Sunday, May 31, 2009

I've seen this movie before

The problem with the business of animal welfare is that it's not much of a business. There's not enough filthy lucre to attract real expertise into management. When there's real money to be made, or lost, you can bet cooler, more reasonable and better informed heads will be brought to the table to make sure things run as efficiently as possible.

On the other hand, when the reward for a hard day's work is a whole lot of gratitude from penniless furry four legged creatures, it's the heart that becomes fulfilled and soon it's the heart that leads, not the head. And emotional decision makers don't make for great managers.

I'm being slightly facetious here of course. Profit motive is one of the worst motives I can think of. The last thing I'd want to see is the Toronto Humane Society become some sort of cash driven corporation dictated by bottom line results. But still, there is something depressingly laughable and unprofessional about the mismanagement and power struggles that have occurred there in its recent history.

It seems the last few decades of the THS have been full of turmoil, of political melodrama, of lawsuits, of misled members turfing out the old guard only to be misled again and again. Each time, so much money wasted on legal fees and politicking and of course, of course the animals suffer and by suffer I am talking about each individual animal that lies and dies in its cage. Each and every one that died because instead of spending donation money on vets and caretakers, it was spent on legal fees and optics. Instead of putting energy into animal welfare, it was redirected to playing personal power politics.

Here's an old, 2001 article from the Toronto Star. It talks about the how the present THS board of directors, under Tim Trow, got to power:

Seven directors ousted
Animal care agency's board shuffled over loss of city contract
Christian Cotroneo

While cages at the Toronto Humane Society's River St. headquarters sat half-empty, it was all cats and dogs at the annual meeting upstairs.

After an eight-month power struggle, members voted Monday night to reshuffle the agency's board of directors, replacing president Jeannie Butler and six others on the 11-member board.

The new directors include past-president Tim Trow, who had resigned when the board was plagued by internal strife in the mid-1980s. Trow becomes the new president.

"I feel like Custer at Little Big Horn," said ousted treasurer Ernest Royden. "A boot in one cheek and a bite in the other."

But dissatisfied members say the real bite had come out of the society's historic mandate to care for the city's animals. After 114 years of taking in strays, the city decided not to renew its contract with the organization earlier this year, leaving dogs and cats in bustling city pounds while the society's shelter remained sparsely populated. Of the 11,000 animals the shelter took in last year, 7,800 were strays.

Butler insisted the society just wanted a break-even deal from the city - it couldn't afford a lopsided arrangement that left the society footing much of the bill for taking care of the animals. The city ended up backing away from the society's request for a 35 per cent fee increase.

"We've asked the city to pay just enough money to cover the cost of the services we're providing," Butler said.

Despite the rift with the city, Butler characterized the society as "better, stronger and healthier than we've ever been before.

"We are on the path to a new relationship with the city - a new and fair and equitable and responsible relationship."

But members elected to take a different path, with new directors at the helm.

Former directors were derided for many of the recent ills that had befallen the charity organization, including losing the city contract and the prolonged, costly and distracting internal struggle. Several complained about being "telemarketed" for their votes by both sides; others raised the spectre of document shredding and mismanaged funds.

"I've experienced the full gamut of emotions ranging from anger to frustration," Butler said. "Good intentions have been twisted every step of the way."

The real victims of the struggle, she added, are the animals. "In our care, they should never be used as pawns in pursuit of power."

Much of the society's woes erupted earlier this year, when the board tried to take away the voting rights of the bulk of its membership. Policy decisions would then be left in the hands of directors. But a court blocked the move.

According to Heather Ferguson, who also lost her position, that would have spelled a more efficient organization.

People, she said, are getting "picky" about which charitable organizations they support, preferring to get the most out of their contribution.

"You better be fiscally well-managed and you better be well-governed," she said. "This is not a mom-and-pop operation. This is an eight- to nine-million-dollar organization."

For the new directors that means repairing relations with the city.

"We've got to get to work. We've got to normalize relations with the city and the Ontario Humane Society and we've got to make the place alive like it's never been before," Trow said.

He's also confident the city will opt to work with the society again. "They put $1 million into this building. Do they really want to put $2 million into another building?"

The feud has cost the society around $500,000 in legal costs. Much of its funding comes from philanthropists like the late pianist Glenn Gould and media magnate Ken Thomson. Last year, that largesse amounted to $1.1 million. Fundraising, donations and membership fees amounted to another $5.6 million.

For those who were members in 1983, the eight-month-long squabble must seem like dejavu all over again. That's when the board split over alleged mismanagement, which included poor record-keeping and organizational skills. Distrust and paranoia would later culminate in a 1987 court battle over board restructuring.

(More articles detailing these events can be found at

We have to be careful now, not to let history completely repeat itself. On the one hand, these past experiences give us hope that the present board can be replaced by popular vote but at same time we must take care not to hand over power to those who would misuse it.

The search is on for an emancipator, not a dictator.

Sunday morning smiles

Way to start the day off right.



Someone's going to get really lucky waking up everyday to these happy faces.

For adoption information on these and other dogs (and cats and other animals), please visit Toronto Animal Services.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Tim Trow must go

Tim Trow, el presidente of the Toronto Humane Society is expired way past his Use by date. Some people say he's become like an animal hoarder with a multi-million dollar budget. Some say he's a micromanaging bean counter more worried about donations than doing the right thing. Whatever he is, it's time for him to pack his questionable ethics and practices and head out the door.

Let's help him do that.

Public pressure - that's what it's going to take and it starts right now with hitting a few keys on your keyboard.

Please sign the petition and pass along the link.

I know, I know. You're thinking jeez another on-line petition. Well your added name may just be a snowflake in an avalanche but you can't have an avalanche without snowflakes (holy shit, I just made that up on the spot - or maybe I stole it but if I stole it, I don't remember from where and in my book that's pretty much the same thing as making it up yerself).

