Animal welfare left in limbo
As of eight days from now, there will be little to no help for animals in Ontario who are victims of mistreatment or neglect. Dear Reader, let that fact sink in a little.
On June 28, the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) will cease investigating any complaints of cruelty, causing suffering or neglect. They were going to have to do that at the end of the year anyway, given that an Ontario court ruled in January that the OSPCA’s police powers to enforce federal and provincial animal cruelty laws were unconstitutional since it is a private organization. The court gave the government a year to solve the problem.
But, for some reason, the OSPCA decided to stop looking into cruelty and neglect cases six months before it had to, leaving nothing to take its place. From here on in, most cases of animal cruelty and neglect will have to be handled by police. Now of course, every police force on the planet claims to be undermanned, but taking over the cases the OSPCA used to handle will just add to their workload. However, there’s a small helping hand from the ministry of agriculture which will take on cases of agricultural animal mistreatment.
So what is the government doing about the situation? It is sending out members of its team, like Pickering-Uxbridge MPP and cabinet member Peter Bethlenfalvy, to gather the opinions of municipal leaders and look for others to take on the OSPCA role. Bethlenfalvy came to Uxbridge last Friday, along with a representative from the community safety ministry, and met with Mayor Dave Barton, Chief Administrative Officer Ingrid Svelnis and Chief Bylaw Officer Kristina Bergeron.
Svelnis said they told the MPP that it would be difficult for local animal control services to handle the wide spectrum of cases that the OSPCA dealt with.
Clerk Debbie Leroux said the township’s animal control officers don’t get involved in cases of cruelty or neglect, noting that the locals are only allowed to pick up stray dogs and cats – and the occasional stray bunny – and have no authority to seize an animal from its owner. She said even if they located a puppy mill the only thing they could is charge the owner with having more dogs than the municipal bylaw allows.
She said the province shouldn’t even think about downloading the OSPCA’s responsibilities onto the municipalities.
“We aren’t equipped to take it on and we’d need a great deal of training.”
Leroux summed up the situation succinctly: “It’s a big void right now.”
If any of you should think this is small potatoes, nothing to get too steamed up about, I would remind you it’s all around us. A couple of months ago, a family in Stouffville was found guilty after 13 dead and 15 starving horses were found on their property. And it’s only a couple of years ago when there was something of a furor over the owner of the Bowmanville Zoo (now defunct) beating a tiger with a whip.
But a couple of questions come to mind. First: if the government knew almost four months ago that the OSPCA was going to call it quits, why did it wait until eight days before the deadline to go and find some answers? My guess is they really don’t care that much, as demonstrated by their lack of compassion for other vulnerables. Second: apart from the animals, who else is going to be hurt by whatever solution the government comes up with? My guess is the local taxpayer.
Since the Ford government is extremely unlikely to form some new provincial group to take over all animal cruelty and neglect cases – a sort of OPP-PCA if you will – there’s only two logical alternatives: local police forces or local animal control. And given how Ford cuddles up to the police and will have a sympathetic ear to their complaints, local municipalities could find themselves on the hook. Of course, the government will offer compensation, but no matter what the compensation is, you can bet it won’t cover all the municipalities’ costs.
So who looks out for animals now while we’re in this “big void”? All I can think of is us, by staying alert and keeping our eyes open. Stay aware at petting farms, midways, carnivals, zoos, around cars on hot days. But mostly we need the rural people. They’re the ones most likely to see hints of agricultural animal neglect, and I know they care about animals because I read the Facebook groups in the hamlets.
It seems to me that until those who must be obeyed get their ducks in a row, we’re the only hope some of these animals have.
Tell me, am I wrong?