Saturday, November 28, 2009

Of dead cats and politics at the Toronto Humane Society

When I walk through the halls of the Toronto Humane Society, it reminds me of a high school the way the halls are laid out leading to various rooms, some glassed in, some behind closed doors except in each classroom there are animals instead of children and this school is crowded with cages spilling out and lining all the hallways and nooks.

My guide points up to the ceiling and I see a ceiling panel pushed aside and she says that's where they found the dessicated cat in the trap and I ask how did the OSPCA officer know to look up in that particular spot and she says because one of the THS staffers mentioned something about traps up in the ceiling and then because of the brown stains.

I look along the ceiling and see video cameras pointing in all directions. I wonder what it must be like to work under full time surveillance. I imagine someone in management, feet kicked up on a desk, eating a Kraft cheese slice sandwich, slurping grape juice through a bendy straw, watching the banks of monitors of all the cameras in the facility, making notes, jotting down pointed questions to later ask of the animal care worker talking to the new volunteer, of the vet spending too much with a cat.

I walk along the corridor of cats in their cages and many of them have padlocks on them. The padlocks are now open and hang loose on the latches but that was only done after the OSPCA came in and took over the operation of the place. Previous to that, the locks were locked. There's something surreal about that. Why padlock up cats in their cages? I look at my guide and she shrugs knowing what I'm about to ask.

We pass by one room and in it are cats on I.V. and some not looking too great. I hear a few of the cats, like maybe four or five, have been euthanized already. For the most part, the remaining cats don't look like they're in too terrible a shape and that's the opinion I get from some of the Toronto Animal Services staff who have been brought in to help out for the next few days. And that's as would be expected.

Accusations of animal cruelty levied by the OSPCA against the THS is not about every single animal in the facility suffering grotesque tortures at the hands of sicko animal psychopaths. It's about routine neglect, something that's not as easily apparent, not as shocking or easily identifiable as, say, someone shaking kittens to death and throwing them against a wall.

I suppose if you're a volunteer or a worker and the THS is the only place you've every held a position at, it might not seem strange that there are cameras in every hallway and padlocks on the cat cages. It might not seem strange, after a while, that some sick animals are left sick in their cages to be found dead in the morning. It might not seem strange that there is mewling coming from the ceiling and then no more mewling but a smell and then a spreading brown stain. It might even seem normal or comforting perhaps that all these little problems are swept under the rug, ignored and never mentioned by management. You smile at management; they smile back. Life goes on. Happy hunky dory at the Toronto Humane Society.

But if you're not that type of person, the type that tries so desperately hard to fit in, to make a good impression on the powers that be, then what do you do? You learn to bite your tongue and raise the corners of your mouth when management walks by. You learn how to raise your walls, make them impenetrable so you can continue to look after the animals as best you can. You learn how to work on your own, not saying too much to the person beside you because you might let slip something, and that person beside you, who knows where their allegiances lie. Who knows what they might report.

Or you quit and hope for a better day. God knows that what I would've done.

And how confusing it was for the public too, so trained to expect the big reveal before they'll pay any attention to anything, how confusing and difficult it must have been for them to figure all this out, all this politicking and brinkmanship. Until this afternoon, until that dead dried disgusting remnant of a poor poor cat was found in the ceiling and shown to the gasping journalists with their cameras and microphones, until then, for most people and for most media, this was still just about bad politics between the OSPCA and the THS.

The whole spew about how this is all politics and bad blood between the OSPCA and THS or how The Globe and Mail is just out on a witch hunt is of course only coming from the THS heads. The only real political thing about this is that most agencies, regulatory or otherwise, have been afraid, that's chicken shit afraid, to touch the THS because it's seen as a sacred cow charitable organization and it would be a no win political move to go after them, even if animals are dying. I mean, so what, they're only animals, right? Political careers are way more important than animals, right? The fact that the situation is considered political has only protected the THS crew from in-depth scrutiny and public exposure up until now. If this whole thing was only political and there was no substantive evidence to go forward with the charges, you can bet there's no way the attorney general or the police would have involved themselves in bagging this blistering hot shit covered potato.