Yeah, and once you've filled in your name and hit the "Sign petition >>" button at the bottom of the page, a Surprise! donations page will pop up but you can just ignore that. No payment necessary - it's some donation request for the site, not for the cause - unless you feel like you've really got to get rid of some money fast in which case I know someone with some GM stocks he's trying to off load.

Update: Protest outside Toronto Humane Society
June 20th 2009 right in front of the THS at 2pm.
Please help us by showing your support.
Tim Trow Must Go!
The THS is located at the corner of Queen St E and River @ 11 River St.
Facebook group:


From the Canada Criminal Code:

Cruelty to Animals

Causing unnecessary suffering

445.1 (1) Every one commits an offence who

(a) wilfully causes or, being the owner, wilfully permits to be caused unnecessary pain, suffering or injury to an animal or a bird;


(2) Every one who commits an offence under subsection (1) is guilty of

(a) an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than five years; or

(b) an offence punishable on summary conviction and liable to a fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars or to imprisonment for a term of not more than eighteen months or to both.

Failure to exercise reasonable care as evidence

(3) For the purposes of proceedings under paragraph (1)(a), evidence that a person failed to exercise reasonable care or supervision of an animal or a bird thereby causing it pain, suffering or injury is, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, proof that the pain, suffering or injury was caused or was permitted to be caused wilfully, as the case may be.

From The Globe and Mail article, Killing them with kindness:

Bobik, a 12-year-old shepherd-cross, died slowly.

His shelter medical records show that in April of 2007 he was a friendly but aging 33.5-kilogram (74-pound) dog with a slight limp. Between his large size, his arthritis, hip dysplasia, alopecia, and deafness, families weren't lining up to adopt him.

After more than a year in the shelter, he went to live with one of the THS's foster parents.

On May 11, barely five months after a leg amputation that removed a cancerous limb, Bobik's foster mother brought him in for care at the THS.

The incision from his leg amputation re-opened, his breathing was laboured, saliva dripped from his mouth and there was blood in his stool.

On the afternoon of May 12, after bleeding from his anus for two days, Bobik died.

Most shelters would have put Bobik down, said two veterinarians, as the cancer in his leg was likely to spread, and learning to walk on three legs can be difficult for an arthritic dog with hip dysplasia. Indeed, internal records show that many animals admitted to the THS die slow deaths rather being euthanized.

From The Toronto Humane Society website:

"Staff members and volunteers have earned the right to take pride in the care they have given the animals."
Tim Trow, President

The truth will out


Thank you Globe and Mail. Thank you Kate Hammer. Someone has finally got enough guts and moral fortitude to tear off the lid over the stinking rot emanating from the Toronto Humane Society.

And thank you to those brave staffers at the THS who are risking their jobs and their personal finances for speaking out.

If you live in Toronto and have any doubt about the misery the animals over at THS are being put through, then click on over to Killing them with kindness. It's a three part article in the Globe and Mail written by Hammer (parts 2 and 3 yet to be published).

Yes, the article does contain graphic photos but they're not taken from the abode of some degenerate animal abuser or miller. They're taken from the inside of Tim Trow's fiefdom, the Toronto Humane Society.

Died Oct 19 3:15 am. Gasped and jerked and cried last breaths, because there was no one in shelter to euthanize or treat. This is not humane.

When I've talked to people who had worked at or dealt with the Toronto Humane Society, I would more often than not hear ghastly tales about severe animal neglect. I never felt right about publishing anything they said because according to them, they'd be terminated and/or sued if word got out that they spoke against Tim Trow and his THS flunkies. I just didn't have the time or energy to protect this blog against that kind of heat.

Media outlets like the Toronto Sun are often fooled by THS' spin but the Globe and Mail has seen clear and is doing the right thing by taking on this corrupted animal welfare cult.

The Globe also obtained pictures of cats and dogs living in their own excrement and interviewed more than 30 concerned current and former employees, volunteers, members and adoptive families – past and present – who have begged for help from the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Canada Revenue Agency. They have also tried to enlist the College of Veterinarians of Ontario and Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney General, all to no avail.

They've discovered there is little anybody can do to rein in the THS, an independent organization virtually free from oversight, which is headquartered on River Street in Toronto's east end.

Those who have been reading this blog for a while, know that I've written about the backstabbing politicking that is a THS trademark in their frequent media attacks against Toronto Animal Services. They love to parade euthanasia numbers around and deride the higher TAS euth rates without explaining why it's a misleading comparison. I give an explanation of that here but apparently THS animal death numbers, as revealed by the Globe and Mail, show that their own numbers are actually much worse than reported.

Mislead much?

Data obtained by The Globe from the Toronto Humane Society's Chameleon database, a system used by many shelters and maintained off-site, show that nearly twice as many animals died inside the shelter between Jan. 1, 2008 and April 10, 2009, than were euthanized.

What does this mean? It means that a lot of animals are left to die horribly slow, agonizing deaths inside their filthy cages but because they died "natural" deaths, those deaths aren't counted in THS euthanasia numbers.

Now it's been a pretty bad month at TAS South with the deaths of Bobby and then George but imagine how much worse it would have been for those two if TAS staff had been ordered by management to just let Bobby die "naturally" of parvo in his cage or to just let George die "naturally" of bloat. That would have been unforgivable.

And yet how many hundreds of times has the staff at Toronto Humane been told to just let the animals in their supposed "care" suffer alone in their cages? And how much longer can this be allowed to continue happening? THS supporters love to hear that their money is going to an organization that has low euth rates but leaving animals to die in pain just to keep euth numbers down and trick donations up is pretty sick behaviour.

“There is no column for ‘died in a cage neglected,' ” said Ms. Mathison, the kitten volunteer ...

Yeah, I wish I had had the guts to write this absolutely essential article. The Globe and Mail and Kate Hammer are both exposing themselves to lawsuits, I'm sure, from the litigious THS and I hope they're ready for the shit storm that's going to fly at them from all the bleary eyed supporters of that place. But now the truth is out and I'm hoping it'll start the momentum going to kick Trow's ass onto the curb so that the Toronto Humane Society can become a truly humane society once again.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Toronto Animal Services Friday Review, May 29 - a few more

Just got these three guys done this afternoon. The day had started out cloudy and kind of chilly and suddenly the sun came out and the dogs were panting away. Sometimes I can't figure out how they get all that tongue back inside their mouths.



