Thursday, August 23, 2012

So long (THS) and thanks for the fish...

Involvement with animal advocacy brings with it the inevitability of passionate discourse, strong opinions, commitment, involvement and often, a crushing obsession. It seems to be the reality that those of us who battle for those without a human voice, are compelled to immerse ourselves in defending and championing what to us, is so glaringly, critically, obviously wrong. Yet, animal advocacy also brings with it the inevitability of zealots; individuals and organizations that paint the rest of us with flavours of obsession and madness that are undeserved.
Animal advocacy has provided a rich, fecund environment for fraudsters, who gleefully fleece well-meaning people with bogus accounts supporting non-existent animals in need. It provides sustenance also to those with the best of intentions but misguided goals and the inability to follow through on grandiose dreams of saving needy creatures. In short, hoarders are sometimes created and flourish – all with the best of intentions and simply the inability to see things objectively and realistically.
Negotiating the twists and turns of animal husbandry without falling into the more radical elements of radicalism and maintaining a rational understanding of what is morally right but also realistically attainable is always challenging. I continue to believe, however, it is possible. 
There is great need out there. There are suffering animals of every stamp – from our marine creatures living lives of pain, degradation and despair in places like Marineland, to farm animals who are denied basic rights of dignity, freedom from pain and even a semblance of life, and of course, the cover portraits for animal advocacy - our “domestic” dogs, cats, rabbits and other animals with whom many of us share our homes.
A moral compass is a necessary component of animal advocacy, yet for each of us, the needle can vary widely. All I know is that we have to remain true to our own convictions; that trying to compromise the basic tenets of what we believe is “right” is not something that you can internalize on an ongoing basis. Maintaining a rational mind is also crucial; more so because to do the best for the animals we purport to battle for means being effective and persuasive orators that can sway and convince the uninformed and the sceptical.
In many ways, we animal advocates are dreamers; Don Quixote’s who continue to tilt at windmills and believe in the inevitable triumph of right. If we did not, then it would almost impossible to drag ourselves out of bed every morning, to face the barrage of emails, the deluge of information and gird our loins (as it were) to pick up the standard and go forth to battle yet again.
I don’t think there is an animal advocate out there that has not, at some point, been almost mortally wounded by a betrayal of a cause that they had embraced passionately and totally. I know that I have had my share of wounding, almost debilitating betrayals that linger for years in the recess of mind and heart. For each carries with it an intrinsic and unshakeable conviction that we should have seen the reality of the situation, been more aware, been more proactive, done something or noticed something ...
Several years ago, I experienced just such a terrible revelation with a group I had been passionately involved with that rescued unwanted, abandoned and rejected german shepherds. The reverberations of that particular situation still linger, have seeped into skin and bone and become an intrinsic part of who I am today. I often feel I lost a chunk of my soul when the reality (and tragedy) of that situation was revealed – but it provided me also with a fierce and unwavering conviction to guard against any such future betrayal (inasmuch as I could).
Which brings me to my current decision – to leave my long-term volunteering position with the Toronto Humane Society. My reasons are my own. I do want to emphasize that it is not in any way related to my belief the THS is an awful place, because it is not. The animals within its walls are healthy, happy, well exercised, entertained and taken care of. But after my last experience, I have learned to live with my instinct, to listen to that “gut” feeling and unless I can 100% support a place, unless I can concur and feel content with its policies, then I need to walk away.
The bottom line is that my philosophy and that of the THS show no sign of converging at any immediate or future junction any time soon. In fact, in the year I have been back (after a rather debilitating accident), I find indeed that our concept of what the Shelter means diverge even more markedly.
As such, I made the decision to leave and voluntarily resigned on good terms. They are going in the direction their Board and staff feel best suits their mandate and I am now a volunteer without a place. I am, of course, still heavily involved with pursuing animal rights, transporting dogs and a myriad of other causes that remain my passion and feed my soul, but for the interim, I will miss my THS and cherish the lessons I learned in the often tumultuous years I volunteered.
The one (sad) thing I know. There will always be animals to rescue.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Dear OSPCA: Thank you for the warning!

So, after the horrors revealed by the Star at that torture chamber for marine animals (and other species), Marineland, the OSPCA has decided (no doubt after a zillion phone calls)- maybe, just maybe, we need to actually INSPECT this place - this despite many groups over many years complaining to them about the conditions there!

So, do they go in quietly, unannounced - you know, to actually SEE the reality?
Nope, they give them NOTICE they're coming in there.
Marineland is privately owned by John Holer and licensed by the self-regulating Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
I also highly question some of the organizations involved that assert they've never had a complaint before.
Mallory says the Niagara Falls Humane Society has not received complaints about the care of sea mammals at Marineland.
I can't imagine I'm the ONLY one who complained to them; albeit my call came 25+ years ago; but conditions for these poor animals have clearly worsened, if anything, and I don't for one second believe I'm the only one who would walk in there and see immediately that the conditions are horrific for any animal.
As for CAZA, who ostensibly cleared Marineland and accredited them:
CAZA is the national voice of the zoo and aquarium community in Canada. Representing the 25 leading zoological parks and aquariums in Canada, its purpose is to promote the welfare of zoo and aquarium wildlife, to advance related science and conservation, and to foster public engagement in the preservation of our natural heritage.

