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.