That Kate MacDonald, CEO of the OSPCA, and Kate Hammer, reporter for The Globe and Mail, had dared to finally confront the management of the THS only goes to show just how much bravery and tenacity these two women and their respective organizations have above and beyond any of their peers.

Politics? Hell, no. For the OSPCA, for the animal welfare community in Toronto, for the informed and concerned pet owner, it's not about the politics. It's about the animals. It's about that cat stuck in a cage up in the ceiling slowly dying of thirst and starvation while the management of a supposed animal welfare organization spend their time spying on their workers and volunteers, fretting over who's talking to who, who's cute and not cute, who's going to be fired and who's going to be invited to the party van.

Tim Trow says he's innocent of cruelty charges and his followers continue to refute allegations of animal abuse at the Toronto Humane Society.

I know at least one cat who would disagree and even Tim Trow and his lackey board can't sue a dead cat.


Anonymous said...

There is no comment I can make that would not involve large numbers of forcefully expressed four letter words. People knew. Most of the people who knew did nothing. Animals died in the worst way.

Close the place down. Jail the worst offenders: don't just fine them, jail them. For a long time. Preferably without water or food, so they get an idea of what one animal went through.

Give the facility to TAS, with a budget to do the job. The people over there have shown they respect and care for their fellow creatures.

Ironic: TAS is supposed to be the pound, THS is supposed to be an adoption shelter.


Unknown said...

Excellent entry once again Fred and thanks for sharing this information with us.

I had no idea that THS had cameras throughout. I would love to know how the cost of these cameras was justified. This money, people's money, should have been spent on the animals they claim to be helping.

I have been so concerned for the animals currently at THS. I can't stop thinking of the suffering that poor cat trapped in the ceiling must have gone through. I think Tim Trow and his cronies need to spend some time with Basement Cat.

Social Mange said...

You missed option 3 for a volunteer. Speak up for the animals, and have Tim Trow scream and yell at you in front of people and fire you as a volunteer, removing your acccess to the building and the animals you were trying to help.

It's happened.

Karin said...

I visit the THS occasionally and the cameras have caught visitors feeding the dogs. Some dogs are on a diet and are not to have treats or human food. Or parents letting their little kids pet the dogs. The THS is not a petting zoo.

Ian said...

I`m stunned after reading about all of this.
The cat suffering in the live trap really says it all.
How do you forget that and how do you not hear the cat?It must have screamed for it`s life.

Anonymous said...

Why would THS have or need a 'party van'? What are they...12? Are they not supposed to be working?

JOanne said...

Somebody authorized the use of those live traps. Who? Since Tim Troll is seemingly supervising every aspect of THS operations, he must have known about or authorized or conceived it. Which one? If not him, who. It is hard to believe that this trap was used without the initiative, knowledge or consent of someone in management at the shelter. Which also begs the question, how the heck to get cats in the ceiling? Those traps make a lot of noise when they snap shut. The cats usually jump around in the cage, also making a lot of noise. They usually scream and hiss and holler. So what, no one heard it. A cat doesn't starve to death or die of dehydration takes a while, a long agonizing while for this poor little soul. And no one there thought, oh yeah, I put a trap in the ceiling perhaps I should check it....

Anonymous said...

None of this could have happened if membership in the Toronto Humane Society was open to all and not controlled though the use of proxy votes and other chicanery. This is not the first time the board has been hijacked by special interest groups and as long as proxy votes are allowed it won't be the last.

Agent 27

borderjack said...

Has Tim Trow ever been diagnosed of a mental illness?

Anonymous said...

The latest I heard is that the legal fees for Tim Trow and the othere will be covered by donation money? any truth to that? because I feel sick just thinking about that. And what happens to the poor animals when all the people who donate regularly just stop donating? Such a mess


Shells said...