These two furry guys came in earlier in the week, both bigger boys with great personalities.

Clancy's a friendly, eager fellow and he's sure to make lots of friends when people walk over to check out his brilliant brindled coat.


For a husky, Olga has got excellent leash manners. Very polite and definitely a softie.


For adoption information on these and other dogs (and cats and other animals) at Toronto Animal Services, please go here.

Update on Chanel

From Chanel's (now Roxy) new owner:

Just wanted to send you and the staff at the toronto animal services an update regarding Roxy...As you can see she is doing well...she does not pee in the apartment as much, today she has gone three days without any accidants and she has never poop indoors or on the balcony...she is a pleasure to have around a real joy to both me and maggy making our life more complete...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Poo bags versus mass extinction

I'm switching over to those clear plastic bags you get at grocery stores for putting your fruit and veg into. The stores here in Toronto are trying to save the planet by charging for their regular, more robust plastic grocery bags. Good for them. It's like trying to cure cancer by putting on a wig. It won't work but at least it'll look prettier.

The problem, of course, with these transparent fruit and veg plastic bags is that, well, they're transparent and carrying around a big blob of poo for everyone and their child to see, while illustrating that I am a decent and responsible pet owner, is nevertheless spewlicious for most people. I used to know this guy who would pick up his dog's mess with a transparent poo bag and then ten seconds later, he'd be absentmindedly swinging it around and gesturing with it like he was a high school cheerleader with a baton while having a conversation with you.

The other problem is that the plastic of the fruit and veg bags is too thin. It's too easy to poke a hole in them when picking up stuff. You know what I'm talking about here. Stinky fingers - no one wants that. So, either extra gentle care is necessary or it means double or triple bagging it.

But you know, throwing away dog poo wrapped in plastic into a garbage can, the contents of which will end up in a landfill, is a stupid idea anyway. Toronto really needs to go organic with its poop disposal in its public places. That means expanding the Green Bin program, or some version of it, to all the dog parks. In case you're not from around these parts, Green Bins were introduced here a few years ago and all our organic, household wastes go into them, including poo (from babies and pets and freaks who don't like using their toilets - and no, I don't know anyone like that. I'm just trying to be inclusive). And then instead of burying that waste in some poor schmuck's backyard, the city takes the organic waste and processes/composts it into fertilizer or bio fuels or cheez spreads or reconstituted potato chips or something like that. I know that turning shit into snacks sounds far fetched but it's pretty much been proven by our food factory engineers that as long as something's been deep fried and covered in a tasty sugar, salt and fat flavour combo, the majority of people will find it yummy.

Recycling dog shit is very thoughtful. Hygienically, it sure makes sense and certainly no one wants to be scraping the bottom of their shoes off against the curb all the time. We all want our sidewalks and roads to remain free from the devastating effects of turd mines. And if it's necessary to gather up all this crap, then of course it makes environmental sense to transform it into something useful instead of "throwing it away". But in doing this, are we really doing worthwhile good or are we merely assuaging our guilt for wrecking the planet in a billion other vastly more potent ways? I mean, I pick the crap off the sidewalk but it's actually the sidewalk itself that does more damage to the earth than a thousand dumps of turd could ever do.

I'm having these cruddy thoughts because of a couple of news items I've come across in the last few days. The first one has to do with mass extinction, in particular, the one we're experiencing now. I've read about this before but I'd pushed it out of my mind in an attempt at denial until last week when The New Yorker ran a story by Elizabeth Kolbert called "The Sixth Extinction?"

Over the past half billion years, there have been at least twenty mass extinctions. Five of these—the so-called Big Five—were so devastating that they’re usually put in their own category. The fifth, the end-Cretaceous event, which occurred sixty-five million years ago, exterminated not just the dinosaurs but seventy-five per cent of all species on earth. Once a mass extinction occurs, it takes millions of years for life to recover, and when it does it’s generally with a new cast of characters. In this way, mass extinctions have played a determining role in evolution’s course. It’s now generally agreed among biologists that another mass extinction is under way. If current trends continue, by the end of this century as many as half of earth’s species will be gone.

Oh yeah, and guess what's responsible for all this annihilation? Yep, we are.

You can listen to a short audio clip from an interview with the author here. She talks a lot about a gajillion bumble bees and bats dying from human transmitted fungi. Fun stuff.

The next bit of bummer news was from this morning's CBC interview with James Lovelock.

We started this segment with a clip from the pitch for the CBC-sponsored campaign for one million acts of green. The idea is to encourage as many people as possible to take individual actions that -- when taken together -- would have a significant impact on the health of the planet.

But according to James Lovelock, even if the campaign succeeds, a million acts of green wouldn't amount to a hill of beans compared to all the non-green acts humanity has perpetrated against the Earth. James Lovelock is best known as the originator of the Gaia theory ... the idea that the Earth is a living and self-regulating organism in which geology, the oceans, the atmosphere and climate are intertwined with all forms of life. He sees humanity as the crowning achievement in the evolution of life on earth.

He also sees humanity as the catalyst for the end of the world as we know it and he's pretty sure it's too late to do anything about it. Or maybe it's not that it's too late but that we're too stupid. He figures we've got 30 good years left, maybe 40 if we start reducing our carbon footprint - which isn't going to happen of course.

Here he is answering the question, "Do you think we will survive?" in New Scientist magazine.

I'm an optimistic pessimist. I think it's wrong to assume we'll survive 2 °C of warming: there are already too many people on Earth. At 4 °C we could not survive with even one-tenth of our current population. The reason is we would not find enough food, unless we synthesized it. Because of this, the cull during this century is going to be huge, up to 90 per cent. The number of people remaining at the end of the century will probably be a billion or less. It has happened before: between the ice ages there were bottlenecks when there were only 2000 people left. It's happening again.

