Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Toronto Humane Society – Humane Care?

Photo of a dog behind a chain-link fence at th...Image via Wikipedia

Last November, Canada’s largest city witnessed something most unusual – the very people charged with taking care of the city’s injured and abandoned animals was itself facing charges of animal cruelty.

On November 26, the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) and officers from the Toronto Police Service raided the Toronto Humane Society’s River Street shelter. They claimed the shelter was no place for the humane treatment of animals, as they carted off numerous cats and dogs which were kept in overcrowded conditions. There were reports that some of the animals were in such cramped conditions, they were sleeping in their own feces and urine.

Five of the highest ranked Toronto Humane Society leaders – including former President Tim Trow – were charged with animal cruelty.

Today, the employees charged were allowed back inside the animal shelter, for the first time since this oddball case erupted.

What’s really odd about this is the fact that the Toronto Humane Society might not be the safest place for a sick, injured or abandoned animal.

Every summer, there are always stories about some jerk-ass that leaves his poor dog sweating in a car with all the windows closed on one of the hottest days of the year. People like that deserve to be charged with animal cruelty, and banned forever from ever owning a pet.

But those who work and volunteer at animal shelters usually are the least likely to be suspected of animal cruelty – if we suspect them of anything, it is having a big heart where our four-legged friends are concerned.

So how did one of the largest domestic animal shelters in Canada end up facing animal cruelty charges?

The problem isn’t the hearts of those managing the Toronto Humane Society, or rather – it is their hearts, just in a different kind of way.

The philosophy of the Toronto Humane Society has been for some time, to avoid euthanizing animals as much as possible – keep the stray and abandoned animals. Not a bad philosophy, and it shows just how big the hearts of those running the Toronto Humane Society are.

Most shelters will keep strays and abandoned animals only for a set period of time, hoping someone adopts the animals before the time runs out.

The Toronto Humane Society’s philosophy, while their hearts are in the right place, actually causes more harm than good. Because eventually, as more animals end up at the shelter, overcrowding ensues, and you end up with a shelter not fit for any living thing.

Yes, it is always hard to end a cute cat or dog’s life – but sleeping in one’s own urine and feces isn’t any better. In fact it is worse, because that’s how diseases spread, not just among the animals, but there is also a health risk to the staff, the volunteers and the visitors to the shelter as well.

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) originated in a cat in China, and quickly spread around the globe. Germ warfare once was only a human-made thing, now we really do live in a society where all living things are at greater risks of spreading microscopic killing machines across species. Thanks to our increased use of antibiotics and other medicines over the years, microbes have become more resistant to these chemical cures, and so the fear of catching something from Fluffy is a legitimate concern.

Which is why the OSPCA did the right thing in forcing a cleanup of the Toronto Humane Society. What both the OSPCA and the Toronto Humane Society really need to do is better educate the public on the enormous responsibility of pet ownership.

Animal shelters wouldn’t overflow with unwanted pets if people knew just how great a responsibility pet ownership was, before they became pet owners, and realized they weren’t able to do so.

Raising a cat or a dog is a lot like raising a child, the only difference is, eventually the child will grow up, move out and have his or her own life. A dog or a cat – or any other pet – is dependent on their owner for life, for their life.

The most “humane” society’s are the ones with the biggest public education campaigns, not the ones which overcrowd their animals, because they can’t do the right thing.

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