TORONTO––Nearly 30 years of turmoil over control of the Toronto Humane Society reignited on November 26, 2009 when Ontario SPCA investigators backed by Toronto police arrived at the THS shelter with search warrants and led THS president Tim Trow, veterinarian Steve Sheridan, general manager Gary McCracken, and senior staff members Romeo Bernadino and Andy Bechtel out of the building in handcuffs.
Trow was reportedly charged with cruelty to animals, conspiracy to commit cruelty to animals, and obstruction of a peace officer. The others were reportedly charged only with cruelty. “The search warrants gave the Ontario SPCA access to animal adoption, veterinary, and financial records,” according to Toronto Star staff reporters David Bruser and Raveena Aulakh. “THS was closed indefinitely after the raid.”
President defied pit bull ban
“Trow was in the ninth year of his second stint as THS president. Sheridan is a 35-year employee. Trow and Sheridan face criminal charges of animal cruelty for running a dysfunctional shelter where animals were allegedly denied food and water and left to die suffering in their cages,” wrote Kate Hammer of the Toronto Globe & Mail, whose June 2009 exposés brought some of the allegations against Trow and Sheridan to light.
“Toronto police moved into Trow’s second-floor office,” Hammer wrote, “where Bandit, Trow’s rescued pit bull/Labrador cross, lunged at them. They pepper-sprayed the dog. Bandit first made news in 2003,” Hammer recalled, when he bit a three-year-old s head, “leaving a gash that required 200 stitches. The city ordered Bandit euthanized, but Toronto Humane refused and the dog came to live in Trow’s office. Former staff said that Bandit was aggressive and badly bit at least two more people.”
The biting incidents were described in a 2006 report produced by The Investigators Group, a private security firm commissioned by the Ontario SPCA. Compiled shortly after the Ontario banned pit bulls, except for those who were already in the province, licensed, vaccinated, and sterilized, the Investigators Group report documented Trow’s alleged involvement in relocating pit bulls to the U.S.
“According to financial documents from August obtained by the Star, the humane society owed more than $750,000 to various vendors,” wrote Toronto Star staff reporter Jesse McLean. Some of the bills were later paid, McLean found, but J&D Benefits on December 4, 2009 sent notice to the Toronto Humane Society that an employee benefits package had lapsed because of nonpayment of $30,000 in premiums, and Toronto Central Animal Clinic head vet Ahmad Badri told McLean that the clinic was owed more than $30,000, including $8,000 due since 2008.
But Hammer of the Globe & Mail reported on December 4, 2009 that the Animal Care Review Board, an independent panel that oversees the Ontario SPCA, “found that only one of four cats who were the subjects of neglect reports in June 2009, leading to her original investigation, were in distress as legally defined. The other three,” Hammer wrote, “were not in distress because they were under the care of head veterinarian Sheridan. The concerns raised by the Ontario SPCA’s veterinarian,” they decided, boiled down to a difference of professional opinion.
Cat “in distress” but no criminal charges
The board found that the fourth cat “was in distress because she hadn’t been seen by a veterinarian in over two weeks,” despite having visible symptoms of illness.
The June 2009 complaints were similar to those of November 2009, but did not result in criminal charges.
Hired to represent the Toronto Humane Society and two of the arrested staff, attorney Frank Addario denounced the “tabloid-style investigation” by the Ontario SPCA. “There are humane societies that won’t take in pit bulls,” Addario said. “Toronto Humane does. There are also different approaches to euthanasia but they are reasonable differences, based on beliefs held in good faith by people with different approaches to the issue.”
The College of Veterinarians of Ontario inspects the Toronto shelter annually, “and reaccredited the Toronto Humane Society on November 19, 2009,” Addario pointed out to McLean of the Star.
However, “the college only accredits veterinary clinics, not entire animal shelters,” McLean observed.
Accreditation focuses on the required standard of equipment, drugs and record keeping at the veterinary clinic, affirmed College of Veterinarians of Ontario spokesperson Martin Fisher.
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources officers on December 1, 2009 relocated seven animals from Toronto Humane to the Toronto Wildlife Centre in Downsview Park.
Ontario SPCA investigator Kevin Strooband told Toronto Star staff reporter Daniel Dale that the animals were moved because THS veterinarian Sheridan “now faces criminal charges, including animal cruelty, and his bail conditions prevent him from working at the shelter,” Dale wrote.
“The wildlife centre housed fewer than 10 animals,” Dale wrote. “It has been the target of frequent criticism since it was founded in the mid-1980s,” including complaints about understaffing and poor training from veterinarian Sue Carstairs and vet tech Sandra Prins, who resigned in 2006.
Raccoons released on board member’s farm
“The centre was also criticized in 2006 by Kip Parker, the wildlife director of Earth Rangers, a Woodbridge wildlife rehabilitation agency which once had a contract with THS to take in animals whom the humane society had first stabilized,” Dale recounted.
