Official calls animal shelter 'house of horrors'; reports finding mummified cat
The Canadian Press
Published Friday, November 27, 2009 7:06PM EST
TORONTO - A mummified cat was found at the Toronto Humane Society on Friday, a day after the society's president and four others were arrested and charged with cruelty to animals, animal welfare officers said.
The report of the grisly discovery at the downtown shelter -- described by one official as a "house of horrors" -- came just minutes before a planned tour for reporters was set to begin. It added a macabre twist to a case that could ignite public debate over the care of sick and injured animals and when they should be put down.
Insp. Kevin Strooband, an officer with the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said the cat's remains were found in a live trap, which is usually baited with food to catch animals and transfer them between cages.
This time, he said, that didn't happen.
"I'm reeling from what I just saw. It's like a house of horrors. You'd never expect to find that in here," Strooband said while leading reporters through the shelter.
"This isn't just an error. This is unbelievable."
Four other animals -- a puppy, two cats, and a raccoon -- were put down overnight after the OSPCA took control of the facility, officials said Friday.
The society's president, Tim Trow, and the other four members of the shelter were taken away in handcuffs after the Thursday raid.
Also charged were the shelter's chief veterinarian, Steve Sheridan, general manager Gary McCracken, supervisor Andy Bechtel and manager Romeo Bernadino.
None of the allegations against them have been proven in court. A person who answered the phone at Trow's home Friday morning said Trow would be meeting with lawyers all day.
In an interview with CTV News, Trow said no one should be surprised to see sick animals at the shelter, since it is an animal hospital.
"I'm shocked at the charge," he said. "I've never been unkind to an animal in my life. Ever since I was a young man my major preoccupation after work was animal welfare and working towards different legislation and caring for animals."
Ian McConachie, a spokesman for the humane society, was also briefly arrested Friday morning when he tried to get into the shelter.
McConachie said he was told by an investigator with the OSPCA that his name is on a "do not let in" list and that he is not allowed on the property.
He said he was released from custody without charge about 15 minutes later.
According to statistics published on the shelter's website, the percentage of animals that have needed to be euthanized has gradually decreased from 20 per cent in 2002 to seven per cent in 2008.
Over that same period, the shelter admitted between 10,000 and 14,000 domestic and wild animals per year. The majority of those animals were cats and dogs.
On its website, the society says its policy is to only put down an animal that is in pain, aggressive or severely ill with no chance of recovery.
The society promises to "never euthanize animals based on space constraints or because the animal has been here too long."
McConachie said the humane society provided excellent care for the animals at the shelter.
"We're confident we'll defeat those charges in court," he said, blaming the raid on politics.
"The THS and the OSPCA have never seen eye-to-eye on a lot of issues, said McConachie. "To march our officials out there handcuffed like that was uncalled for."
He added the OSPCA "may have taken a more liberal approach and euthanized animals that they feel should be euthanized."
In addition to the mummified cat reportedly found inside a drop ceiling, Strooband said officials also discovered animals with upper respiratory infections and eye and tongue problems, including one cat whose tongue had nearly fallen off.
Another cat found during the OSPCA investigation was so dehydrated it had to be given fluids intravenously, Strooband alleged.
Kerry Bowman, a University of Toronto bioethicist, said it will be interesting to see how much of the legal case against the humane society members hinges on whether the animals were so ill they should have been euthanized sooner.
When animals are starved or living in unsanitary conditions, police should intervene, said Bowman, who spoke before the report of the mummified cat. Bowman made clear he had no knowledge of what went on behind the humane society's walls.
But he said the animal welfare field is fraught with "extreme and polarized views" about when sick or injured animals should be put down -- particularly when it comes to companion animals like cats and dogs.
"These are ethical and philosophical questions, and it's very hard to force people and tell people how they have to think about that," said Bowman.
"I think it (Thursday's raid) is definitely triggering an ethical debate."
The shelter, which will remain closed as the OSPCA continues its investigation, is expected to reopen next week, officials said.