I worked at the THS for 6 years, up until 3 years ago. I applaud the people who spoke us, as I could not. I left because my sanity was waning, and staying would have been acceptance of their methods. The THS is not a bad place, it is the people who run it - just as there are not bad dogs, just bad owners - and it can be restored to the place it once was that garnered a good and honourable reputation. Once of the hardest parts of working with animals is euthanasia, but going into working at an organization such as THS you know that those difficult decisions will have to be made. Ultimately the most humane decision is one to let an animal die with dignity. That has been lost at THS. I once sat with a dog in his final moments, as he took his last breath, when a vet would not euthanize, because no animal deserves to die alone.

Lynn said...

Thank you for the things you've written to date and I look forward to many more entries. I suspect this thing will take years to play out. The arrest of five high-ranking (appropriately, by the way, "rank" means really stinky too) officials from a humane agency must be unprecedented. I can't recall anything like this happening before.

In some sad way, the very fact that "society" cared enough to arrest these guys tells me that some progress is being made for animals. I think, in the past, such a case may have been written off and ignored. I'm following a case here in California ( where an assistant fire chief has been arrested on a sad, sad case of animal abuse. I just keep praying that he'll be convicted, because just that fact means to me that people are paying more attention to the rights and lives of animals.

Anyhow, thanks again.

Anonymous said...

The festering wound of inept management is finally in the open and can be healed. This high profile case, and the horror story of the cat in the ceiling, has sparked plenty of dialogue, which I hope does not get forgotten in the coming weeks.

I do hope that dialogue results in a greater awareness of the need for responsible pet ownership, spay/neuter, TNR for ferals, clampdowns on mills, and the more effective management of shelters that are not actually sheltering.

Trow is no Nathan Winograd, but with all the fuss about the THS euthanization rate, I'm surprised that only 7 animals have been euthanized by the OSPCA team, and according to today's news, no further euthanizations are expected.

A 40% average kill rate province-wide seems high to me. Presumably in this average, there are other societies at the other end of the scale with management issues. And some that ship their animals out after a very short period to kill shelters so their own statistics look good.

Shelagh said...

The cat in the ceiling was horrific, but there is another cat that is constantly on my mind.
She was having her cage cleaned and slipped out of her cage, and hid under a module of cages...
the workers cleaning the cages tried to coax her out, but Management came by and told them to stop bothering and go on to the next room to clean (no time to worry about one cat).
This little cat dived into what she thought was the safety of a cage module. Little did she know that it would be rolled into the sterilization room and she would be boiled to death. :'( I have nightmares about this little cat now.

Joanne said...

I wonder if the Crown Attorney would consider a deal whereby the charges are dropped and all those involved resign immediately and are banned for life from entering the premises of the THS. That would make way for the new board and save a load of money for legal fees which could be better spend on the feeding and care of the animals. The conviction against the board members seems unlikely and equally unlikely against Trow and his cronies. That might be the be possible solution. Everyone moves on quickly and changes for the better can be implemented immediately. Fred, it is a horrifying image to picture someone eating a cheese sandwich and sipping a grape juice while an animal dies of dehydration or starves to death above your head.

Anonymous said...

That was a great blog piece.
(1) Part of the bail conditions are that the accused do not speak to any employees or others. If anyone is contacted by any of the accused, I implore them to contact Toronto Police or the Crown.
(2) I wonder why only one supervisor and no non-managerial employees were charged? I suspect that supervisors who aided and abetted and were involved in cruelty by acts of ommission or commision confessed to the Crown and OSPCA in order to not be charged themeselves, and keep their jobs. Several of them were not allowed into the building, but many are.
(3) They were not charged (as of yet, because charges may still be pending) but they should all quit or be fired.
(4) I guess the idea is that we have to let these managers stay on because we need them to testify against Trow and the Board.

I'm glad that they are helping. I have only heard hearsay from one former supervisor who has taken responsibility. Otherwise, none have apologized, they don't even think they did anything wrong, or they claim to be victims themeselves as if they were bewitched or some such nonsense. At the very least they should apologize. I am glad that they are helping, but it is not a matter of suddenly developing a conscience.

