Toronto Humane Society raided, execs arrested, by Ontario SPCA

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November/December 2009:
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.
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 bull terriers, 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.”
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 Res-ources
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.
“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
kilometre from the site of capture,” Dale
expalined. “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.”
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 Green-peace 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 defences 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.
“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.

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