I don't think humans react fast enough or are clever enough to handle what's coming up. Kyoto was 11 years ago. Virtually nothing's been done except endless talk and meetings.

Here's the CBC interview on The Current: Click on Part 2.

Well, this is a supremo downer forecast and all but what's it got to do with dogs? The obvious answer is that if we take the planet down with us, dogs are going to be suffering a lot sooner than we will be - but that's not the thought that has the most impact on me at the moment. That's not why I'm writing this. After all, I'm just as short sighted as the next guy and 30 - 40 years down the road is a long way away even if it is a deadline for the end of our world order.

No, what makes me laugh is that I'm more concerned about having to use these thin, transparent bags to pick up dog poo because the good grocer is trying to forestall the very end of civilization by selling regular plastic bags for 5 cents each.

I write about all these dogs that need rescuing. It's we humans who need rescuing. Know anyone who's willing to foster us?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

We lost another

This came in the e-mail this morning from Toronto Animal Services:

George was euthanized....He must have bloated...We rushed him too the vet clinic but they said he was in poor poor shape.....And that it was in the veterinarian's opinion that he be humanely put to sleep.

I want too thank all you for trying soooo hard for the this poor boy.

At the end of day yesterday, as people were leaving the shelter, someone noticed that George looked like he was in great discomfort. They rushed him to the veterinary clinic where X-rays were immediately done and they revealed that George had bloated.

Bloat is an evil that all owners of big chested, large/giant breed dogs, like Great Danes and Dobermans, have to be alert for. It's a gas build up in the stomache accompanied by a twisting of the stomache, like a candy in a candy wrapper, which essentially traps the gas inside. The stomache expands like a balloon, blood vessels are cut off, cells die. It's extremely painful and if it's not detected and operated on in very short order, typically within the hour, the chances of the animal surviving are minimal. The thought of it gives me nightmares. I've had my Dane, Stella, to the emergency clinic three times on suspected bloat.

For George, though surgery was an option, the vet didn't think he would survive it as it looked like he had been bloated for a while. They decided against the procedure.

No one knows what causes bloat. There are guesses: genetics, diet, eating and drinking too much too quickly, stress. No one will ever know why George bloated. Maybe after the meet and greet on Saturday, he sensed a changed was coming and he became anxious, excited.

A change was indeed coming. George was going to be flown to California tomorrow to go into a Tibetan Mastiff rescue. He almost made it out.

Big George will be cremated and his ashes will be given to James Langton, who's been pivotal in trying to find a home for him. James will take the ashes up to his family farm and lay Big George to rest there. Finally, freedom.

Continued here.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Big George's meet and greet

There's been a lot of local interest in people luvin' big George, the Tibetan Mastiff at Toronto Animal Services, but most inquirers are dissuaded from paying him a visit when they hear about his sometimes unruly behaviour with other dogs. If he were a 10 pound Shih Tzu or even an 60 pound mutt who was occasionally reactive with some canines, that may not be such a big deal, but having a 130 pound dog angry at something is a whole other story.

Nevertheless, one couple did decide to try a meet and greet with George on Saturday, and brought their own female Tibetan Mastiff, Stella, along. I took a series of videos to show the progression of the meet and greet with the hope of recording a mutually agreeable ending but, well, you'll see what happened (don't worry, there's nothing graphic, not even close).

Here's George when he was first brought outside and got sight of Stella about 20 meters away. He's obviously excited and can't take his eyes off the other dog. You might notice there are two leashes on George and that's because one is going to his Gentle Leader while the other is a back-up going to his collar. A couple of days ago, George took a swipe at a haltie someone had put on him and broke it and shook it off.

It turned out that the Gentle Leader held up on Saturday, but still, better safe than sorry.

Here's Stella, interested but much calmer than George.

As George starts to walk in Stella's direction, he gets more and more excited to the point where he's on his hind feet and doing loops around James trying to get closer to Stella. You can imagine how this behaviour would not be tolerated on a city sidewalk.

There was a soccer game on that afternoon and the crowd noise was quite loud so it was decided to take the meet and greet inside in case the noise was making the dogs more anxious than they needed to be.

Inside, George and Stella are walked at a good distance from each other for several minutes just to get them accustomed to one another. George is still quite focused on Stella, but he is no longer jumping and lunging at the mere sight of her.

George is brought closer to Stella and he does okay, reacting mostly only after Stella initiates with a bark or some other signal (she's inviting him to play). George has also calmed down enough and is not so focused on only Stella that he is now aware of other people's attentions on him and leans in for affection when he gets some pets.

George is still reactive, though, so the handlers ease off a bit and do some more walk-bys with both dogs for several more minutes.

Another attempt at closer contact but while George is better than before, he's still unruly.

It's decided that it would be safer to muzzle George before allowing him a face to face with Stella. He's got such a big noggin, though, that the muzzle, sized for another Tibetan Mastiff, barely fits George and he doesn't like it much so he puts up a bit of a fuss. Not bad though. If he really didn't want to be muzzled, there would've been no way.

More walking. George spends a few moments trying to remove the muzzle but is leash corrected from doing so.

George tries to stick his nose into Stella's face but learns pretty quick that the muzzle isn't going to allow him to do much. Then it's Stella who tries to give George a nose to nose but she's surprised by the muzzle and doesn't know what to make of it.

Both dogs now seem very calm around one another. Stella even starts to mouth near George's face, trying to get him to play but the muzzle is kind of freaking her out, and George, for his part, doesn't seem that interested. This is where things were definitely starting to look positive for the two of them getting along.

George seems to have lost interest in Stella now, preferring to get lavished with attention from a person instead. He's also getting quite hot. The muzzle's only been on him a few minutes but that's long enough.

The muzzle is removed and George still seems pretty good around Stella. He's more interested in getting a big drink of water at this point.

Back to more walking with muzzle off, and side by side. George shows almost no interest in Stella now and it's Stella who is now more interested in getting George's attention.

