Last month, the Newmarket SPCA decided to put down 350 animals due to a scourge of ringworm, sparking a huge public outcry. That incident had some people wondering where the concern is for the animals routinely put down at the Guelph Humane Society.
The Newmarket OSPCA attempt to put down some 350 animals for a fungal infection resulted in an outpouring of public support for the animals, along with calls for the Province of Ontario to establish some sort of oversight for the organization. But while all that goes on, an animal shelter in Guelph, Ontario puts down so many animals each year that some characterize the shelter as "kill happy."
On Wednesday, an outspoken Guelph Humane Society (GHS) board director once again brought her concerns about the GHS to the public. Fletcher wrote a letter to the editor, published in the Guelph Mercury, accusing her fellow GHS Board Directors of "abusing their position" during the annual election. Reached by telephone Wednesday, the "dissident" said there were several issues at the GHS with the two biggest being the shelters' use of a controversial drug for euthanizing animals along with the high euthanization rate.
The alleged conduct of certain board directors who comprise the GHS Executive is just one of many issues at the GHS. There are accusations of a lack of transparency and openness. Some GHS members wonder why the GHS has saved up over $2 million, consistently posting year-end surplusses, saying the money should go to caring for animals.
In spite of the money the organization has access to, the shelter facilities are inadequate and the GHS does not have a veterinarian on staff. Not only that, there is no shelter manager or Executive Director. An Inspector is pulling double-duty, acting as shelter manager while carrying out her other job.
Plans had been in the works to move into a new facility, but those plans were allegedly cancelled by the Executive in 2009, as was the Executive Director who had been spear-heading the move.
But aside from all these signs of dysfunction, the key problem areas at the shelter according to Fletcher are the 100 or so animals killed every month, and the way those animals are put down. Fletcher said the 115 year old institution did not go far enough to find alternatives to putting animals down, and she feels she has to speak up because "someone has to be a voice for the animals."
The Guelph Humane Society website says it takes in over 2,500 animals each year. From the numbers provided, it appears that only some 1,140 of those animals making it out of the shelter alive. The rest of the animals are put down, said Fletcher, in spite of most being healthy.
Guelph Humane Society
Spike, a dog staying with a foster family under the care of the Guelph Humane Society while waiting for an adoptive home.
The GHS uses a drug called T-61; which is not used by veterinarians in the United States and Great Britain. When administered properly, the drug is effective in putting animals down quickly and painlessly but, according to the American Humane Society, when not properly administered animals will suffer a painful death as they slowly suffocate. The Canadian Council on Animal Care said T-61 "... is not registered or restricted by the Bureau of Dangerous Drugs and may be used by non-medical, technical personnel. However, it must be ordered by a veterinarian and be shipped directly to the veterinary clinic involved. Its availability in other countries has been affected because of criticism levelled primarily as a result of failure to follow the manufacturer's direction for the dosage and the rate of injection. Although this is not a restricted drug, the same guidelines concerning its safekeeping apply as to any of the barbituric acid derivatives and anesthetics, for its use has been abused."
Fletcher said GHS staff injects T-61 directly into the hearts of animals, adding she believes the choice of drug contradicts the GHS principle of causing the animals in its care as little harm as possible. The preferred method of euthanasia is to overdose animals with barbiturates, but barbiturates can only be given by licenced veterinarians. The outgoing President of the GHS board, Simon McLatter, defended the shelter's use of T-61 on the grounds that only veterinarians can administer barbiturates -- and the GHS does not have a veterinarian.
Guelph City Councillor Vicki Beard's response is that the GHS should hire a veterinarian. Reached by telephone Friday, Beard questioned the GHS Board's position on the use of T-61, and wondered why the GHS did not have a relationship with the Ontario Veterinary College, which operates from the University of Guelph. While GHS provides contracted animal control services to the City, Beard said the GHS does not supply the City with statistics on how many animals are put down every year. Because of the shelter's use of T-61, Beard refused to approve awarding the annual contract for animal control to the GHS. Beard made a motion to have the GHS report back to the City "... with respect to ... public relations, euthanasia of cats, a veterinarian on staff and board functioning."
Former "dissident board directors" Barbara Miller and veterinarian Dr. Kate Flanigan sought re-election to the Board this spring, but lost their seats, something Miller blamed on alleged secret campaigning by a few Board Directors. The executive is secretive, she said, saying that in 2009 a request for the membership list was denied, resulting in the dissident board directors having to obtain a subpoena to get access to the information. While disappointed not to be re-elected, Miller said she was also relieved. Miller was particularly critical of the adoption fees the GHS charges, saying a rate of "300 and some dollars for an old cat that's already been spayed or neutered" discourages adoption.
Attempts to speak to the GHS to confirm facts and get the other side of the story proved to be difficult. The acting shelter manager was too busy. The new President of the Board, David Young, responded later Friday afternoon, saying he wanted to schedule a face-to-face interview for next week. "There are answers and explanations for everything," Young said, "because there is nothing out of the ordinary ... the information is not correct that is out there." Young otherwise refused to discuss any of the allegations or accusations.
When it comes to oversight, the OSPCA does not have jurisdiction, and, barring financial irregularities, the only authority that can turn the organization around is the Board of Directors, said a staff person at at the OSPCA.
For her part, Miller and others have started a new animal organization in Guelph called SAVE, a project that is the brain child of Flanigan. SAVE, Save Animals Versus Euthanizing would be an alternative rescue for the animals in Guelph and area, ultimately with a shelter. "We're here to not change an old system that has become entrenched, but to build new," Miller said. SAVE had its first meeting on June 1, and will soon be proceeding with a website and enewsletter, as well as fund raising and drafting by-laws. SAVE would have low adoption fees and would also provide low-cost neuter and spaying services for animals needing a home.
Including the GHS, there are seven animal welfare organizations in the Guelph area.
* Note: this article was corrrected to say "consistently posted year-end surpluses" instead of "profits." A charitable organization does not have profits.
June 5: Corrections: Barbara Miller wanted it noted that the cost of spay/neuter is around $250.00. The article has been amended to reflect the fact that Dr. Kate Fanigan was the person who dreamed-up SAVE.
Correction of a Correction, June 6: The name SAVE was created by Jackie Cooper and Mike Seeman. As reported, SAVE is a collaborative venture.