Posts Tagged 'Toronto Animal Services'

AIC is going to lay low over the summer and come back revamped by fall.  Here are two unmitigated downers to mull over in the meantime.

Statistics . . .

On Friday, Manitou RCMP went to the property in the RM of Lorne. Officers discovered as many as 500 dead pigs, along with about 160 that were so sick that they had to be put down. Many of the animals were found living without proper food, water or ventilation.

 RCMP said evidence of “severe neglect” was observed. About 2,000 animals were rescued.

. . . tragedy.

I’m very sad to say that Sunny also had to be put down recently. Sunny was surrendered to the shelter back in August 2009, and he was a super-sweet, cuddly older boy. He was finally adopted in December, only to be returned two months later. He was clearly depressed to be back in the shelter, and his awesome personality quickly disappeared. He stayed in the corner, not moving, not interested in people. And then recently, he started biting people when they tried to pet him. Four months had passed since he’d been returned, it was clear no one was going to adopt him, he was depressed and he was going to hurt someone.

Weird society

A letter re: OSPCA protests.

What a weird society. More than 100 protesters want charges laid against the OSCPA for “causing unnecessary suffering, pain and death to the animals under its care.” I wonder how many of those people eat pork coming from those “torture camps” where a female pig lives a life in a cage so small it can’t even turn around or lie down into a comfortable position.

The misery some animals have to endure before they make it to our dinner plates sounds to me like a higher priority on the scale of animal abuse that needs our attention. I would stack a pig’s level of conscientiousness or emotional sophistication right up there with dogs and cats.

I am still a conflicted carnivore. The romantic notion of a hunter bringing down a noble pig that has lived a good life is long gone. But, I wish we could step back a bit from our business model that raises our food animals in such a despicable, horrible environment that squeezes the most profit and productivity without any compassion.

It is amazing to hear about the tears, despair, anger and outrage directed at people trying to humanely manage the lives of certain animals and the deafening silence in response to institutionalized systematic animal abuse.

Russell Pangborn, Keswick

 I wrote a letter to The Star that was somewhat similar to Russell’s:

The OSPCA’s response to the ringworm outbreak at its Newmarket shelter is indeed upsetting, but it needs to be seen in context.  Every day, shelters across Ontario “euthanize” animals that don’t even have ringworm due to lack of space.  Three out of every four cats admitted to the Lincoln County Humane Society, for example, never leave.  In 2008, the Kingston Humane Society put down 1092 cats and dogs out of 3000 admitted.  And in 2007, Toronto Animal Services killed 55% of the 8991 cats and dogs it took in.

Moreover, every year millions of animals are slaughtered in Canada not because they are ill, and not because we’ve run out of room for them, but because we like the taste of their flesh.  These animals are as capable of, and as interested in, living meaningful lives as the animals in our shelters and in our homes.  I am not suggesting we throw up our hands at these statistics and our contradictory reactions to them.  (Nor am I suggesting the above-mentioned shelters are not doing their best with the resources they have access to.)  Rather, I’m suggesting that the news from Newmarket is yet another indication of  how important it is that all of us reevaluate our relationships with non-human animals.

Probably I shouldn’t have used the word “flesh”.

Too many animals

Spay Neuter Kingston Initiative clarifies some statistics.

There were a number of times during our conversation when the figure of 5,000 was referenced. Over 5,000 animals were spayed or neutered at the OSPCA high volume clinic in Newmarket last year. I made reference to the fact that the City of Toronto reported thousands of animals euthanized every year via Animal Services. OSPCA shelter figures across Ontario are in the thousands. I am not certain if I misunderstood a question she asked or if she misunderstood the figures to which I was referring.

The overriding issue remains: too many animals are being abandoned or surrendered. There are not enough homes for all of them. There are not enough resources in shelters and municipal budgets to effectively care for them all. Killing the “surplus“ animals should not be the default mechanism for dealing with the problem. It does not work. Numbers of animals coming into shelter increase every year. So do operating costs for shelters. And so do the numbers of euthanasias. According to Janet M. Scarlett, DVM, MPH, PhD, Professor of Epidemiology at Cornell University, There is no disease or condition of companion animals that takes more of their lives than euthanasia.