Stella's still trying to get George to play but he's not interested and walks away. At one point, he seems to get a little fed up and tries to respond to Stella but is blocked.

I had to leave TAS at this point and was really quite hopeful that things were going to work out between George and Stella.

Unfortunately, a couple of hours later, I got a call and was told me that George had attacked Stella and that it had taken a couple of the guys there to pull him off her. It wasn't a serious incident as Stella wasn't hurt and George didn't in any way lash out at the people who were restraining him but it became obvious to the couple interested that they wouldn't have been able to handle George if they were alone with him.

George had basically gotten fed up with Stella trying to initiate play with him and was telling her to stop it in the only way he knew how. How far he intended to go with his rebuke is anyone's guess but no one was going to take any chances considering the damage that could've occurred if there had been a dogfight.

It's too bad the meet and greet didn't work out but George has still got options and hopefully one of those options will firm up in the next few days. The safest route for him now is to go into a rescue or an giant breed experienced home either with no other dog or at most, a very relaxed, non-provocative dog.

George is great big teddy bear with people but he needs guidance on how to behave around other dogs or else he'll need to be in an environment where there are no other dogs at all and I think that would be a bit of a shame considering how much he likes Boo, his little Shih Tzu girlfriend. He can obviously get along with other dogs. He just needs to find the right friend.

Continued here.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The eyes have it

When I dropped into Toronto Animal Services yesterday at noon, it was supposed to be just to say hello to Big George to see how he was doing but as I walked by the white board with the list of all the dogs that needed walking, I noticed that only half of them had been attended to.

The staff take out all the dogs in the morning for a quick washroom break but that's not a real walk, not in my book anymore. Five minutes doesn't cut it and the dogs really deserve and need the time they get with the volunteers walking them. Yesterday, though, the volunteer who was supposed to be there hadn't arrived yet.

I'm not at all putting any blame on the volunteer. After all who knows what might have happened. Sickness. Car broken down. Who knows, but regardless, the result was that half the dogs in the shelter had been stuck in their kennels all morning.

So, instead of spending time with George, I started taking out dogs. I do this quite often, fill in when someone's away or there's too many dogs, and it's never a big deal but yesterday, walking by all the dogs in their kennels who hadn't been out yet, I felt kind of depressed by it all. I think it may have been because one of the first dogs I passed was Spencer, a Doberman who reminded me of my own Rocky. Spencer was there by the front of his kennel, not making a peep but looking like he was trying very hard to be noticed with his perfectly well behaved sit. Something about his silence got to me. He was being a very good dog, not barking, not making a fuss, looking me in the eyes, doing all the right things so that I would choose him to take out.

And yet I did not.

And then I passed by Dalton ...

... and Sandy ...

... and Lady ...

... and Paddy ...

... and I get to the end of the kennel and take out two dogs who get along really well with each other to walk them at the same time - more efficient that way. And then I have to walk by all these other dogs again who are now thoroughly disappointed.

The photos I take for the adoption website all show the dogs outside, generally happy and alert and pretty full of life but in reality, they spend almost all their time here in their kennels waiting to be noticed, for that glance from a person, a touch, some attention, a few moments when they can feel wanted, included. Sure, it's not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, them missing out on a walk or missing out on some playtime, but denying them any of these few, small enough pleasures they get during their sometimes long stay at TAS just seems wrong.

It all comes down to this. TAS needs more volunteers. They've got a full schedule of volunteers and there is pretty well a volunteer coming in every open hour of every day but that's in the ideal case with no one being sick or late or whatever. And also, sometimes, there are more dogs than one volunteer can handle in the time they're there. So, I'm trying to talk TAS into doubling up their volunteer numbers or even tripling. This way, if someone can't make it, there'll hopefully still be at least one or two other people showing up.

Also, TAS South is getting more dogs now. The rescue work has really increased and that means more dogs to walk so more volunteers only makes sense. All the dogs need more people time.

So, for your consideration: If you've ever felt like getting hands-on involved and have thought about doing some volunteering, this would be a great time to do it. Come visit TAS South, check the place out, fill out a volunteer application form. They'll explain the volunteering process to you - sometimes they make a big deal of it but it's all pretty informal once you get started. Afterward, it's sometimes a little frustrating waiting for the bureaucracy to get to responding to the volunteer requests but I've been told that someone is going through all the applications right now. And even if you apply and don't make it this time, which would be nonsensical, TAS will have your name on file for the next round.

Hope to see you round there sometime.

Toronto Animal Services South, 7 days/week, 10:30 am - 6:30 pm
140 Princes' Blvd. (Horse Palace, Exhibition Place)

This is the south shelter number: 416 338 6668. If you call this number and get a machine, just hang up and try again later otherwise you might end up waiting on hold for a week or so.

This is the main TAS number if you're interested in one of the other shelters (but I don't know what they're like at all with respect to volunteers): 416 338 7297

Friday, May 22, 2009

Little Boo

While everyone was oohing and aahing over Big George in the kennel beside hers, Boo, George's little girlfriend, wasn't getting enough attention so she decided to she had to do something about it.

Maybe it's due to performance anxiety that she only made it halfway but Boo can actually scale the whole height of the door, scramble over the top and through the gap between the door and the ceiling and then drop down the other side. Needless to say, that's pretty amazing but it's also pretty dangerous as she ends up falling 6 feet onto concrete.

The staffers have tried a number of different set-ups, with boxes, makeshift plastic guards, bumpers, etc. to try to prevent her from climbing but she's always either clambered over what was in her way or destroyed it to get access to the door. And every morning someone finds her on the outside of her kennel.

I think she just wants to be near her boyfriend, Big George.

Boo and George make such a cute couple and I know it would never happen, but in a Disney fairy tale, the two of them would find a home together and live happily ever after in unconsummated bliss.

Boo just got spayed today, so I wouldn't be surprised if she ended up in a crate for the evening. Absolutely no climbing for her with brand new stitches.

