Rumours have been breeding like fleas within the Toronto Humane Society. Most of them are anti-OSPCA with the occasional one tossed at Toronto Animal Services for good measure.
With all the silence in the face of these rumours, even some of the faithful are beginning to wonder what the OSPCA is up to at the THS: still not allowing animal intake, canceling the fostering program, continuing to spend donor money on court costs against the THS, being overtly suspicious of volunteers, treating them like thieves and then dismissing them en masse saying they were no longer needed, directly or indirectly causing the lay off of essential THS workers.
That's a lot of stuff that needs explaining and taking the high road with silence isn't going to cut it. In the absence of any kind of explanation, it's inevitable that people, especially enemies of the OSPCA and drinkers of Tim Trow's kool-aid, are going to start making shit up.
Well, it's taken a while, but the OSPCA seems to have learned its lesson about controlling the message in the face of rampant rumourmongering. They're starting to talk.
Over the past couple of weeks, OSPCA staff have been meeting privately and individually with concerned volunteers to answer their questions and address their concerns and now there's even going to be a town hall meeting tomorrow to discuss some of the issues around the OSPCA's stint at the THS.
As a preview, here are some unofficial responses (the person I talked to wishes to remain unnamed) to a few of the rumours which are being passed around.
1. Anyone who's been volunteering at the THS knows that the OSPCA came in and killed 180 cats in the first month they were there. The OSPCA vets killed them at night when no one was around because they didn't want anyone to see them.
In the first month at the THS, the OSPCA euthanized forty cats (this out of several hundred cats) which vets determined were suffering terribly and beyond help. Generally, cadavers for euthanized animals are stored in a freezer at the THS for a few days until the cremation company comes by to pick them up. The company which the THS dealt with hadn't been paid in quite a while and so had suspended their services several weeks or months prior to the OSPCA raid on the facility. By the time the OSPCA showed up, there were already 140 frozen cat bodies in the freezer.
Once things got straightened out with the cremation company, the pick-ups started again. In that first pick-up, all 180 dead cat bodies were moved out at night because it was felt that moving those bodies through the building during open day hours would not be appreciated by staff or volunteers.
Later, someone from the THS called a local newspaper reporter and told him that the OSPCA had just killed 180 cats. The reporter phoned THS back for confirmation and the real situation was eventually explained. The newspaper story was obviously not published but the rumour was well on its way.
2. The OSPCA treat volunteers like thieves and now aren't letting anyone except for a few staff members walk the dogs.
There was this German Shepherd, Kincaid, at the THS who had a bite history and was under court order to be euthanized. Before this order could be carried out, Kincaid disappeared. In his kennel, someone had replaced Kincaid with a smaller, friendly German Shepherd.
After an investigation, someone came forward and said he saw another person put Kincaid into the back of a vehicle which then drove away. He thought this was kind of strange so he wrote down the license plate of the vehicle.
The vehicle was traced to a rescue in Huntsville. When the Huntsville rescue was contacted, they said that Kincaid only passed through there on his way to another rescue in North Bay. When the OSPCA showed up in North Bay, the rescue refused them access to their property so there was no way to confirm if the dog they took was indeed Kincaid.
The next time the OSPCA checked on Kincaid's kennel, they discovered that the replacement GSD had in turn been replaced by a Yorkie.
A day later, the Yorkie was also gone and the kennel was empty.
From the perspective of the OSPCA, law enforcement agencies and the justice system, a dangerous dog was stolen from the THS and is now in the hands of a criminal. The theft was brazen and a clear fuck you directed at the OSPCA. The obvious and unfortunate response was a clamp down on dog walkers. What else could have been expected? Whether one considers the perpetrators thieves or rescuers, committing a flagrant criminal act isn't going to make things better for the other volunteers or the remaining dogs in the facility.
3. The OSPCA have stopped the THS animal foster program out of spite.
The OSPCA has responded to this accusation with a press release. Among their reasons for suspending the animal foster program are:
* Pets were signed out for fostering without the approval of the appropriate THS official.
* There were incomplete records on the number of animals signed out for fostering, and who they were signed out with.
* Some animals intended to be signed out under the fostering program were instead listed as adoptions.
* Many animals signed out for fostering suffered chronic health issues and needed to be regularly re-assessed to ensure that fostering remained the best care option.
* Diabetic cats that required daily blood monitoring and insulin injections were sent out for fostering. The THS included a six-month supply of insulin and other medicine. There was no follow-up scheduled once these foster homes ran out of medical supplies.
* Animals with medical conditions were signed out to foster homes without training specific to the conditions and without ensuring that the foster volunteer had appropriate medical knowledge.