Cat surrender

Etobicoke Humane Society rescues 28 cats.

“I couldn’t last more than 10 minutes without my throat and chest hurting, it was so bad in there. Nothing should live in that house,’’ said the Humane Society’s Jerry Higgins, who investigated a cat hoarding on Saturday in central Etobicoke.

Mr. Higgins said he found garbage and cockroaches everywhere, feces, urine and a strong smell of ammonia in the house, in the Kipling and Eglinton area.

Toronto Animal Services had been investigating for a year after numerous complaints regarding the smell, but had been unsuccessful in entering the house, inhabitated by a woman and her adult daughter, but Mr. Higgins said he was able to get through to one of the women on the phone.

After convincing them he was acting in the animals’ best interests, the women surrendered all 28 cats willfully.

Cat problem solved: Justine Pimlott’s Cat City

 Cat City, directed by Justine Pimlott, Red Queen Productions, 54 minutes

Canada has a cat problem. Here’s how it’s made the news in the past month:

Nova Scotia’s Litters n’ Critters was “overwhelmed” when it was asked to take in twenty-eight cats and kittens from one home; the group was struggling to find homes for cats they already had, and, as president Shelley Cunningham plaintively remarked, “There are so many cats out there.” Also in Nova Scotia, Annapolis County’s Companion Animal Protection Society celebrated its fifth anniversary while dealing with a “bumper crop” of kittens. Eight-year-old Community Feline Rescue in Manotick continued to try to deal with the village’s still-growing feral communities, while the Peterborough Humane Society took in the surviving members of a box of cats that sat at the side of a road for about five days, despite the fact that the Society has had a waiting list to take in cats for two years. Winnipeg’s Nancy Swaine applied for an excess animal permit so that she could keep twenty-six cats and foster five in her home; over the past fifteen years she’s rescued about one hundred cats from the campus of the University of Manitoba, where she works. Last Chance Cat Rescue said there were “thousands of feral cats” in Lethbridge’s industrial area, while the Lethbridge Humane Society lamented that “There’s a lot of people that simply don’t care.” The Pincher Creek SPCA announced they were at capacity, and asked that “if people want to get rid of a cat, that you hold off until the new year when hopefully we can get our cat population down,” and just over the provincial border someone tried to solve Golden’s stray cat problem by leaving antifreeze out. The Kitimat Humane Society turned into a “dumping ground”: they juggled thirty-two cats in space meant for twenty-five; in November they’d put down thirty cats when their numbers reached two hundred. Vancouver’s Orphan Kitten Rescue found itself in “dire straits”: in a typical year the group takes in around 800 cats, but 2008 was not a typical year.

Of course, the biggest story was the continuing fallout from the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ raid of the Toronto Humane Society, where about 1,000 cats were housed and, according to the OSPCA, often neglected. On a similar note, the no-kill Owen Sound Animal Shelter was accused of euthanizing adoptable cats without sedation or leaving them to die in their cages without treatment, and the board of Georgian Bay Animal Rescue was dissolved in the wake of allegations of cat neglect. The Sarnia Humane Society felt compelled to distance itself from THS et al, and announced that they euthanized 1,600 animals in 2008. Manager Tami Holmes remarked “Unfortunately the cat population in Lambton County is extremely high right now . . . We have too many coming in to be able to house.”

The scale of the problem is overwhelming. The people trying to solve it – almost all volunteers, and almost all women, incidentally – are often overwhelmed. Political leadership is virtually non-existent. And outside, where most of the cats in question live, it’s freezing cold.

It’s the perfect time, in other words, to cozy up in front of a television and watch Justine Pimlott’s Cat City. Pimlott’s documentary looks at Canada’s cat problem as seen from Canada’s largest city, and then it does something incredible: it proposes cogent solutions. All in only fifty-four minutes, and all without sacrificing aesthetics or narrative to politics.

