Toronto Humane Society Explains Shelter Pet Killings

Garth Jerome, the Executive Director of the Toronto Humane Society (THS) has posted a letter on the shelter’s website in response to the public outcry over the killing of 25 pets last week.  It reads, in part:

The process around assessing the health and well-being of these 6 dogs has been exhaustive. We understand that for many people there is a huge emotional connection to these animals. For that reason, a number of procedures were followed to ensure that the decisions were fair and objective:

  1. An in-house SAFER test was performed an all the dogs.
  2. A number of rescue groups were approached to assess the dogs, with their own tests.
  3. A “scorecard system”, developed by veterinarians was used to assess health, pain, suffering, temperament and many other parameters.
  4. Independent consultants were asked to evaluate the dogs, based on their current condition.
  5. Once all this data was collated, a panel of 8 persons, comprising veterinarians, representatives of the OSPCA and the THS, met to decide on their outcomes.
  6. This meeting was scheduled to take place on Thursday, April 1, 2010. Due to a number of concerns around safety of employees, volunteers and the animals themselves, this meeting was moved to Friday, March 26, 2010, as a matter of urgency.

The Toronto Humane Society was required to consider additional factors in this decision. While tentative agreements were made to place some of these dogs in rescues, there are legal obstacles which have presented themselves. A number of the dogs had severe temperament concerns and aggression. Many had bite orders. All of these factors need to be considered when deciding on the most humane course of action, within the bounds of the law.

Once the animals were evaluated, euthanasia decisions were made on 6 of the animals assessed. These 6 dogs were not able to be adopted, fostered or transferred. The only outcome for them was to live in the shelter indefinitely. That is not an acceptable animal care practice. The THS made the extremely difficult, but appropriate decision.

SAFER test – meh.

“A number of rescue groups” and “independent consultants” – Any who are willing to go on record and stand by their evaluations?  I am interested to hear from these rescue groups and consultants to learn the qualifications of the individuals doing the testing and the tests they used.

Scorecard developed by Vets – Ix-nay on ets-vay evaluating emperament-tay.  They should eval the dogs for physical health only, unless they themselves are also behaviorists.

Taking Mr. Jerome at his word, I take it these dogs were so dangerous that, although they’d been living at the shelter for years, they couldn’t be kept alive another 6 days until the scheduled meeting.  OK, if they were truly that dangerous, how come so many people affiliated with THS had a “huge emotional connection” to them?  Is this like those TV shows about women who start up relationships with mass murderers in prison?  Because honestly, I don’t get how you can acknowledge the bond between these dogs and the shelter workers in the same breath as implying that any one of these dogs might have killed someone tomorrow.

As I’ve said before, I do understand and agree with the euthanasia decisions that sometimes have to be made in the case of dogs deemed dangerous where no reasonable sanctuary option exists.  That said, Ima go ahead and call bullshit on your justification for killing these dogs.  I don’t know the details on the 19 cats but I doubt they were dangerous.  And I’m highly suspicious that all 19 were deemed medically hopeless and suffering on the same day.  Unless you have thousands of cats in your care, 19 long term shelter residents just aren’t going to all reach the point where death is a kindness in one day.

I hope some of my experienced trainer and rescuer friends will chime in with their opinions.  And anyone else who’d like to contribute to the discussion too.  Please read Mr. Jerome’s entire statement and see if you glean anything from it that I may have missed.

21 thoughts on “Toronto Humane Society Explains Shelter Pet Killings

  1. make that 31 cats, in 3-4 days –

    and yeah, these dogs were so dangerous that indeed, those of us who knew them quaked in fear- from being licked to death or having our hands fall off from belly rubs.

    ONE dog, Tiger had a bite “history” – he bit a new volunteer who despite repeated ‘warnings’ – flinching, backing away, pulling away, lifting his lip THEN growling and the new volunteer (‘trained’ and okayed by ospca new volunteer director) PERSISTED in trying to get a coat on him – not ONE other person that I know of had ANY issues with Tiger who was a sweet, high energy, wonderful dog.

    Janey- the only dog I might have considered with serious issues was not a pit bull – she was a pug/terrier mix – and was extremely fear aggressive. Despite that a nubmer of us had no big issue bringing her out for her run in the park (before we were banned from taking any of these dogs).

    i too would like to know who their “experts were” as if anything, the two dogs we sent to New Brunswick were more challenging than any of the ones killed on Friday AND they found happy homes within 2 weeks and by all reports from the rescue which took them, they weer (which we KNEW) WONDERFUL dogs!

  2. Biscuit and Selkie, I don’t see any clarity in that letter either to explain why these animals suddenly had to be euthanized. I don’t understand why the logistics of getting the five dogs to rescue were suddenly insurmountable. What I see is knee-jerk reactions, politics, questionable management, a mess that has been drawn out way too long, and shredded credibility.

  3. An evaluation test is only as good as the person doing the evaluating.

    Someone who truly knows dogs and cares about their welfare can get a very good idea of what a dog is like even when s/he’s required to use a less than ideal test.