* Two aggressive dogs were signed out under the fostering program to people with no professional training to manage canine behavioural problems.
Until the OSPCA is able to ensure the safety of the animals and the fosters caring for them, they feel they have no choice but to stop the THS from fostering out more animals. Also, because there are only approximately 300 animals remaining in the facility, they feel the need to foster out animals is not as great as it was when there were over 1000 animals.
4. What happened to all those animals? There were over a thousand and now there are only 300. The OSPCA must have killed them all.
Numbers from both the THS and the OSPCA state that approximately 200 animals have been euthanized. The remaining animals moved out of the facility have either been adopted, are in foster care or have been sent to rescues.
5. The OSPCA won't allow new animals to be admitted into the THS.
By order of the court, there can only be a certain number of animals at the THS facility based on how many people are there to care for them. The THS, most likely due to their financial troubles, keeps laying people off. This means that the OSPCA has to cover the salaries for any extra workers required on site. For example, 6 of the 8 vets at the THS right now are paid for by the OSPCA. It is not in the OSPCA mandate to cover the costs of the THS. Until such time that the THS is able to hire more animal care workers, the number of animals allowed in the facility will be limited.
Also, there is a good chance that unless the THS board resigns or is otherwise replaced in fairly short order, the THS will fail as an institution, financially and politically. If that happens, then the OSPCA will be required to take all the animals out of the facility. The OSPCA feels that they can handle the resheltering of around 300 animals but not much more.
6. The OSPCA won't allow any adoption returns.
When someone brings an adoption return back to the THS, the OSPCA considers this an owner surrender and right now they won't allow the THS to take any owner surrenders.
7. The OSPCA spends too much money on legal costs trying to go after the THS.
Disregarding the irony in this accusation, especially if it's coming from a THS supporter, the OSPCA is actually a law enforcement agency as well as an animal welfare organization. An important part of the their mandate is to go after and prosecute animal cruelty cases. Their donors understand this. If their donors have a problem with anything, it's that the OSPCA is spending too much money propping up the THS.
The OSPCA is not a perfect organization. It is fair to criticize their mistakes like their lack of clear communications or the heavy handedness their on-site officers at the THS sometimes have shown towards volunteers and staff (Here's a suggestion: never have officers from a police or military style organization interact with civilians for too long. Their two power structures are incompatible). However, spreading rumours and lies about the OSPCA isn't going to make them into a better organization nor will it ease the plight of the animals in their care, whether it be at the THS or elsewhere. Spreading rumours and lies about the OSPCA isn't about helping animals. It's just about spreading rumours and lies.
Rumours aren't just an inconvenience. They have real life consequences. The anti-Pit Bull law in Ontario was created in part because of baseless rumours about the breed's locking jaws and other such nonsense and has resulted in the deaths of thousands of dogs of all breeds in this province. Even when presented with facts about the non-existence of locking jaws or how Pit Bulls are less aggressive towards people than most other breeds, supporters of the law still turn a blind eye, refusing to listen to anything which might contradict their unsubstantiated beliefs.
The OSPCA would do well to take a closer look at how successful the old THS was at manipulating public opinion with rumours, misleading messages and intimidation of individuals, not so that they can imitate that behaviour themselves but so they know what to watch out for and what to do before those who are carrying on that sleazy tradition turn around and bite them too deep.
A bigger issue, though, and perhaps this should be another post, but whatever - it's not - is that a lot of the recent grumbling coming out of the THS arose because no one has stepped forward with a clear vision for how to lead the THS out of the hole it's in. The original management is carrying on with a few improvements but mostly their attitude towards transparency and accountability is unchanged. The THS board, too full of themselves, hangs on to power so the THS continues to fester instead of resigning in order to allow the THS to heal. The OSPCA is playing its assigned role of police officer and isn't presenting any way forward because that's not in their mandate. Any would-be heirs to the board of directors' table have remained silent on what steps they would actually take to reform the THS. What good will there was after the initial OSPCA raid has vanished and there doesn't seem to be any hope.
For better or worse, most of the people who care about the animals at the THS, don't care about the politics. They don't care about who's carrying the biggest "I lub animals" sign or who's protesting the loudest or who's got the best lawyers and accountants on side or who's got board experience or who doesn't. Maybe they should care about all that stuff, but they don't. What they do care about is who's got a plan to help out the animals, present and future, at the THS.
The THS is sinking and no one has stepped forward with a life boat. Until someone does, I suspect the rumours and criticisms, deserved or not, will continue and maybe get even worse.