There is a clear and distinct line between those supervisors and administration who collected high salaries and great benefits FROM those who spoke up, lost their jobs, contacted the OSPCA/CVO, campaigned and raised hell and risked SLAPP suits and THS retribution.

(5) And what of the OSPCA Agents Urlea, Robinson and Smith? There one job IS REPORTING ANIMAL CRUELTY. They took an oath to do so, they drone on about how terrible animal cruelty is, but failed to report one of the largest and most disturbing cases which was right there everyday they came into work, to the OSPCA. They should be charged with dereliction of duty. If they have any shame they would quit.

Shelagh said...

There is a THS bylaw that says that any legal fees will be covered by the THS/donations.

I have heard it takes 40 days for a cat to die of dehydration/starvation. That's a long time to "ignore" the cries of a trapped cat. The place was full of feral cats, but this one had a name, he was Casper. Humane traps are often used to capture feral cats but then the cat is put back into a safe cage not ignored while it suffers and dies.

Fred said...

Hi Karin, yes the cameras are ostensibly there to keep an eye on the public but hearing some of the stories from staffers and volunteers, the feeling is that that wasn't the only thing they were used for. The working environment at the THS has been reported by many volunteers and workers as being very oppressive and most everyone had to be very careful about what they said and to whom.

If you don't think THS management used the cameras to surveil their employees, I'll be putting up a post in the coming days which might change your mind.

Also, coming from Toronto Animal Services, where there are no cameras, I find the necessity to even spy on the public to be a somewhat dubious reason for so many cameras. Keeping sick and special needs animals out of the general public areas, good signage and friendly and prevalent staff go a long way to keeping people in line.

Shelagh, I'd heard from a few people about the boiled cat story. It's so fantastically grotesque that it's almost beyond eliciting any emotion from me. It's like reading about mass starvation in some foreign country. It's too much to comprehend.

redstarcafe, while 7 animals euthanized out of THS' several hundred is not bad, that number doesn't give any indication of the number of additional sick animals which weren't receiving proper care which they now are, sort of, because of the influx of vets into the facility. Also, I'd would've been surprised if the OSPCA had to immediately euthanize more animals immediately since the THS has probably been on guard knowing that they were under constant scrutiny.

The real hand wringing will come when animals start getting judged based on behaviour.

Anonymous said...

Fred, that's true about the condition of the animals in the "hospital", as Johanna McNaughton has indicated. And you're right - a next wave in this tsunami could be the behavioral issues. And what happens to Bandit.

Habibi said...

People who wish to donate to help the animals at the THS and NOT fund the legal expenses of Trow and his crew can make a donation through the OSPCA. The funds are earmarked for ONLY the animals at the THS if you specify this as your wish. If you are a current monthly donor, change your banking to reflect this, at least until new administration is in place.

Call 1-888-668-7722 and go to extension 322. Cathy will accept your donation and it will go right to the THS animals. Phones are a bit busy right now, so please leave a message if you must..... your kind gift will be arranged for ASAP!

Anne said...

As a shelter worker who has had to trap a cat or two in the ceiling (we had a bad run with too intelligent colony cats), how could they not check the trap? I'm pretty sure we checked ours like every 6 hours. We put a LB inside it overnight even

We have, on occasion, locked cat cages (usually kittens, or highly valuable small breed dogs). We used to lock every cat cage, but not anymore. We do experience a lot of animal theft, but we found more proactive CS helps limit theft and encourage handwashing moreso than padlocks

Vanessa said...

Bravo, Fred.

Bell the Cat said...

My daughter is currently an animal care worker at the THS and she and most of her co-workers are delerious with joy now that the OSPCA are on the premises. She says sanity has arrived and the animals are being assessed, receiving treatment, grooming has resumed (short staffing ruined that), rational scheduling is being implemented, smiles and pleasantries are everywhere in the building and the animals know it. I can't identify her or myself, but she attended a counselling group inside the THS yesterday (group counselling situation) where the staff talked about the years of abuse (animal and human) and learned about PTSD. So all is improving rapidly and radically. It MUST continue!

zerodivision said...