CAZA was formed in 1975 as a national, not-for-profit service organization. Since that time it has played an invaluable role in bringing Canada’s zoos and aquariums to the forefront of international standards of animal care. It helps Canadians understand and appreciate the diversity of nature and its importance to their survival. It supports research to preserve threatened species and their habitat, works to preserve the genetic diversity of species and to minimize the live capture of animals. CAZA reaches out to educate youth, in cooperation with local school boards, it partners with governments and non-governmental organizations around the world in seeking to preserve wildlife. And it works to standardize professional conduct through a rigorous Code of Ethics and a comprehensive accreditation system.
Trying to figure out here who FUNDS them.  They apparently have the stamp of approval from the Canadian government according to their website. But then the Canadian government has a pretty poor batting average when it comes to the protection of animal rights, so I'm not entirely surprised.  But then, as "There is no government regulation in Canada or Ontario of marine mammal parks or, for that matter, of any animal park." it is moot - as that in reality means any kind of "pass" is based on questionable criteria.

If, in fact, CAZA did a proper inspection then the bar for their standards is clearly set FAR too low.

In the end, it all comes down to money.  The welfare of the animals, their health, their mental and spiritual well being are so far behind the requirement for them to act unnaturally for oblivious patrons it is enough to bring you to tears.

Call your MPPs - call the Ontario Community Safety Minister Madeleine Meilleur, who oversees the OSPCA and tell her (as Frank Klees aptly puts) to "save" her tears and mobilize action.
“The minister should turn her tears into action,” said Newmarket—Aurora Conservative MPP Frank Klees, who has pushed for action on animal abuse issues. “This is just one more example of the government abdicating responsibility in the area of animal welfare.”
Though not a fan usually of the PC's, MPP Frank Klees has walked the walk when it comes to animal welfare issues and not just talked the talk as does NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo who says it was “absolutely horrifying and scary” to see Star video and read the reports. She called the situation for animals in captivity “the wild west” and called on the province to regulate and oversee the treatment of marine mammals in Canada.

Finally, I was pleased to see my own local MPP, Lorenzo Berardinetti calling for a more “proactive” approach to conditions for animals in captivity, instead of the OSPCA’s complaint-based system.

He said that it’s worrisome in relation to whales and dolphins because “they’re extremely intelligent. They have self-awareness. If you put a mirror in front of them, (studies have shown) they recognize themselves.”
Now I want to see all these individuals - each representing one of our major parties - get together to fight for the rights of the animals of this province.

Ontario needs to WAKE up and start putting some serious legislation in governing how the animals of this province - domestic, farm and exotic - marine and non-marine - factory and NON- factory - are treated. 

And when CLEAR, unequivocal cases of animal abuse are revealed - as at Marineland this week - STOP dragging your damn feet and ACT. Those animals need help NOW. I don't want to see a committee struck, a task force assigned, - act NOW, act DECISIVELY AND QUICKLY. Get those animals some HELP

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Marineland - Arena of Horrors

More than 25 years ago, some relatives arrived from Montreal and wanted to see Marineland.  What I saw that day traumitized me so much that I left within 2 hours and spent the next week phoning various government departments, the OSPCA and the Niagara Falls Humane Society- to find out THEN that there is absolutely NO ONE monitoring this place of torture and spiritual and mental prison for innocent marine animals.

The Toronto Star goes behind the scenes today and exposes the truth behind those light-hearted commercials (which i TURN OFF every time I hear them). 
Videos shot in 2011 and 2012 shows them writhing in pain or plunging their heads into a single bucket of clean water. Sandy often sits like a statue, dry as a bone. There’s no lens in Baker’s left eye. When a trainer put him back in the water in April, he barked and it flew out.

Dolphins in pens so filthy they can't be seen in water of such bad quality "Their skin fell off in chunks, their colour darkened and they refused to eat."

And there is NO ONE TO STOP THEM.  The government refuses to intervene. The OSPCA is NOwhere to be seen.
There are no government regulations for sea mammal captivity in Canada. The Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums, a self-regulating industry association, first licensed Marineland in 2007 and national director Bill Peters says there have been no complaints. Its licence was renewed for five years at the end of September 2011, after a summer inspection by a CAZA team of experts.

In 1998, Zoocheck clearly outlined the horrific conditions these animals were being forced to live in, day after agonizing day. And still nothing was done.

In that scathing report, Dr. Naomi Rose (HSUS) clearly states:
Their eyes appeared to be closed the entire time (it was difficult to see their left eyes at any time or either eye on the far side of the tank). The leading edges of their extremities (the dorsal fins, the pectoral fins, and the tail flukes) all had the same type of skin condition—flaky and blotchy. The trailing edges of the dorsal fins and tail flukes were ragged and tattered. The rest of their skin seemed in normal condition. Their dorsal fins leaned slightly. Their girths were robust (that is, they seemed overweight). The skin condition of their extremities and their closed eyes are consistent with water that is over-treated chemically, but this could not be confirmed.