    And – it doesn’t matter what test someone who doesn’t know dogs, doesn’t care about dogs or who sees the deaths of shelter dogs as ‘unavoidable’ uses. A person like this will give the test, record the results and move on to the next thing.

    Another day, another death. Nothin’ to see here folks, just move along…

    1. Good point. A qualified individual is going to override the results from a poor test I would think anyway. That is, even if the test came out as “dangerous”, if the evaluator got a different impression, he would surely say so and indicate that somewhere. The same for a dog who tested “safe” but the evaluator had the opposite impression. That’s why I’d really like to know the details on these tests and the people performing them. I’d also love to see the actual test sheets.

  4. On a further note – Jackie Clements who spoke to the press at a small protest against the euthanisias which took place outside the River Street building on Sunday has been suspended from dog walking ‘indefinitely’. When I went in tonight i was told the Dog Walking program was suspended entirely “indefinitely” until there “are more dogs”. We are not allowed in as of tomorrow morning.

    1. Doesn’t exactly sound like the actions of a shelter who stands behind their words. What happened to Mr. Jerome’s extended hand of warmth and gratitude?
      You dare question us? Fine we’ll punish the dogs!

  5. I refuse to believe what this Jerome guy says. I’ll believe shelter workers any day. He is covering up…there was nothing wrong with those murdered dogs!

  6. I can’t sort out the fiasco in Toronto. Seems like there are ample supplies of jerks and nutters to go around there.

    If the six dogs had been languishing at the THS for many months, or even years, then my first question is, why wasn’t something decided and implemented about each of them long before the OSPCA took over? Either euthanasia or rescue or adoption or sanctuary. It does nothing to support no-kill ideals to actually warehouse dogs with bite histories.

    I am loathe to reflexively second-guess evaluations, or demand the documents, from the entity that is legally and morally responsible both for them and to them, unless that entity has shown itself to be kill-happy or otherwise unreliable in the past.

    Shelters and rescues need to be able to operate without having *every* decision second-guessed and scrutinized.

    At the same time, who caused the hostile and adversarial relationship with at least some of the volunteers?

    Honestly, I’m finding *everybody* in Toronto to be an unreliable reporter about *something.*


    1. I agree in general that we don’t want to hold every shelter or evaluator’s decision under a microscope. But I think that given the sordid history at THS, and the extremely unlikely prospect (in my view) that 25 pets HAD to be killed in one night, the public has a right to demand “extra” accountability in this case. *If* everything was truly on the up and up, as the director’s letter leads one to believe, I see no reason for the emergency, after hours meeting or for telling the volunteers they can’t come back. Further, I think it would go a long way toward reassuring the public if THS offered greater transparency, at least in this case. And finally, I keep going back in my mind to the cats. There seems to be no reasonable explanation there which again, makes me lean toward demanding increased accountability.

  7. I’m beyond words… the latest globe article says Jerome wants to “clean up” the faclity and get rid of ALL the animals!!

  8. I suppose it would be better to allow these dogs to continue to go mental in their kennels for another couple years rather than FINALLY give them reprieve and humanely let them go. The THS is not set up to be a long-term care facility, the animals do NOT get the mental stimulation that they desperately need there, and if you are NOT a long-term care facility and the dogs/cats have already been there for often YEARS – euthanasia HAS to be done!

    People keep saying LIFE is BETTER – have you asked the dogs that are spinning, frustrated, hyper, confused, etc., for months on end what they would prefer? To continue life in a kennel where they are stressed at least 23 hours of the day or humane euthanasia – do you really think they would say “yes, please keep me kenneled in this personal hell because it’s more important to keep the people who are attached to me happy”?!

    Put your personal feelings aside and do what is RIGHT for the animals in question. Sometimes euthanasia is the RIGHT option for these poor animals.

    1. Allie – I would hope we can do better than to offer the pets at THS only 2 options – a kennel crazy existence or death. We must do better for our shelter pets. Adoption, rescue, foster, sanctuary – all of these are suitable options. Killing is not.

      1. I completely agree. However most of these dogs have now lived at the THS for YEARS on end and as a result they now have major behavioural issues which is why when these dogs are emailed out to rescues, there is not a great response from rescues willing to take them in.

        I know this firsthand as I am one of the rescues that has taken 2 of the THS dogs since the OSPCA went in. Both dogs had HUGE issues and 6 months later are STILL in fostercare working on those issues. Thankfully we are set up with foster homes and these dogs are doing extremely well in fostercare.

        However this isn’t an option for all of these dogs and should we let them languish in a shelter where they are beyond stressed out while we continue to cross our fingers and hope that a rescue comes along for them someday – while their problems continue to get worse?

        I’m tired of shelters warehousing animals if they don’t have the resources to effectively house, train and socialize those animals. And then when it becomes too much – when the dogs are so kennel crazy that they are LUNGING AND SNAPPING at every person/dog/car/moving thing that goes by (as was the case with one of the dogs we now have) we pass them along to rescue and if rescue doesn’t step up for them – they are the bad ones.