Toronto Animal Services Friday Review, May 22


Mei Ling is quite small for a Chow Chow and she's also very people friendly and doesn't mind other dogs, which is atypical Chow behaviour. A real sweetheart, she'll find a home in no time.

Mei Ling

Lady and Jeb are both wonderful Labradors and I'd almost guess they were brother and sister but I think Jeb's much older. Another pair of dogs that will be gone as soon as they hit the adoption room.





Chico's great with people but not so much with other dogs. Luckily, he's just a shrimp so handling and training him won't be such as big a deal.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Big George

George, Toronto Animal Services' giant mystery breed dog is less of a mystery now. A couple of Tibetan Mastiff owners dropped by yesterday to check him out and see if they could more positively determine his breed and while there was some question about his big floppy ears, his huge size and his friendliness, which is not the typical behaviour for the usually more aloof Tibetan Mastiff, they walked away pretty sure George is indeed a TM.

I think they also took a liking to him but it's hard not to fall for such a great big friendly bear of a dog. He's sometimes a little too friendly, though, like when he was out for a walk and passed by one of the female dogs at the shelter. He walked over to her, dragging that slightly inconvenient weight at the other end of his leash over with him, and even though he was neutered a few days ago, his natural urges hadn't clued into that yet and he proceeded to hump the other unfortunate dog who was half is size. It finally took five staffers to pull George off the unhappy recipient of his attention.

Poor amorous George with his love interrupted. It's pretty obvious that his, uh, personality is probably going to be too much for most families to handle. His previous owners certainly felt that way when they had him debarked - either that or the chain they put around his neck was too tight and his vocal chords sustained some kind of permanent injury - and now when he barks, he kind of sounds like a rasping, high pitched seal.

George was actually in a home just this past weekend for a trial run where there was already a big, energetic St. Bernard. The two of them didn't quite see eye to eye on who was going to be boss and I guess the thought of the two of them running through the house playing smash up derby was a bit too expensive for the owners. Monday morning, George was back at TAS.

The aim now is to get George into a rescue or with someone who's already got Tibetan Mastiff experience, where he'll hopefully be taught manners befitting of a giant dog.

video by James Langton

Update: There's a good chance that George might be going down south to sunny California for his new rescue home. Much thanks to James Langton for making the call to the TM rescue down there.

Monday, May 18, 2009


She's very frightened when I open her kennel door and walk in and when I crouch down and put my hand out and I think she might bite and I'd deserve it too, moving too quickly, in a rush, trying to get all the new dogs' photos done. So, I back off, let her take a moment to get use to me, let her come to me and once again she recoils when I try to leash her but she does not bite and I wonder what it is in some dogs that make them hold back, even when under perceived threat, to not use their best defence and strike with their teeth. Whatever instinct it is, I am grateful and my hand comes away uninjured.

I think this one's a shaggy, powderpuff Chinese Crested but I'm terrible at breed identification, mostly because I don't really care that much about ancestry. Here's a dog, in front of me. Big dog, little dog, friendly, shy, energetic, lazy - these adjectives are what matter to me more than knowing the exact breed name.

It's a puppy mill dog, this one, and that's important to know. It explains a lot: her dirty, ragged looking fur, her smell, her anxiety. It's not hard to see her as a puppy, eager for life, full of abundant joy and giving of love - because that is how all dogs come into this world, because that is how we created them to be - and yet she was born and then packed into some dirty metal box where she knew no tenderness, no soft surfaces, no comforting human hand. How confused she must have been to enter into this world where all her experiences were barren, dull, a wholly empty existence. She must've cried and barked endlessly, like all the other puppy mill dogs I've seen in their millers' cages, for something lacking, not even knowing what it is they cry for.

Or they do know, sort of, in that wordless way all animals must know when they are imprisoned, kept alive but held back from life. You can see it in the lunatic pacing of lions in concrete zoos, in the angry eyes of chimps as they throw shit at the gawking, infantile crowds, in the trancelike rocking of elephants swaying back and forth, in polar bears swimming in endless circuits until exhaustion and beyond and hoping for what? Escape? Death?

And puppy mill dogs bark, crying for an unknown life that many will never experience.

I can't tell what this one's been through. She doesn't seem old enough yet to be a breeder and she seems too frail to be a good producer but what do I know what goes through the semi-formed brain of a puppy miller. They breed brother to sister, mother to son, Poodle to Great Dane. Dogs as commodities. Sell off the desirable ones at a good profit margin to pet stores or directly to consumers over the internet. Bury or burn the rest. Continue the cycle.

These are awful thoughts. I need to clear my head, let my anger subside or else I risk scaring the dog even more. I'm pretty sure she'd be able to sense it, smell it, the scent of anger.

She struggles just a bit as I hold onto her collar and put the leash on but then it's on and I release the collar and she pulls back to the full extent of the leash but then after a moment she comes forward and I reach out to touch her but it's still too soon so I stand up and I lead her out of the kennel room.

"You'll be lucky if you get her very far," someone tells me as I walk outside. "She's good for about ten steps and then she wants to come back inside."

We make it about thirty steps and then she puts on the brakes. I could just pull her but I don't think that would make things any better so I sit down on the sidewalk and wait for her to relax.

Soon enough, she starts to explore, just a bit. She walks around, unsure of the strange feeling surfaces beneath her feet. Asphalt, concrete, wood chips, pebbles. Then she discovers the grass. She's happy about that. She inhales the scent of it and of the earth and of all the other dogs that have passed over that spot. Then she lies down in the grass and at first I think it's strange that she's already tired and then I realize she's just enjoying herself. She's feeling the wind blow by her, carrying hope of a good, full life ahead of her.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Update on Gary

From Gary's owner:

I am enclosing a picture of Gary which we adopted on October 17, 2008 from the South Shelter - Toronto Animal Services. He is a shihtzu and has brought us a lot of joy. His birthday is January 12th ... so he is now 1 year and 4 months. We love him very much. He shares his home with Charlie (mixed shihtzu who is 10 years old). They get along well... sometimes they have "words" but nothing serious! Gary is quite the character and has helped Charlie in many ways i.e. not to behave the way he has for the last 10 years!!

