Animal Protection > Activist Index

The Toronto Humane Society: an example of the enemy's tactics
By Barry

My experiences with "humane societies" has not always been very positive, and I respectfully suggest that those who urge us to remember that humane societies and SPCAs are not inherently "animal rights" and should, in effect, be respected for what they DO accomplish as a part of their mandate as opposed to what they FAIL to accomplish in response to OUR mandate, are missing the basis of the original concern.

For me the question is whether or not the organization does more good or more harm, and not only is that not only not always an "either/or" question, it obviously one that is not easily judged in all instances (except by dogmatists for whom anything different from what they decide is automatically bad).

In Ontario/Canada the problem is this (and I'm going to try to keep it brief, but it ain't easy:-): The "animal rights" movement, by which I mean as it is defined popularly in Canada to include just about any group trying to do anything to help animals, is seen as a threat to social good by the "right" or "the establishment" or whatever you want to call it.

However, most groups that are thought of as "animal rights" are characterized by newness; by lack of funding/resource; by passion ruling over what might be called "enlightened self-interest" and by the fact that they don't do "hands-on" animal work, or do so to a limited capacity that can be handled more or less humanely. In short, they don't run shelters, and they haven't been around long enough to have built up funding/ power. They may rant, rave, demonstrate and grab headlines...but they only become of concern when they actually achieve something that hurts the animal users and abusers.

In the eyes of the bad guys, as personified in Canada by the "anti-terrorist" Mackenzie Institute (which has steadfastly opposed the animal rights movement...along with virtually every other social movement, as an anti-social, dangerous and violent movement in its newsletter sold to the conservative big bucks interests who love to scare themselves with such nonsense), we "ARs" desperately want to take control of the resources locked up in the HS's and SPCA's. The fact that some of us HAVE been involved with them simply fuels their worst fears.

Many years ago I sat on the board of the Toronto Humane Society. Call me crazy, but I see nothing wrong with people who believe in the rights of animals being directors of humane societies, and when founded over 100 years ago, the THS was definitely "radical" for its time and involved in other social issues (the Children's Aid Society is actually an offshoot of the THS...which I find absolutely fitting and proper.)

When Vicki Miller, a "radical" whose been associated with both the ALF and with activism (a major hunger strike. . .she apparently has long since burned and crashed...I've seen that happen all too often) became president of the THSs board (at my request) I quit the board to work for the Society as Wildlife Coordinator. Flash forward to when I and my colleagues were "laid off", some six or seven years ago.

We didn't understand the whole story, then, but we were curious when a man by the name of Jack Slebar joined the Society's staff, at a level just below that of CEO. Slebar's mission seemed to us (we went on to form the Animal Alliance of Canada; I also joined Zoocheck-Canada's board, and resumed a much higher level of involvement with the Animal Protection Institute, in those are who I mean by "us") to be determined to undermine work we were doing on behalf of animals. For example, an effort to get snares and body-gripping traps banned in Toronto was thwarted by a letter from Slebar to the municipal government essentially saying there was no need for the ban.

The first time I met Slebar was at a meeting where a group of us was trying to convince the Ministsry of Natural Resources to ban "dog runs" where dogs were allowed to chase native wildlife in huge compounds (red foxes in one run we site-visited; snowshoe hares in another). Slebar listened silently through part of the meeting, and then, out of the blue, said something along the lines of "the problem is that all of you are always fighting against each other."

I was dumbfounded. We were mostly friends with 10, 15 maybe 20 years of co-operative work behind us. And besides, this was hardly the place to make such a divisive remark.

Ultimately the effort was scuttled.

To try to shorten a long story, Slebar eventually was discovered to be an "officer" of the MacKenzie Institute, who, according to a reliable source, claims to have authored articles we have linking many of us (by name) to animal rights terrorism. (I've since forced a public admission from the MacKenzie Institute that I am not, in fact, a terrorist:-).

Jack is now the official CEO at THS. The THS still serves as a pound for the city of Toronto (although the cities various component communities are about to be amalgamated into one big city, and Slebar is busily lobbying the transition team to position the THS to do animal sheltering, and even animal control, for the entire "megacity". )

I think that unless one is hopelessly into denial, it has to be recognized that any city pound service, whether a tax-funded "private" organization, like THS, or a municipal organization with an "animal welfare" mandate, is always in a point of conflict by virtue of the twin requirements to serve the "human" need of animal control on one hand, while serving the "animal" need for humane care on the other. In a large, urban setting "no kill" sheltering simply means that any animals beyond the optimal number that can be humanely cared for are turned away, OR it means that the optimal number is exceeded, with horrible effects on the poor animals (particularly with regard to spread of respiratory virus in cats and stress from crowding or prolonged close-confinement in all the animals).