Cat City is, first of all, a gorgeous movie. Toronto looks bad here – the city’s Animal Services alone killed 4,130 cats in 2007 – but from a misty morning on the Scarborough bluffs to a bitter winter afternoon in an empty boatyard to a series of evenings in nameless, weedy alleyways, Toronto looks great here. And no matter how scrappy or neglected, the cats look great, too. Here’s a barely five second clip: two carriers sit next to one another in the back seat of a car; we see a closeup of the one on the right, its rusty wire door lit by harsh sunlight, its interior dark; a black kitten squints in the light and gnaws on its new cage, then retreats back into darkness; the car pulls out of a parking lot, and we see the second carrier, bouncing around a bit and glowing within, the sunlight diffused by yellow and red plastic; the cat inside, wide-eyed and startlingly black and white, peers through white, widely-spaced wire bars, then looks for a place to hide. Even when her subjects aren’t cooped up, Pimlott finds ways to engage with them and to show us their world from their vantage points. The images she records are, in and of themselves, moving; in context, they’re rather devastating. 

Cat City is also full of great stories. Robert Brydges, his mother dying of cancer, started to feed a colony of feral cats in the Bluffs: “I made a promise to them that I’d be here for them for the rest of their lives, that no matter what was going on in my life I’d be here for them.” He ended up meeting his girlfriend there, too. Shirley had prayed that someone would take care of the colony, and within a week Brydges showed up. As Shirley puts it, “this place became like a sanctuary for him.”

Just north of the city, seventy-nine-year-old Joyce Smith has set up Second Chance sanctuary. There are about two hundred cats at Second Chance – the overflow, about one hundred cats, live in Smith’s house. She, too, has made a kind of promise: “I don’t want them to have, if I can help it, any more bad times in their life, they’ve already had enough.”

There is humour in these stories. Brydges announces his plan to capture Cheshire, the last unsterilized cat in his colony; Cheshire immediately looks up from licking his balls and stares at the camera; Pimlott plays a Pink Pantheresque tune while Rob makes a pretty inept attempt to snare Cheshire with what looks like an oversized butterfly net; Shirley sits at her picnic table cracking up. And at Second Chance, Smith rejects the suggestion that she’s “eccentric”: “I haven’t got any money, only rich people are eccentric, I’m just crazy.” These stories have compelling arcs, too, and while one of them illustrates the capacity that cats have to give back to the humans that care for them, the other makes it clear that Canada’s cat problem is hurting humans, too.

Ferne Sinkins, for example, has “gone through burnout about five times” since founding Toronto Cat Rescue in 1994. “People who are cat lovers live in a constant state of trauma,” she says matter-of-factly, “because what they love the most is so mistreated.” Sinkins has dedicated her “entire life” to trying to help cats; her knowledge and experience, her organizing and frontline work, constitutes the core of Cat City. She doesn’t once smile, but she does offer systemic solutions to Toronto’s problem. Pimlott describes Toronto Cat Rescue as seeking “radical change,” but the only thing radical about Sinkins’ solutions is how unambiguous and achievable they are: a bylaw that compels any group that adopts cats out to have them sterilized before they leave the premises; a bylaw that requires all owned cats to be sterilized; a low-cost spay/neuter clinic in an accessible area.

Ferne’s proposals are backed up by Bill Bruce, Calgary’s director of Animal Services. Bruce is reflective – “perhaps the wisdom isn’t there yet, people haven’t learned enough about how to be a good companion to your cat” – but he, too, is absolutely clear: “because cats are such successful reproducers, you will never build your way out of this problem. Every time a new shelter gets built, within days or a week at the most, it’s full.” (Apologies to Kawartha Lakes, Durham, Vaughan, and Pembina Valley, all of whom made the news in the past month as their new shelters took shape, to the tune of approximately $3.85 million total.) In Calgary, “money from cat licensing is going directly to a free spay/neuter clinic”; the city’s goal is to empty its shelters. To that end, cat rescue groups, the local humane society, and city council are working in harmony.

Canada’s cat problem, then, doesn’t have to be overwhelming. There are selfless, heroic people working to solve it. There are simple solutions readily available. It’s still freezing cold outside, but the days are getting longer. And in Toronto, there’ll be a municipal election on October 25. It’s the perfect time, in other words, to cozy up to your local candidates and ask them what they plan to do to fix Toronto’s cat problem.



Yann Martel's Beatrice & Virgil


Trevor Herriot


Erika Ritter


Toronto's cat problem


Don LePan


Don LePan's Animals


Justine Pimlott's Cat City


Erika Ritter's The Dog by the Cradle, the Serpent Beneath