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Did Rescuer Go Too Far?

[Toronto Star]

They don't agree on much.

Tre Smith, a Toronto Humane Society investigator, and Paul Soderholm, a dog owner charged with animal cruelty, tell night-and-day versions of what happened between them a few weeks ago.

The two became embroiled in a harrowing incident involving a Rotweiller named Cyrus, a set of handcuffs and vigilante bystanders.

Here's what is indisputable: Smith smashed a window and pulled Cyrus from an overheated SUV. He handcuffed Soderholm to the car. The dog owner lost three teeth after being beaten by angry animal lovers and Smith was suspended from his duties as a Humane Society investigator.

Soderholm was charged with animal cruelty. Two men were charged with assaulting him.

And the incident has uncovered fault lines, still deep, from a long-standing rift between the Toronto Humane Society and the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

What unfolded July 31 in a Parkdale parking lot has inspired numerous Facebook sites supporting Smith and his "heroic" canine rescue, and a rally yesterday demanding his suspension be revoked.

It has also raised questions about the powers of animal cruelty officers. Smith handcuffed Soderholm to an SUV, then left. Was that overstepping the bounds of his role? Did he go too far?
Animal cruelty investigations by the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and its affiliated Humane Societies are governed by the Ontario SPCA Act. The province's 205 inspectors and agents are trained criminal investigators.

The act specifically states that investigators have the same powers as police officers when enforcing animal cruelty laws. They can obtain search warrants, seize animals, issue orders to relieve an animal's distress and enter private property.

The legislation also provides investigators with police powers to investigate Criminal Code offences related to animal cruelty.
There are more than 5,000 members of the Facebook group, "Supporters of Animal Cruelty Investigator Tre Smith, and about 25 people rallied for his cause yesterday morning at the Toronto Humane Society near Queen and River Sts., in the city's east end.

Lesli Bisgould, a Toronto lawyer and animal rights activist, is pleased people are reacting viscerally to animal matters.

But Bisgould said the real issue is that tougher laws are needed when it comes to animal cruelty.

At present, six months in jail and a $2,000 fine are maximum penalties for any kind of heinous act toward an animal, which are considered the least serious offences in the Criminal Code, she said.

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