This conflict tore me apart when I was associated with the THS (being a stubborn type I've maintained my damned membership) and I'm not at all sure that it SHOULD be a function of a private humane society to "clean up" society's "surplus" animals, quietly out of sight of the people creating the problem...but that's another issue from the main focus of this posting.

Clearly the Mackenzie Institute's function is to keep what they see as the anti-social, money-grubbing hands of the animal rights community away from THS (or any similar) assets. Given the THS's penchant for working with annual massive deficits, it wouldn't surprise me if a secondary goal is to keep the THS weak, so that it is dependent upon government and corporate money...the latter sector realizing that they have nothing to fear from the THS, unlike those "radicals" who have been successfully "purged" the THS will NEVER embarrass them or cost them profits by seeking any kind of end to institutionalized cruelty that would cost money or cause disruption...of course they'll gladly do the band-aid stuff and work happily with the pet industry and others on "feel-good" programs that achieve little or nothing, while working behind the scenes against those clearly defined as the enemy....people like us!

And then there is the Ontario SPCA.

Not yet in the hands of the Mackenzie Institute, (although its various branches have certainly been quietly solicited) it is made up of numerous "branches" and "affiliates", many of which are quite rural, and have clearly been targeted by animal use proponents to be infiltrated at the board levels to guard them against the "animal rights" movement. Thus hunters, trappers, vivisectors and the like sit on boards and help formulate policy. To a still lesser degree, this is a problem with the "conservative" Canadian Federation of Humane Societies (CFHS).

The OSPCA is currently not, in my opinion, a real problem. Notwithstanding many concerns I may have on a case by case basis, it has done some positive stuff and has supported, for example, Project Jessie, by providing shelter for dogs and cats we've rescued from pound seizure (so has the THS, although they may not be aware of it...and we're not sure we can continue to put animals there as we have discomforting reason to be concerned that they've unofficially offered animals to the research community...proof is lacking.)

But in the "old days" I was the one who established proof (that was subsequently placed into a film I scripted about the seal hunt) that the then CEO of the OSPCA was using pound dogs to be tested to develop a gun to kill baby seals. The dogs, scheduled for euthanasia, where doped, then shot. The idea was that a gun would raise less objections than the clubbing then used (and still used) in Canada's Atlantic harp seal hunt.

Yes, I know this may sound astounding, but the head of the OSPCA actually was defending the seal hunt and trying to make it more "acceptable" by developing a gun (on which he allegedly held the patent, claiming that it could be used in rural animal-slaughter in third world countries and remote areas) tested on impounded animals...and on baby seals (reports were subsequently suppressed but I've talked to the guy who did the actual shooting and it was horrendous).

Here's a bit of irony (I think). I actually don't see the animal rights vs animal welfare distinction as clearly as does Dietrich, and while I agree with Chris's amendment to his assertion that it's the 'AWs" who make the actual legislative changes, his opinion is one that I generally share. As "AW" is "usually" defined (or implied) by the "AR" advocates, I see no reason why an SPCA shouldn't be considered AR (apart from the conflict that derives when it tries to do two opposing humane to animals and at the same time to accommodate society's "need" to dispose of the "surplus"). In other words because my own definition of rights is pretty precise (it has to be something that actually WORKS...usually meaning legislation and enforcement) I see it as something that can only be achieved through reforms that are usually called "AW" by "ARs" (although not always by the media or public).

But to get back to my essential point....we must guard against that barrier being crossed whereby an organization does more harm than good. I think it ESSENTIAL that in all SPCAS and HSs, as well as grassroots groups and AR groups (or whatever we call ourselves) that the decision makers be "on side" and firmly committed to the concept we call "animal rights" (let's ignore the quibbling about exactly what that means).

And we must guard against the infiltration of weakening influences. I don't know if the new head of the RSPCA is "reformed" or still buys into the essential concept that it's "okay" to use animals to human ends as long as you keep trying to reduce the suffering that flows from such use. So I ought not to judge against him. But given my own experiences (and believe me, folks, I've just lightly brushed the surface) you'll forgive me if I retain my cynicism.

And the latest "unofficial" word from the THS is, guess what...that "management" is trying to force staff to reduce the stringency of their screening of perspective adopters. The lady you mention would find her "pet" at the THS.


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