Another expert, Doug Cartlidge relates other substandard, worrisome and inhumane conditions:

Sterile and barren conditions within all cetacean pools in this facility are a major area of concern. Failure to provide an environment which mirrors an animal's normal living conditions demonstrates either a lack of understanding or a total lack of concern for that animal's needs. Regulations within the UK clearly require zoos to ensure all animals are maintained in as near natural conditions as possible for each species held. Paragraph 11 of the SSS states: "Animal enclosures to be equipped, in accordance with the needs of the species in question…in the case of aquatic animals, materials such as weed, shingle etc., to aid and encourage normal behaviour patterns among them." Even if there are no regulations in force within Canada there is no excuse for failing to keep ANY animals in as near natural conditions as is possible; barren concrete cages went out with Victorian zoos.
Since its inception, Marineland has brutally and without conscience exploited sensitive, intelligent living creatures in the name of profit.  These animals live lives of despair and pain, physically, spiritualy and emotionally battered every moment of every day; relegated to horrific, unnatural living conditions, forced to perform unnatural acts, in pain, they are used to "entertain" the oblivious crowds.

Further, it is not only the marine animals suffering, but the deer, bears and other animals as well.

PLEASE boycott Marineland! 

I will follow up once I find out the best source to contact in terms of getting this place SHUT down and the animals moved to places where some quality of life will be achieved. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

I’m not an “ambassador” damn it, I’m a dog.

No doubt with the best of intentions, I see rescue organizations again and again talk about their dogs as “ambassadors” of the breed – none more so than in bully breed rescues. Reviled, demonized and labelled, the often misnamed “pit bulls” are subsequently often held to a far more rigid standard of behaviour than any other breed.

This is just wrong.

“Pit bulls”, usually mixes of the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier, boxers, mastiffs (hell, you name it and someone will label ANY dog with a boxy head and super short fur, a “pit bull” ) are somehow expected to be perfect if they are to be allowed to survive – even by the rescue organizations purportedly created to rescue them. “Normal” dog behaviour is often dismissed as unacceptable and dogs are labelled aggressive, fearful, “too undisciplined”... not “perfect ambassadors” and therefore not good enough to live.

The very myths perpetuated by those who in their ignorance and blindness would label a dog “bad” based entirely on appearance are often unwittingly supported by those who say they love the breed. By holding every dog to an unrealistic pattern of behaviour, thousands of dogs (already under siege) are condemned to an unfair death – often based on tests which if failed by another breed, would simply identify areas of concern.

Ultimately, every dog has the right to be judged not on often flawed perceptions of “breed type” but on their individual merits.

It is natural and part of human nature to assume certain characteristics are indicative of a specific breed. But painting a broad stroke over a certain type of dog – particularly one that by its very nature is a mish-mash of a broad spectrum of other breeds – is ultimately counter-productive and feeds into the very myths we seek to explode.

“Naturally” aggressive; “locking jaws”; “their nature to bite”; negative stereotypes that have been so thoroughly and successfully disseminated by a government who see these dogs as incredibly useful political tools used to sway an ignorant electorate and bolstered on every side by media who see positive sound bites as an acceptable trade-off for the slaughter of innocent lives. Equally destructive, however, are staffie (and their ilk) lovers who randomly declare that “pit bulls” “love kids”, “are big clowns”, “nanny dogs” ... because in their own way, these blanket statements create a perception that ALL dogs of a certain breed exhibit these same benign characteristics, thus setting up a perfectly balanced dog for potential destruction if he doesn’t follow the stereotype.

The malignant, systematic and sadly successful campaign to demonize “pit bulls” by the Liberal government and the gleeful support by media has created an atmosphere of fear and loathing among the general populace when bully breed dogs are encountered in the realm of every-day life. Short haired, muscular dogs with boxy heads and whippy tails are almost universally reacted to on the streets of Ontario cities and towns, carrying on their backs a heavy caseload of misinformation and perceptions they don’t deserve. This campaign of fear and harassment has ultimately separated dogs labelled “pit bulls” (wrongly) from all other dogs – conferring on them characteristics that are somehow perceived to be intrinsic to “them” and not indicative of dogs generally. They have been made to be separate and apart from “other” types of dogs, as if having certain physical characteristics somehow trumps the 99.99% of genes they carry in common with EVERY dog from Irish Wolfhounds to Yorkipoos...

The reality is that these misidentified dogs are simply that – dogs. Depending on the mix from which they spring, they could embody myriad personality traits that are often (but NOT always) reflective of a specific breed, but like with any dog, the manner in which they are treated, the guidance and training they receive, the life experience they encounter coalesce to make each dog a unique and individual entity.

In our zeal to combat the malicious and concerted efforts of the Liberals to destroy dogs based on appearance and bolstered by arguments which have been annihilated time and again, we must guard against creating an equally unsustainable perception of a “perfect” dog. In the end, what we should be seeking is public understanding that pit bulls, staffies, boxers (and the rest) – all those mislabelled, despised breeds are simply dogs... and as such, should be accorded the respect and treatment accorded to any other breed.