Anyway, hoping you can add Gary's picture to your website - a very positive adoption in which I would do again again and again.

Housemate Charlie

Friday, May 15, 2009

Toronto Animal Services Friday Review, May 15

Toronto Animal Services South didn't take in a lot of dogs this week but they did get this mismatched pair from a pound in Quebec. Boo, the female Shih Tzu, may only be about half the size of the big male Leonberger's head but they got along famously on their car ride down to Toronto and seem to fancy each other quite a lot. Now that's got to make for a frustrating relationship.

Boo is a perfect little companion dog and though she may be small, her personality is pretty big. I had her out with the Leonberger and even though he was the more immediately eye-catching dog, simply because of his size, Boo wasn't going to let him hog all the attention. She'd get up on her hind legs and wave you over hoping for some spare affection.

The Leonberger, unnamed as of yet, is the biggest dog I've ever seen at Toronto Animal Services with a huge bear head and huge bear mitts. He's very friendly, a little too exuberant for his size perhaps and slobbers buckets. He's "only" 128 pounds - which surprised me because my Great Dane, Stella, is 135 lbs and this guy looks way bigger than her. It's all his gorgeous, thick fur coat, of course, because when you feel him, he's all bones underneath. This big boy actually needs to put on a whole bunch more weight.

Update (09-05-16): Well, it looks like the Leonberger is probably not a Leonberger but a Tibetan Mastiff. He was shown to a breeder today and the breeder's pretty sure.

It boggles my mind that someone would dedicate the time and money to track down such an exotic breed like this, buy it, raise it and then dump it off at the pound to be euthanized. Some people really have shit fer brains.

More on George here.

More on Boo here.


Not the dog in question below but a fattie nevertheless

As reported in The Guardian, U.K., a man has been charged and found guilty of overfeeding his dog to the point where it got dangerously overweight.

From Councillor Geoffrey Theobald, cabinet member for environment:

All dogs, but particularly border collies like Taz, need a good healthy diet and lots of exercise. Keeping a large dog shut indoors in a small space and overfeeding is a form of cruelty, and while our animal welfare team are happy to offer advice and information to dog owners, they will not hesitate to use the Animal Welfare Act to prosecute those who clearly have no intention of properly looking after their pet.

I read stuff like that and I think our animal welfare laws here in Canada, where you can still hammer your dogs to death and not get convicted of animal cruelty, must have been written by someone from the paleolithic period as he was clubbing potential mates over the head with his hockey stick.

In the accompanying photos that go along with the above article, there are some massive dogs and cats and I know how unhealthy it is for them but when I see those pics, all I can think about is giving those dogs a squish.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A good spring day

This day, this beautiful day, with the sun warm and the earth still spring cool and the breeze fresh and gusting. I'm sitting in the backyard, I'm in this day, just enjoying it now that I've taken my drugs which keep my head from exploding with snot from May allergies. Beside me is Rocky who keeps moving around the yard, trying to find the ultimate laze-about spot. First he tries in the full sun but gets too hot, then he tries the shade but that is not warm enough. Then he tries the partial shade but that spot is too wet or too dirty (and I move him off) or too lumpy or not lumpy enough.

A bee flies by and Rocky snaps at it, gets it and then instantly spits it out and starts pushing the taste of its guts out of his mouth with his tongue. I'm relieved that the dying bee didn't sting Rocky because that's what usually happens with Stella when she goes after them and, no, she never learns. Stella's hated bees, and all flying insects for that matter, ever since she got stung on her lady bits a few summers ago. She's never learned how to kill them, though, without getting stung on the inside of her mouth in the process and so, luckily, she's usually too slow to catch anything.

Now Rocky's sniffing his freshly squished bug and I take it away from him just in case it's still somewhat alive with stinger ready but as it turns out, it's not just squished, it's squashed, and with no hope of revival. See you in the next life, bee, and I toss it away into the planter where, in time, it will be consumed by the soil and one day become a flower.

I look at Rocky and while his recovery is not complete, I think the worst of it must be over. If he's fast enough to kill flying bees and not get stung, he must be well enough to not collapse on me. On Sunday, he had a day of bad diarrhea followed by a long night of vomiting up everything (on the rug then on another rug then outside on the fake grass then inside on the kitchen floor) until he was completely empty, followed by a day of not eating anything and Rocky is nothing if not a voracious consumer of all things edible. He walked around with his head hung low and stopped freaking at other dogs and could barely make it up the steps without tripping on his own feet. He wasn't even interested in running out beserkers into the backyard with Stella to scare away any potential squirrel, racoon, cat or possum invaders with maniacal barking and general hysterics.

Rocky was a very sick dog.

Of course, I immediately had worries that I had brought home parvo from Toronto Animal Services and passed it onto him and that was foremost on my mind when I took him into the vet. They did their usual round of tests and one hour later we walked out of there, Rocky all poked and prodded and me $800 lighter but with a pocket full of pills.

That night, I slept downstairs with Rocky because I didn't trust him not to have repeat episodes of vomiting or diarrhea even though I saw the x-rays and his guts were swollen but empty. I also didn't want him climbing up or down stairs in case he tripped and fell and broke his neck because the last thing I want is a quadriplegic dog vomiting and pooping all over himself.

Some of the test results came back the next day and his liver levels were hugely elevated. "They're the highest I've ever seen," the vet told me. "They're ten times outside of the normal range." She wanted me to bring him in and put him on IV to flush out his liver to try to get the values back to normal and I would have if it had been the day before but that morning, Rocky already seemed better.

I was taking a risk not bringing Rocky in for hospitalization but I did have previous experience with this. Rocky had gone through this last year, with the barfing and the super high liver values, and I think at the time, the vet - a different one - said the same thing, that the values were the highest she'd ever seen. And that time, I did put Rocky through a battery of tests, including a liver biopsy, and almost $3000 later, they found ... nothing.