This is truly heartbreaking, I am glad something has finally been done about it. The more I read about this stuff, the more angry I become. I can't believe this has been going on for years. Tim Trow seems like he has some mental issues, possibly a hoarder or something that should have prevented him from being in the position he held for so long.

D said...

Just FYI, they put padlocks on some of the cages that contain kittens as they can easily be put into someone's purse and stolen.

Anonymous said...

There was s PTSD session, are you kidding me? Wow, the victim culture runs deep there. If they aren't responsible then they are saying nothing happened. And if nothing happened, then Trow and the rest didn't do anything wrong.
What kind of identity is it to be a victim, but a comfortable and dishonest one, where you deserve sympathy and praise for being a survivor but can never be held responsible. In other words, we are talking about children, and children shouldn't be running or working at a shelter where they can get hurt, where they think that just love is enough, and anything they do is okay as long as you keep repeating they love animals.
Sorry, let's face it, many people just needed to earn a living. At the same time I have a lot more sympathy for lying animal-abusing and abjectly incompetent supervisors, senior administrators, managers, admissions workers who manufactured reprimands, spread vicious rumours to humiliate people, ordered expired food, falsified records, denied people adoptions because they were fishing for a higher donation they might pocket THEN for someone who cleaned cages.
You know why they were understaffed with volunteers and paid employees - because the supervisors and managers who are still there fired and made them miserable. I repeat, they are still there. These supervisors and managers and some of these vicious employees. When I worked there there were 120 employees, I was part of a wave that got fired off the bat, two months later there were 30 of those left.
They say they were prevented from doing their jobs? I can understand that for the cleaners, but not the so-called vet techs. They wouldn't do their jobs because they had no idea how.
And now what are they doing there. Take a look at all the people in red THS jackets, there are more of them then there are cleaners. They were shelter administration, paid more then workers, and all they did is sit around all day. They loved it. There were more managers then there were workers, not as a union-busting tool (call everyone a supervisor but have them do union work), they just didn't do any work, it was simply low-level bribery and the chance to get on the camera.

Anonymous said...

You are my hero. Beauifully said and so accurate...except one thing. Nobody but management was allowed to smile at the THS. But we're all smiling now. :D

Habibi said...

Here is a link to the latest news I've seen just now:

I spent 8 hours at the THS today (Sunday) cleaning 34 cat cages. Aside from what was mentioned in the link, there were three cats in my room who had health concerns. One was a lovely black & white male with severe raw lesions around his neck. Another was a Persian with a lesion under his eye from discharge eating away at the skin and he was severely matted and had diahrrea. A third consumed three bowls of water while I was there - the vet took blood and found he was diabetic and removed him from the room. The black & white boy with the lesions is suspected of having a food allergy. I immediately changed his food to hypoallergenic and he ate three servings in quick succession.

The records on the cage doors are in total disarray - large gaps in information and pages going back to last summer in a mess. They have NO toys! These poor animals are sitting in cages for months with absolutely no stimulation or exercise.

It is absolutely astounding how many cats are in that building - remember the "Day in The Life" bull**** that was on the THS website in the summer? Those breezy spic and span hallways in the new "Cat whatever they call it"? Well kids, it is JAMMED with cages, many of them holding two or more. There is crap all over the floors - litter mixed with food and spilled water, and shredded paper, because they line the cages with paper and there are no toys, so what else is there to do for months on end?

It's disgusting and heart-wrenchingly sad. The people I worked with, outside my room were freindly and helpful enough, but not overly communicative. I learned that staff there were not allowed to converse much - just business, no enjoyable conversation. They are now realizing that the gestapo is gone and they can relax, so the atmosphere is becoming brighter now.

I'm going back on Tuesday and wish I could go more, but my own job is there to do too.

If anyone can help, they sure need it! Of course, there are security concerns....the place is basically still a "crime scene", but if you can spare the time, especially with the cats and are able to fit the profile of the helpers they need, please go!


Fred said...

Hi Habibi, I'm going to copy your comment to today's post as well. Thanks for the insight and the work you're doing at the THS.