“Toronto Humane Society documents obtained by the Star appear to show that THS has violated provincial regulations by releasing wildlife captured in Toronto to the Newmarket-area farm of a board member,” Dale continued. “Under Ontario rules, rehabilitated adult wildlife must be released a maximum of one kilometer from the site of capture,” Dale explained. “But according to kennel cards obtained by the Star, three raccoons captured in downtown Toronto in 2007 were released to Bud’s farm, the farm of board member Bud Walters.”
The Ontario rules are intended to inhibit the spread of disease, especially rabies, occurring among raccoons in the Toronto area at the time the rules were introduced.
Walters, 85, told Dale that his 90 acres of forest, with three ponds, is “a perfect spot for animals,” but said he had no specific recollection of the releases.
Star national affairs columnist Thomas Walkom termed the November 26, 2009 raid and ensuing developments part of a long-running dispute over the direction of the Toronto Humane Society, which is the largest humane organization in Canada, with an annual budget of about $10 million.
It was “Tim Trow s stubborn insistence on minimizing euthanasia that finally led the Ontario SPCA to launch the investigation,” Walkom assessed. “Trow said he was protecting animals. His critics claimed his no-kill policy left too many to die in pain.”
Walkom’s wife, former Toronto Star journalist Charlotte Montgomery, in her 2000 book Blood Relations described the first 20 years of the struggles for control of the Toronto Humane Society.
Trow, who first headed THS from 1982 to 1984, introduced a no-kill policy. Robert Hambley, acting president after Trow’s arrest, was a board member. Backed by the Ontario SPCA, then-THS chief vet Angelo Filiplic in 1983 “charged that the shelter’s no-kill policy was cruel to animals,” Walkom summarized. Trow was ousted, but “In 1986,” Walkom continued, “activists dissatisfied with what they saw as the society’s overly cautious approach amassed enough proxy votes to take over the board of directors. In effect, they staged a coup.”
The Vicki Miller era
For the next four years the Toronto Humane Society was led by a team including Ark II animal rights group founders Vicki Miller and Kathie Hunter; film maker Stephen Best; longtime Toronto Star nature columnist Barry Kent Mackay; Animal Alliance of Canada founder Liz White; ZooCheck Canada founder Rob Laidlaw; and longtime Greenpeace Canada environmental health coordinator Holly Penfound.
Miller, as Toronto Humane Society president, discontinued the no-kill policy. But she also introduced a low-cost dog and cat sterilization program that cut animal control impoundments by 60% in six years.
Meanwhile, having underbid a laboratory supply company to win the Toronto animal control sheltering contract before Miller’s tenure, THS accumulated an operating deficit that peaked four years after Miller’s departure at $9.2 million. Miller was ousted, Walkom recalled, when Hambley––by this time treasurer––gathered enough proxy votes to stage a counter coup.
“I don’t believe it was ever the intention of the people who founded the society to fund radical animal protectionists and to get involved in concerns, however legitimate, such as the fur trade or the seal hunt,” said Jake McLoughlin, who succeeded Miller.
The Miller team scattered, but “Battles continued over charges that the society was unduly secretive,” Walkom summarized. “In 1996, a Toronto councillor quit the THS board because, she said, her attempts to discover financial information had been stonewalled. In one of the most bizarre defenses of its opaque operating style, the society countered it needed to keep its affairs secret in order to deter terrorists.”
THS lost the animal control contract in April 2000. As the society again went no-kill, by default, laying off 15 staffers, Trow and another former board president, Brenda Bronfman-Thomas, in 2001 led another coup.
Dead cat find
“Euthanasia, at one time the core of the critique against Trow s regime has quietly receded from centre stage,” Walkom asserted. “According to the Ontario SPCA, only about 10 of the roughly 1,000 animals in the Toronto Humane Society s care have been put down after the November 26, 2009 raid.
Even the discovery of a mummified cat found trapped in the crawl space between floors raises more questions than it answers,” contended Walkom. “The cat apparently died of starvation and dehydration after being caught in a cage trap. Ontario SPCA investigators found and displayed the remains for media, telling reporters that they searched the crawl space in response to a tip.
“But if someone knew a cat had been inadvertently trapped for months above the ceiling at the shelter, why did he wait until the Ontario SPCA raid to mention it?” asked Walkom. According to Toronto Humane Society records the cat was adopted out, then returned to the society, and was euthanized in October 2008.
Toronto Humane Society back in shelter
TORONTO––The Ontario SPCA returned management of the Toronto Humane Society to THS on April 1, 2010, under an agreement ratified by Superior Court Justice David Brown, but the THS shelter is to remain closed for six weeks, from April 12 to June 1, while the building is cleaned and the staff are retrained.
THS was given the first 12 days of April to find homes for about 200 animals remaining at the shelter. Any animals not placed by April 12 were to be surrendered to the Ontario SPCA.
The 13 present THS board members are to resign before a May 30 board election. Tim Trow, THS president since November 2001, resigned on January 26, 2010. Trow and seven other THS personnel are facing charges including conspiracy and neglect of animals. The Ontario SPCA began charging THS key personnel after raiding THS–for the second time in five months–in November 2009.
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