It's not the vets' fault. They mean well and they try. But I'm of the opinion now that veterinary medicine is more art than science and maybe not even art of the realistic school but more of the abstract school, amorphous and open to interpretation.

Rocky recovered from last year's bout of liver disease, whatever caused it, with the help of Metronidazole and semi-precious Baytril (at $6 a pop, twice a day) and he recovered from another bout of it a few months later with the same meds.

This time, I didn't want to put him through another round of hospitalization and tests again, especially since his symptoms were so similar to the other two times.

I kept a very careful eye on Rocky to make sure there wasn't a relapse and he seemed to get progressively better thoughout the day. That evening, there was no vomiting dog and I slept undisturbed (except for the previously mentioned snot inside my own head which kept building up as I felt each speck of pollen touch down inside my nose).

The following day, and in my wheaziness I can't even figure out if that was yesterday morning or this morning, the vet phoned in the parvo test results and they were negative which was a relief because I didn't have to go around anymore bleaching every surface Rocky laid his butt onto (parvo is highly contagious and transmitted fecal-oral). She asked me how Rocky was doing and I told her Rocky's much better, his appetite had returned and his rude behaviour was almost back at 100%. He was also farting excessively again now that he was back to eating but I didn't mention that in case she suggested another battery of tests. Air freshener and open windows usually do the trick.

Rocky's sleeping now, curling his lip up in a dream where he's probably taking his vengeance out on some trespassing backyard critter. I've just slept a couple of hours in the backyard and for the first time in a week, especially with the allergy drugs coursing through my system, I'm feeling somewhat clear-headed and awake and I'm no longer overly contemplating sad pound dogs that have been euthanized and I'm not on edge waiting for my own dog to go into liver failure. This is a perfect spring day and life is returning.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The dog must've eaten it

This morning on my walk with Rocky, I see my neighbour, R., out with her dog, Marlow. We walk and talk for a couple of blocks until we get to the corner where we have to go our separate ways and we linger there for a few moments to finish off our conversation.

A city by-law truck drives by us and stops a few meters away. I don't think much of it because it looks like it's one of those trucks driven by the garbage police - you know, the ones who look through people's garbage to make sure someone hasn't thrown away jars of anthrax powder or nuclear waste or what not.

R. and I keep talking and then the guy in the truck gets out and walks over and at first I think he wants to say hello to our dogs but he looks kind of afraid of them and as he approaches he slows down and keeps his distance and of course the first thing that pops into my mind is that this guy's a nutter and he's going to do something crazy because that's just the kind of neighbourhood I live in where if a stranger stops his car in the middle of the road and gets out and approaches you even though he's scared shitless of your big ass dog then something's gonna happen.

Then R. says to me in a whisper, "Holy shit, this guy's been stalking me," and now I'm sure he's gonna pull some psycho moves on us but instead the guy just asks R. if Marlow has his dog license and I still don't get it and I think he's just trying to get some conversation going with my friend who he's been stalking and this line iss the best he can come up with and I'm giving him a score of 2 for imagination but 8 for balls for using such a lame line and, of course, still a full up 10 for crazy.

R. tells him that she hasn't had a chance to get the license yet, that she'll do it today and as the guy turns away and walks back to his truck to get something, I realize it's not a pick-up line. He's totally serious.

R. whispers to me, "Yesterday he busted me for having Marlow off-leash. 260 bucks!" and I'm like, "Whah? No, way!" and she's like, "Yeah and now he's here. He must be stalking me," and then the guy returns and gives R. a ticket, except that it's not a ticket. It's just an info card telling people about licensing their dogs.

"Please get that done," the guy says and as he walks away I'm relieved for R. that she didn't get another fine but at the same time, I'm like, "Hey, so Marlow's a convict. Are you a bad dog, Marlow? Are you a baaaad doggie?" and I think that's pretty funny but then the guy stops and he turns around and he looks at me.

"How about your dog?" and I'm like, "What? Who? Me?" as if there are like a pile of other dogs and dog owners around me.

"Does your dog have it's tag?" and I'm all smart like, "Uh, yeah, he's got his tag," and I reach down and grab his numerous tags and start looking for the city dog license tag.

"It doesn't look like he's got his tag," the guy says and I'm like, "Yeah, he's got it. What colour is it?" and he tells me it's gold and of course there's no gold tag on Rocky's harness.

"You know, it must've dropped off. I just washed his harness in the laundry machine last week. It must be in there or something," I say, still fumbling with the tags hoping that a gold one will magically appear simply because I'm willing it to. Anyway, that doesn't work and the guy goes back to his truck and pulls out another info card and hands it to me. It's the same card I see everytime I go into Toronto Animal Services which I never pay attention to because I know my dogs are licensed.

"Your dog has to have a tag on it. If you've lost the tag, you can get a replacement for $3," he says and I'm like, "Look, I can show you the paperwork ... I just live over there," and he's like, "That's okay, just get a tag. It's just $3," but I continue to mutter excuses all of which I'm sure he's heard before. Then he walks back to his truck with a pained "You're just the first idiot in a long day full of idiots I'm going to have to deal with" look on his face.

When I get home, I start searching for the missing tag. After about 30 seconds, I give up. I realize I have no idea where or when it could have gotten lost. Then I look up Rocky's records from the day I adopted him from TAS. His vaccination records are all in order as are his health checks and info sheets. I can't find any city license forms, though. I phone up TAS and ask them if they have Rocky's license on file and as the person on the other end is busy taking down my name, address and phone number - for future use, I'm sure - doubt starts to finally creep in.

"We've got Stella here but no Rocky," the TAS person tells me.

"So I guess that means Rocky's never had a license?" I ask.

"Looks that way," she says.

Okay, so I am an idiot.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Toronto Animal Services Friday Review, May 8

Toronto Animal Services South won't be taking in any rescue dogs for a week or so while they clean the dog quarantine room of any trace of parvo.

The adoption room is open, though, and I hope some of these guys find their new homes this weekend. Lots of big, friendly ones this time. Handsome dogs all and especially check out Bach's baby blues.






More on Bach here.