        If the shelter does not have the resources and they HAVE requested rescue/sanctuary help with no response, then euthanasia HAS to be considered. Otherwise we’re just warehousing them and how fair is that??

  9. I think the shelter has to step up their care so that dogs are not going kennel crazy. THS had a dog walking program in place that sounded, at least to this outsider, like it was helping the dogs a lot. After some of the dog walkers protested about THS killing 6 dogs last week, THS canceled the program. How fair is that?
    And I understand THS has 3 trainers on staff. They could certainly help improve the quality of life for these dogs, especially given the small number of dogs left at THS. If your shelter has 3 trainers and only a dozen or so dogs, there is no reason why the dogs should be going mad. How fair is that?

  10. Yes, dog walking programs help. But are they really helping the dogs that have been in that kennel environment for years? No. Especially because the volunteer dog walkers are often not trained properly in how to teach a shelter dog how to be calm, so the walk ends up being just another event the causes high arousal in a dog that would benefit MUCH more from some one on one down time watching tv or reading a book or doing any other number of things that teach the dog how to be calm and relaxed. A walk simply isn’t teaching that.

    Same with training – sit, stay, come, shake paw, etc., are all excellent skills for a shelter dog to know to help them get adopted. However, are those skills helping the dog at all when he’s spinning in his kennel from the high state of arousal that a shelter environment poses? Again, no.

    These programs a very effective for dogs that are NOT housed long-term in a kennel environment. But we’re talking about dogs that have spent months and years in a high state of arousal with no reprieve. A walk and a sit-stay are not going to be helping that dog.

    1. Allie, I’m sure you are not meaning to be, but you are starting to sound like a Negative Nancy. Dog walking programs do help. A dog has to be exercised in order to accept the kind of quiet time experiences you are talking about. And while I don’t know the trainers at THS, I am assuming they know how to work with dogs who face common shelter behavior challenges. Surely you are selling the trainers to short to imply they only teach dogs to sit, shake, etc. I would think their expertise could be far more useful than you give them credit for.

      1. I’m certainly not trying to be negative, I’m simply talking from firsthand experience. I have been in shelter work for the last 12 years – I actually worked at the THS for a short period of time – until I realized how disgusting the place was, what total lack of care the animals received and how there was no room for change at that time and I resigned and explained why I was leaving. That was about 6 years ago – and unfortunately as we now see, things have not changed there.

        Had you met the “trainers” at THS you would know what I am talking about. Any person off the street probably has as many credentials as any one of the “trainers” there. I’ve personally witnessed the “trainers” literally dragging dogs up the makeshift “agility” equipment while the dogs are terrified and hating every minutes of it. How’s that for mental and physical stimulation?

        Yes, dogs do need to be exercised in order to be able to get into a calm state of mind. But can you honestly tell me that taking a high-energy, stressed out dog for a WALK is going to exercise them enough to get them to that calm state?

        Again, I speak from experience, as I just returned from over 3 hours of exercising my own dogs and my foster dogs – one of the fosters happens to be a rescue release from THS – who after 45 minutes of RUNNING beside me on a bicycle is now somewhat tired enough to watch tv for the night. Put this same dog back into the THS where she came from and tell me that even an HOUR of walking is going to help her and well, I’d like to see it.

        Although I sound very negative, I’m just being realistic and speaking from experience.

        I’m very happy to see that changes are happening at the THS and I hope that things continue to improve for the better. The more accountable they are, the better things will be for the animals. And I know that many disagree but sometimes euthanasia is the humane option – especially when the alternative is warehousing.

  11. Dont let the murderers fool you…EVERY individual, with enough love, kindness, and patience can be transformed into a loving pet.

    I know, I have saved 3 “unadoptable” feral cats, and they now live indoors, are lap cats and are very happy.So much for all that “unadoptable” B.S.

    If the Michael Vick dogs can be made into loving pets (and they have) anyone can.

  12. “Saying that you “care about cats and dogs” while injecting them with a deadly needle, is the equivalent of saying that you “care about children” while lacing their Cocoa Puffs with poison”.

    Unknown Author

  13. It’s my understanding that both the moving of the meeting date as well as the suspension of the dog walking program came from fear. Not fear of the dogs, as you suggested, but rather fear that the people involved would be targeted or the animals would be stolen.

    THS has a LONG history of warehousing pets for YEARS. Pets who are sick, in pain, or mentally unstable and unsuitable for adoption (many due to kennel stress, no doubt).

    If they truly need to clear house for six weeks to prevent the suffering and abuse from continuing and to turn the shelter around, then so be it. I’m sure that finding foster situations for 200 animals is easily doable in the GTA taking into consideration the number of nearby shelters, rescues and pet lovers.

    All that being said, the THS is run SOLELY on donations. If the new director thinks that murder is a suitable solution to population issues, the THS is going to find their accounts empty quickly.

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