that came to the door.

But there was another shelter that did: without the resources to feed and care for all their dogs, there were days, even weeks, when there was no food, and the dogs ate each other. I cannot tell you how horrible it was to come in with emergency food supplies and stay to help the one underpaid staff member clean up another instance of cannibalism.

Before I would allow that, I would euthanise. Better for an old dog to die in relative peace, in my arms, than in terror and agony under the flashing teeth of his shelter mates.

Is this an extreme example? I hope so. But the point is the same: if we want to place even the ill and disturbed in loving homes, we must work to find those homes, and support them. We can't expect others to do it for us.

And my home is full, with every last one a special needs rescue. So, where does the next one go?

Fred said...

Hi selkie, I can try but I don't think the people I know at TAS are the ones who would be making those kinds of decisions if in fact there are those decisions to be made.

selkie said...

I'll ask too - its just such an odd thing to come up. We brought out pitties to NB no issues. I know of at least 10 pit bulls that went to Chicago over the past few years and have never heard of that request.

Christine Gittings said...

You should all read the latest posting on the THS website. It's sad news but something that's not too unexpected with the OSCPA overseeing the place.

We were told at the meeting the other night that the THS isn't taking in any animals right now due to lack of resources and staff. Oddly the THS nursery is manned primarily by volunteers who have already been contacted and assigned a shift for whenever the OSPCA allows the THS to resume intakes. It's the OSPCA that's making this decision and as I was told by an OSPCA staff person, they have no intention of resuming this program (resources, staff or not) until the current THS board resigns or is removed.

Darlene said...

I just learned from the THS website that they've officially changed their euthanasia policy and killed 6 "unadoptable" dogs. There are also rumours about 30 cats being euthanized in the last 48 hours. Does anyone have any info about the cats?

There is a protest tomorrow at 1 pm outside the THS. If you disagree with killing animals simply because of a perceived lack of space, then please attend.

Social Mange said...

Fred, thanks for the balanced reporting on this very emotional issue.

Cathrine, thank you for pointing out the issues private rescues face. Too many pro-THS'rs have been yelping about sending animals to rescues without any thought as to how rescues would cope physically (foster space) or financially.

Hey, selkie, those pitties that went to NB...are those the ones that were sent sexually intact and the guy was breeding them and selling the pups?

Marcie's right. This is not about "puppies and kittens". This is about salvaging a dysfunctional organization with a dysfunctional board, no real-world policies, possibly severely reduced finances (revenues dropped 25% from '07 to '08, who knows what the revenue is now?). There must be specific policies and plans for intake, adoption, returns (like it's a store), veterinary care and euthanasia. There must be real-world personnel policies. Real-world policies about how to spend the in, not on saber rattling by lawers. Corporate governance, transparency and controls.

It must be run as a business with a heart. But the head must sometimes overrule the heart.